Politics and Justice without borders

Global Community Newsletter

Volume 9 Issue 10 October 2011
Theme this month:

Global Peace Village: the way forward

Global Peace Village is a project of the Global Community.

Global Community Global Information Media main website iconGD2011 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

Global Peace Village: the way forward

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

Animation movie of Global Peace Village: the way forward in .swf Animation movie of Global Peace Village: the way forward  in swf

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See the following artboards promoting Global Peace Village: the way forward and feel free to use them. The artboards have dimensions 2880x1800.


Artboard of Global Peace Village: the way forward
The staff inside of the observatory receiving instruction from Kathia, the owner and manager of the facility Intelligent Life Forms on Distant Planets (ILFODP) presently involved with finding other life forms on distant planets and making contact with intelligent life. Global Peace Village: the way forward  artboard

Artboard of Global Peace Village: the way forward
The Earth orbiting telescope manage by the staff at ILFODP.  Global Peace Village: the way forward  artboard

Artboard of Global Peace Village: the way forward
Kathia giving instruction as to the next step forward concerning the research centre at the ILFODP facility and be using a new type of instruments capable of actually observing at any distances in our home galaxy, the Milky Way, and on planets in distant galaxies. The VGscope (vector graphics scope) is capable of observing images at any distances and show actual images with high quality details.  Global Peace Village: the way forward  artboard

Artboard of Global Peace Village: the way forward
Kathia about to take her son Eric home.  Global Peace Village: the way forward  artboard

Artboard of Global Peace Village: the way forward
Kathia and Eric outside the observatory and about to take their bikes to check the different sections of the ILFODP facility on the ground.  Global Peace Village: the way forward  artboard

Artboard of Global Peace Village: the way forward
The different sections of ILFODP on the ground  Global Peace Village: the way forward artboard

Artboard of Global Peace Village: the way forward
Eric about to enter greenhouse #26 Global Peace Village: the way forward  artboard

Artboard of Global Peace Village: the way forward
Eric inspecting greenhouse #26 and finding it in good conditions. Global Peace Village: the way forward  artboard

Artboard of Global Peace Village: the way forward
Kathia and Eric at their home near the ILFODP facility, a bike ride away. Global Peace Village: the way forward  artboard

Artboard of Global Peace Village: the way forward
Sun rising over Global Peace Village. Global Peace Village: the way forward  artboard

Artboard of Global Peace Village: the way forward
Global peace Village. ILFODP facility can be seen on the hills. Global Peace Village: the way forward  artboard

All our Global Peace animation projects are listed here.

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

Global Peace Village: the way forward

Global Peace Village , a long time project of the Global Community, has always been about the teaching of Peace in the world. This goal may change over time but for now that is what we are doing. Global Peace Village is somewhat different than our Global Peace Earth project in its method of teaching and audiences to reach. Global Peace Earth reaches all of humanity, collects data from all aspects of life, makes assessment concerning what is the best way forward for all life on the planet, and actually shows the best way forward globally. On the hand, Global Peace Village has a history of dealing with individual communities, knowing their problems and concerns, and making a difference for the better. Of course, both projects work hand in hand for Peace in the world.

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

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

Our goal for peace in the world can only be reached by resolving those global problems. Those problems have brought up a planetary state of emergency . In view of the planetary state of emergency, shown and declared by the Global Community, we all must change, we must do things differently to give life on Earth a better survival chance and bring about the event of peace amongst us all. There are also long term solutions. The Scale of Global Rights is the fundamental guide to Global Law. Global Law includes legislation covering all essential aspects of human activities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soul of all Life said in Global Peace Earth "Soul of all Life teaching about Peace: Introduction"

Peace is being who you are without fear. It is the "being who you are" who must be taught a value based on principles to live by. Only principles described in Global Law are necessary and required to attain Peace in the world.  Soul teaching on Peace  artboard

Today we are introducing the theme of Global Dialogue 2012 :

Global Peace Village

the way forward

Throughout Global Dialogue 2012, i.e. from September 1st, 2011, to August 31st, 2012, Global Peace Village will present several methods of teaching to children and youths as they are more likely to absorb and retain the internal structures needed to bring about Peace to future generations. These methods of teaching have already been laid down by the Global Community during the 1990s. We are showing some of the papers with their links just below here. They were copied in http://globalcommunitywebnet.com/PeaceNow/
for fast reading.

In fact, these methods include the basics of what it means to be "a Global Community", and also include the original definition of the Global Community. This was at a time when no one was even thinking about these new concepts but today they are widespread all over the world.

It was in 1985 that I first defined the concept of Global Community and further refined it over the years afterwards. Gradually, I defined several original concepts during the second half of the 80s and throughout the 1990s with my wife Virginie. They are now widely used. Part of the history of these concepts can be verified at the following locations:

A) History of the Global Community Since its beginning in 1985, many accomplishments can be claimed by the Global Community: History of the Global Community organization and Earth Government History of the Global Community Organization Since its beginning in 1985, many accomplishments can be claimed by the Global Community: History of the Global Community organization and Earth Government History of the Global Community Organization

B) History of Earth Government
History Founding of the Global Community organization, Earth Government and the Federation of Global Governments History of the Global Community Organization and the Interim Earth Government
Founding Members of the Global Community Organization and Earth Government Founding Members of the Global Community Organization and Interim Earth Government

During the period from 1985 to 1995, except for our work Virgine and I, there was nothing over the internet promoting these new concepts. It took another five years before they became widely used.

These methods of teaching will be further accentuated by newly researched and developed animations which are to show how children and youths can be taught to develop those internal structures so needed to bring about the event of Peace to future generations.

Global Dialogue 2012 will thus be mainly concerned with the further teaching of these global concepts brought forward in the 1990s.

Verify the following research papers.

July 1999

The Global Community concepts

1. The Glass-bubble concept
2. Ricochet responses to family trauma
3. TIMSHEL - The right to make choices
Personal Sustainable Development for Children
4. The need to change the "who cares?" attitude in children
5. Humanistic research needed on the subject of children

August 1999 Newsletter

4.   Articles:         a.    Personal Sustainable Development pathway
                by Germain Dufour
                     1.    Introduction
                     2.    The appalling dilemma of decision-making
                     3.    What is personal sustainable development?
                     4.    What to decide?
                     5.    Spiritual values and survival
                     6.    Old rules to deal with old fears
                     7.    Human conscience
                     8.    What are the universal needs of a family, a community
                     9.    Governments self-serving politics
                     10.   Do laws serve more governments and selected groups than the overall population?
                     11.   Creating a universal code of conduct acceptable to all?
                     12.   The Universal Scale of Values
                     13.   The Glass Bubble Concept of a Global Community and Evolution
                     14.   Teaching children to become self-confident thinkers
                     15.   Is the human race becoming more intuitive or instinctive?
                     16.   Personal sustainable development for children
                     17.    In sustaining the development of your own life

November 1999 Newsletter

12.    Articles

        a.    To-day's children evoke a VISION of new millennium, by Virginia Dufour, retired teacher
        b.   The Personal Sustainable Development pathway for children, by Germain Dufour, Physicist
        c.   The Personal Sustainable Development pathway for an adult, by Germain Dufour, Physicist
        d.   Globalization  vs  The Global Community Concepts and its Organization, by Germain Dufour, Physicist

Daily reminder

This is the way     Message from the Spiritual Leader of the Global Community
Message from the Editor    GIM  Message from the Editor
Politics and Justice without borders: what we stand for Politics and Justice without borders: what we stand for
Message from the President of Global Parliament, the Federation of Global Governments    Message from the President of Earth Government
History of the Global Community organization, Earth Government and the Federation of Global Governments History of the Global Community Organization and Interim Earth Government Since its beginning in 1985, many accomplishments can be claimed by the Global Community: History of the Global Community organization and Earth Government
Global Community days of celebration or remembering during the year Global Community Days of Celebration
A reminder of her passing away. Virginie was a great global citizen, and we all owe her something that's forever. GIM  Message from the Editor
Life Day Celebration on May 26. Participate. Life Day Celebration May 26. Participate.
Participate now in Global Dialogue 2011, no fees  Participate now in Global Dialogue 2011
Global Dialogue 2011 Introduction Global Dialogue 2011 Introduction
Global Dialogue 2011 Program  Global Dialogue 2011 Program
Global Dialogue 2011 OVERVIEW of the process   Global Dialogue 2011 OVERVIEW of the process
Global Dialogue 2011 Call for Papers Global Dialogue 2011 Call for Papers
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We have now streamlined the participation process in the Global Dialogue We have now streamlined the participation process in the Global Dialogue

Top of the page

GIM Proclamations

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

Lester R. Brown, Bob Burnett, Michelle Chen, Mike Davis, Carlos de Castro, David DeGraw, Juan Gonzalez, Peter Goodchild, Amy Goodman, John Michael Greer, William T. Hathaway, Rania Khalek, Tara Lohan, Fred Magdoff, Dr. Charles Mercieca (3), Bill McKibben, Maureen Nandini Mitra, PZ Myers, Barath Raghavan, Bill Van Auken, Joe Romm (2), Sarah Seltzer (2), Nick Turse,

Lester R. Brown, Expanding Desert, Falling Water Tables, and Toxic Pollutants Are Driving People From Their Homes Expanding Desert, Falling Water Tables, and Toxic Pollutants Are Driving People From Their Homes
Bob Burnett, 5 Reasons Capitalism Has Failed 5 Reasons Capitalism Has Failed
Michelle Chen, What Do Students Learn When Cities Refuse to Fairly Treat Their Teachers?, What Do Students Learn When Cities Refuse to Fairly Treat Their Teachers?
Mike Davis, The Decline and Fall of the American Empire The Decline and Fall of the American Empire
Carlos de Castro, Global Wind Power Potential: Physical And Technological Limits Global Wind Power Potential: Physical And Technological Limits
David DeGraw, Debt, Debt, Debt: 90% of Americans Experience Income Decline As Wealth Gets Sucked Back Into Top .1% -- Debt Explodes As We Try to Make Ends Meet Debt, Debt, Debt: 90% of Americans Experience Income Decline As Wealth Gets Sucked Back Into Top .1% -- Debt Explodes As We Try to Make Ends Meet
Juan Gonzalez, "Poverty Is the Problem" With our Public Schools, Not Teachers' Unions Poverty Is the Problem With our Public Schools, Not Teachers Unions
Peter Goodchild, Petroleum And Population Petroleum And Population
Amy Goodman, "Poverty Is the Problem" With our Public Schools, Not Teachers' Unions Poverty Is the Problem With our Public Schools, Not Teachers Unions
John Michael Greer, An Elegy For The Age Of Space An Elegy For The Age Of Space
William T. Hathaway, Globalizing The Intifada Globalizing The Intifada
Rania Khalek, Food Emergency: How the World Bank and IMF Have Made African Famine Inevitable Food Emergency: How the World Bank and IMF Have Made African Famine Inevitable
Tara Lohan, Cash-Strapped School District in PA Turns to Dangerous Shale Gas Drilling for Money Cash-Strapped School District in PA Turns to Dangerous Shale Gas Drilling for Money
Fred Magdoff, What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know About Capitalism What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know About Capitalism
Dr. Charles Mercieca, Distinct Roles Played by the Individual Mind and Heart Distinct Roles Played by the Individual Mind and Heart
Dr. Charles Mercieca, Our Involvement in Saving the World from Complete Destruction Our Involvement in Saving the World from Complete Destruction
Dr. Charles Mercieca, The Greatest Problem of the American People The Greatest Problem of the American People
Bill McKibben, As We Face Environmental Trauma and Do-Nothing Politicians, Our Last Hope Is Fighting Back As We Face Environmental Trauma and Do-Nothing Politicians, Our Last Hope Is Fighting Back
Maureen Nandini Mitra, We're Locked Into Unavoidable Climate Disruption -- So, How Do We Begin to Adapt? We're Locked Into Unavoidable Climate Disruption -- So, How Do We Begin to Adapt?
PZ Myers, Why We Should Steal Finland's Education System Why We Should Steal Finland's Education System
Barath Raghavan, The Roads To Our Alternative Energy Future The Roads To Our Alternative Energy Future
Bill Van Auken, The Rape Of Libya The Rape Of Libya
Joe Romm, How Global Warming Will Make Hurricanes Like Irene Worse How Global Warming Will Make Hurricanes Like Irene Worse
Joe Romm, Thinning Arctic Sea Ice Poised to Undergo Record Decline in Mid-August, Volume Minimum Likely Thinning Arctic Sea Ice Poised to Undergo Record Decline in Mid-August, Volume Minimum Likely
Sarah Seltzer, Schools Nationwide Cutting Down to 4 Days a Week, Because Wealthy Refuse to Pay Fair Share Schools Nationwide Cutting Down to 4 Days a Week, Because Wealthy Refuse to Pay Fair Share
Sarah Seltzer, In Tough Times, Tough Luck: Colleges Favoring at Richer Applicants In Tough Times, Tough Luck: Colleges Favoring at Richer Applicants
Nick Turse, Obama's Arc of Instability: Destabilizing the World One Region at a Time Obama's Arc of Instability: Destabilizing the World One Region at a Time

Articles and papers of authors
 Data sent
 Theme or issue
 September 26, 2011  

Schools these days can be dangerous places: a volatile mix of fiscal crisis, ideological tension and impressionable young minds. But our troubled public schools can teach us a lot when they push struggling teachers from the classroom to the picket line.

On Friday, stalled contract talks at Cincinnati State Technical & Community College compelled nearly 200 teachers to go on strike. Basic labor rights are at stake, with the administration “claiming it needs financial flexibility and teachers claiming the right to negotiate critical working conditions,” according to the Enquirer. The standoff appears to be a proxy battle over Ohio Senate Bill 5, which aims to strip away collective bargaining rights. The measure mirrors the infamous anti-union bill that rocked Wisconsin earlier this year, and parallels a national debate over public sector labor in which many educators have taken the helm.

On Wednesday, an “illegal” teachers' strike in Tacoma, Wash., with a long history of union action behind it, finally drew to an end after 57 schools were shuttered for several days and teachers refused to go back to work, despite a court injunction. Their new contract requires concessions on both sides: Teachers got the district to hold off on pay cuts, but lost their bid for better teacher-to-student ratios.

A major flashpoint was the issue of teaching quality. According to Reuters, “the two sides agreed to establish a joint panel of teachers and school officials to set new teacher evaluation standards that would be used in conjunction with seniority to make future staffing reassignments.” Reading between the lines, it seems that the debate on teacher “accountability” will continue as corporate-style “school reform” zealots push for privatization-oriented policies that erode unions.

A similar standoff is playing out in Chicago, where teachers have clashed with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pilot initiative to institute a longer school day (though the conflict hasn't reached a crisis point yet). The idea of tacking an extra 90 minutes onto students' schedules has run into opposition primarily because it seems like a way to squeeze more labor out of teachers without paying them accordingly. Jason Erbentraut at The Huffington Post reports:

Last week the teachers union filed an unfair labor lawsuit against the mayor-appointed Chicago Board of Education. The suit claims that CPS has attempted to bribe and coerce schools into approving the longer school day pilot program—circumventing their existing contract by signing up for the longer work day.

Since CPS teachers were denied their contractually-obligated 4 percent raises—worth an estimated $100 million—earlier this year under the pretense that the system was too broke to afford them, many have wondered how the city is paying for pilot program incentives—which could cost as much as $30 million, depending on how many schools join.

It's currently unclear how many schools will ultimately accept or reject the plan to stretch the workday, and it's even less clear what would actually go into that extra classroom time: What about other investments to make those minutes worthwhile—more resources for instruction, enhanced curricula, fair compensation for teachers instead of just bonuses sprinkled on compliant schools?

Karen Lewis, head of the city's teachers' union, told NPR, “This is not about quantity, it's about quality–-what is going on during the school day.”

Many might criticize the threat of a teachers' strike as another way unions supposedly play politics with children's education. But the recent teacher labor battles show that lawmakers have already turned education into a political pawn, and teachers are left to shoulder the burden of stultifying standardized tests, crippling bureaucracy and virulent anti-union sentiment. Radical education activists acknowledge that mainstream unions by nature operate on their own political agenda, and that mammoth unions like the American Federation of Teachers aren't above cheating the rank-and-file to strike deals with the establishment.

But when they dare to draw the line on labor justice in the classroom, they're teaching by example that a fair workplace is also a healthier learning environment.

Perhaps nowhere is that connection more apparent to both communities and educators than in post-Arab Spring Egypt, where teachers have marched off the job for the first time since 1951. They protest that the government has continually failed to address unfair wages and unfair “merit tests.” Cairo teacher Radi Salem Mohamed explained the frustrations of his profession to Ahram Online:

“We marched from my school to five other schools in the area, chanting for living wages for ourselves and decent education for the children,” Mohamed said.

Mohamed explained that the ministry set near impossible conditions on teachers in order to release promised increases in wages.

“They want us to work a minimum of 18 days every month on a five days a week schedule. This means that we cannot take any sick or personal days off. That is not human.”

Cairo's politics may not look anything like Tacoma's or Chicago's, but in all these cities, teachers and students struggle to bring democracy to the education system; they'll only arrive at the answer by learning the hard way.

Michelle Chen has written for AlterNet, ColorLines, In These Times, South China Morning Post, Clamor, INTHEFRAY.COM and her own zine, cain.
  Read What Do Students Learn When Cities Refuse to Fairly Treat Their Teachers?
 September 11, 2011  

Carlos de Castro, a professor of Applied Physics in the University of Valladolid in Spain. Carlos is the lead author of an article that was recently accepted by Energy Policy called, "Global wind power potential: Physical and technological limits." The article is behind a pay wall, but Carlos was kind enough to write a summary of the article for us.

Cite: De Castro C. et al. 2011. Global wind power potential: physical and technological limits. Energy Policy. Doi:10.1016/j-enpol.2011.06.027
Received 5 November 2010; accepted 13 June 2011. Available online 29 June 2011.


This paper is focused on a new methodology for the global assessment of wind power potential. Most of the previous works on the global assessment of the technological potential of wind power have used bottom-up methodologies (e.g. Archer and Jacobson, 2005, Capps and Zender, 2010, Lu et. al., 2009). Economic, ecological and other assessments have been developed, based on these technological capacities. However, this paper tries to show that the reported regional and global technological potential are flawed because they do not conserve the energetic balance on Earth, violating the first principle of energy conservation (Gans et al., 2010). We propose a top-down approach, such as that in Miller et al., 2010, to evaluate the physical-geographical potential and, for the first time, to evaluate the global technological wind power potential, while acknowledging energy conservation. The results give roughly 1TW for the top limit of the future electrical potential of wind energy. This value is much lower than previous estimates and even lower than economic and realizable potentials published for the mid-century (e.g. DeVries et al., 2007, EEA, 2009, Zerta et al., 2008).

Our calculations:

We use a top-down methodology based on six stages. The base data is the kinetic energy contained in the atmosphere, and this amount is restricted by several constraints that subtract the energy that cannot be transformed into electricity. These constraints are:

1. The energy of the lowest layer of the atmosphere, f1, P0(h < 200) = f1·P0

Estimates of the total kinetic energy dissipation in the atmosphere vary from 340 TW to 3600 TW. We take an intermediate value of P0 = 1200 TW as our starting point. The fraction of that energy that is available in the lowest 200m, f1, can be estimated via different methods taking into consideration 1) changes in energy density with height; 2) residence time of surface air masses or 3) dissipated power of the Atmospheric Boundary Layer. All three methods yield similar values near f1=0.083. Thus the power dissipated in the lower 200m of the atmosphere (accessible to windmills) is calculated as: f1·P0(h < 200) = 100 TW.

2. Reachable areas of the Earth (geographical constraint), f2. PG = f1·f2·P0

The Earth's surface is not uniformly suitable for kinetic energy extraction. Deep sea areas (more than 200m deep), areas permanently covered by ice, etc., can be excluded as uneconomic. Thus ¾ of the Earth’s surface is not suitable for wind farms. On the other hand, the windiest continent is Antarctica, and wind has a lot more energy over the deep seas than on the ground. We could, therefore, easily estimate that less than 80% of the energy will be lost because of these geographical restrictions.
f2 < 0.2

3. Percentage of the wind that interacts with the blades of the mills, f3

We estimate than a farm could catch less than approximately 30% of the kinetic energy that goes through it (considering the space among mills, a wind front of 200 meters high and mills of 100 meters in diameter), because the rest will simply never interact with the blades of the mill. Therefore:
f3 < 0.3

4. Areas with reasonable wind potential, f4

Even in locations accessible for wind parks, we consider that the mills will be situated in areas of class 3 or higher. Approximately half of all the kinetic energy of the geographically accessible areas are in areas of class 3 or higher, then we have: f4= 0.5

5. Percentage of energy of the wind speeds that are valid to produce electricity (not too little or too much velocity), f5

Wind turbines do not perform equally efficiently at all wind speeds. On average, modern wind turbines have an energy conversion efficiency of < 50%. We estimate that future designs will be able to improve this ratio and use three quarters of the energy that interacts with them, but not much more, therefore: f5 = 0.75

6. Efficiency of the conversion of kinetic energy into electric energy, f6

The maximum theoretical efficiency of a wind turbine (power output)/(power in wind) is known as the Betz limit and has a value of 0.59. If we assume than in the future the losses relative to the Betz limit (front kinetic energy to net electric energy) will only be 15% (at present losses are >30%) then: f6 = 0.5

Therefore: PT = f1·f2·f3·f4·f5·f6·P0 ~ 1TWe

Our conclusions:

The global assessment of the technological potential of wind power to produce electricity, based on the top-down approach, shows quite different results to those of previous works. The technical assessment potential that has been obtained is one or two orders of magnitude lower than those estimated by other authors. This means that technological wind power potential imposes an important limit on the effective electric wind power that could be developed, against the common thinking of no technological constraints by economic, ecological or other assessments.

According to the World Wind Energy Association, the electrical wind power produced today is ~0.045 TW and this type of energy is growing at an annual rate of > 25%. If the present growth rate continues, we would reach the 1 TW we estimated in less than 15 years. Therefore, probably in this decade, we will see less growth than we saw in the previous decade.

This limit poses important limitations to the expansion of this energy. Since the present exergy consumption of all energies is ~17 TW, it implies that no more than 6% of today’s primary energy can be obtained from the wind.

Furthermore, if the electric wind power of the world were to approach 1TW, we could generate a new class of “tragedy of the commons” with the necessity of the international regulation of rights to winds. Without an effective regulation, in a medium-term future, we will see “wind park effect and wake effect” on a global scale, making new and old installed parks less efficient.

Global assessment of potential energy based on bottom-up methodologies has been used for renewable energies such as tidal, wave or geothermal.

A top-down review of the global assessment of potential energy from these renewable sources may be necessary in order to obtain the best estimation for the top limit of primary energy that our society is able to use in a sustainable

Some of our References

These two papers use bottom-up methodologies being criticized:

Archer C. L., M. Z. Jacobson, 2005. Evaluation of global wind power. Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 110, D12110.

Capps S.B., C.S. Zender, 2010. The estimated global ocean wind power potential from QuickScat observations, accounting for turbine characteristics and sitting. Journal of Geophysical Research. Vol 115, D01101, 13PP, doi:10.1029/2009JD012679

These two papers calculate the power of the wind in the atmosphere that we use for our top-down approach:

Peixoto, J. P., Oort, A. H., 1992. Physics of climate. American Institute of Physics, 1, 379–385, 1992. 109

Sorensen, B., 2004. Renewable energy: its physics, engineering use, environment impacts, economy and planning aspects. Elsevier Acad. Press.

This paper gives a theoretical discussion of why bottom-up methodologies violate the first principle:

Gans, F., et al., 2010. The problem of the second wind turbine—a note on a common but flawed wind power estimation method. Earth System Dynamics Discussion 1, 103–114. doi:10.5194/esdd-1-103-2010.

This paper discusses why the "solution" is not the hypothetical energy transfer of wind from the upper layers of the atmosphere:

Wang, C., Prinn, R.G., 2010. Potential climatic impacts and reliability of very large-scale wind farms. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 10, 2053–2061.

This paper discusses the wake effect on a local scale:

Christiansen, M.B., Hasager, C.B., 2005. Wake effects of large offshore wind farms identified from satellite SAR. Remote Sensing of Environment 98 (2–3), 251–268 15 October 2005.

More Information

More details and more extensive references can be found in the original copyrighted version of the paper, Global wind power potential: Physical and technological limits, available from Energy Policy.

Carlos de Castro, a professor of Applied Physics in the University of Valladolid in Spain. Carlos is the lead author of an article that was recently accepted by Energy Policy called, "Global wind power potential: Physical and technological limits." The article is behind a pay wall, but Carlos was kind enough to write a summary of the article for us.

  Read Global Wind Power Potential: Physical And Technological Limits
 August 31, 2011  
Petroleum And Population
by Peter Goodchild , Countercurrents

In The Coming Chaos (Abridged) I make two claims, which at first might seem hard to integrate with one another. Whether or not the claims are proven (which must be determined by examining the whole argument), there are at least some simple ways of checking the figures, and also of correlating the two claims, if I may be forgiven for quoting myself so liberally.

My figures on present and past global population, however, are all drawn from UN sources. Figures for past and present oil production can be found in such sources as BP, Campbell and Laherrère, and even M. K. Hubbert himself (see references below), although figures on early oil production are curiously less accessible than in the days when Petroconsultants was releasing such data.

Roughly speaking, the first claim is that world population must decline in parallel with the decline in world oil production: for example, oil production will fall to half of its peak in 2030, and population must therefore also drop to about half of its peak level. The second claim is that there will be approximately 2.5 billion ?extra? (i.e. famine) deaths and lost births by the end of the century. (Yes, these are all very rough figures.)

The first statement (p. 13) is as follows.

?The world's population went from about 1.7 billion in 1900 to 2.5 in 1950, to nearly 7 billion in 2010. . . . [A] calculation about future population can be made by looking more closely at the rise and fall of oil production. The rapid increase in population over the last hundred years is not merely coincident with the rapid increase in oil production. It is the latter that has actually allowed (the word 'caused' might be too strong) the former: that is to say, oil has been the main source of energy within industrial society. It is only with abundant oil that a large population is possible. . . . When oil production drops to half of its peak amount, world population must also drop by half.?

The second statement (p. 32) is as follows:

?Future excess mortality can therefore be determined ? at least in a rough-and-ready manner ? by the fact that in modern industrial society it is oil supply that determines how many people can be fed. An increase in oil production leads to an increase in population, and a decrease in oil production leads to a decrease in population.

?In round numbers, global oil production in the year 2008 was 30 billion barrels, and the population was 7 billion. The consensus is that in the year 2050 oil production will be about 2 billion barrels. The same amount of oil production occurred in the year 1930, when the population was 2 billion. The population in 2050 may therefore be the same as in 1930: 2 billion. The difference between 7 billion people and 2 billion is 5 billion, which would therefore be the total number of famine deaths and lost or averted births for that period. (A more-precise measurement would entail looking at the number of survivors in each year and then determining what might be called the 'temporary carrying capacity' for that year, based on the remaining oil, but the grand total would be roughly the same.)?

If we now pick some easy-to-remember dates, we can see how all these figures come together. Let us first look at the year 2030. With a 3-percent average annual decline in oil production (defined here as ?percentage of the previous year's amount?), there will be 13 billion barrels produced. The same oil production occurred in 1966, which had a population of 3.4 billion, and so we can conclude that in the year 2030 there will likewise be a population of 3.4 billion ? very close to previously-stated ?half? of the ?peak population? (i.e. half of the population of about the year 2010).

1966: 13 bbl oil -----> 3.4 billion population

2030: 13 bbl oil -----> 3.4 billion population

Another curious pair of years includes 2050, which at 3-percent annual decline will have the same oil production as the year 1934, and therefore the same population of 2.4 billion:

1934: 1.6 bbl oil -----> 2.4 billion population

2050: 1.6 bbl oil -----> 2.4 billion population

Here, of course, the significant fact is that the population has fallen to 2.4 billion, which can be subtracted from 7 billion, the peak population, to give us the total of 4.6 billion, which is roughly the same as the ?5 billion? mentioned earlier as ?the total number of famine deaths and lost or averted births for that period.?


BP. Global statistical review of world energy. (2010, June). Retrieved from http://www.bp.com/statisticalreview

Campbell, C. J. & J. H. Laherrère. (1998, March). The end of cheap oil. Scientific American.

Goodchild, Peter. The Coming Chaos (abridged).


Hubbert, M. K. (1956). Nuclear energy and the fossil fuels. American Petroleum Institute. Retrieved from http://www.hubbertpeak.com/hubbert/1956/1956.pdf

Peter Goodchild is the author of Survival Skills of the North American Indians, published by Chicago Review Press. His email address is prjgoodchild{at}gmail.com

  Read Petroleum And Population
 August 26, 2011  
What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know About Capitalism
by Fred Magdoff , Interview conducted by Scott Bochert, MRzine, Countercurrents

Fred Magdoff is co-author, with John Bellamy Foster, of the recently released What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism: A Citizen's Guide to Capitalism and the Environment . He is professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont. Scott Borchert works for Monthly Review Press .

What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism is a short, accessible introduction to the ecological crisis that is intended for a wide audience ? why did you decide to write a book like this, and why now?

In the fall of 2008 I attended a conference where discussion of the environment was prominent, although not the only subject. As people talked about the variety of problems facing the earth and humanity I had the feeling that they were constantly ?beating around the bush.? So when it was my time to talk, I discarded my notes dealing with ecology and agriculture, and said that I thought a central issue was being ignored. I explained that I was going to speak about ?the bush? that I thought everyone was beating around ? that is, the capitalist system and how in its very essence it is destructive of the environment.

This approach was a real stumbling block for most people there. They were very interesting and innovative people ? many would be considered ?out of the box? thinkers. But, I realized that they, and those in the environmental movement in general, were unable to think outside of capitalism. It appears inconceivable to most of the people I spoke with that somehow there might be a future economic system that wasn't capitalist.

It seemed to me that this was the critical issue. I thought that, if they fully understood the role of the normal workings of the capitalist system in causing environmental havoc, people with such great concern for the environment might begin to understand that another social/economic/political system is not just possible, but essential.

Most people will agree that we're facing a number of environmental problems, from climate change to ocean acidification to species extinction, but how serious is the situation, really?

The world's environmental problems rise to the level of a major crisis. This is certainly the most devastating crisis that has been faced by the world's people. There is so much damage being done to essentially all aspects of the environment that local, regional, and global ecosystems are being degraded. We are already seeing severe effects of climate change, ocean acidification, chemical pollution, soil erosion, and so on.

Just to give a few examples: extreme weather events have occurred with greater frequency; yields of a number of crops have been decreased by high temperature, droughts, and floods; the drinking water for many people is contaminated with pesticides and high nitrate levels; people have had to move because of melting permafrost in the far north and the melting of glaciers that once provided reliable water in the dry season. As the ocean level rises, low-lying coastal agricultural land is becoming contaminated with salt ? this is already occurring in regions such as Vietnam's Mekong Delta.

When all of the effects of environmental degradation are added together, the only conclusion one can come to is that the earth's systems that support our existence as well as that of many other species are threatened. Millions of people are already suffering various effects of environmental degradation.

What are some of the proposed solutions to dealing with the ecological crisis, and why do you argue that they are insufficient?

There is no shortage of ideas about what to do ? live more simply, purchase ?green? products, purchase carbon credits to offset the global warming effects of an airplane trip, blast the atmosphere with particles to reflect sunlight, develop systems for taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it deep underground, impose a tax on all fossil fuels (a carbon tax), etc.

Some of these make more sense than others. Others have unknown consequences. However, they all give the illusion that it is possible to solve the ecological crisis without confronting capitalism as a system. And it is capitalism's necessity to grow the economy forever and the single overriding goal of obtaining more and more profits that are at the heart of the environmental problems we face.

Why should the environmental movement be concerned with economic issues at all?

The big question ? that environmentalists usually don't ask ? is why all of these assaults on the global ecosystem are happening. They are usually concerned with one issue or another, global warming, chemical pollution, soil degradation, etc. But why are they all occurring? Without digging into how the economic system actually functions in the real world (not theoretically), it isn't possible to answer the question.

There are some environmentalists that are concerned with economic issues. In fact, there are professors who consider themselves ?ecological economists,? and there is even an institute of ecological economics. But these people, some of whom are very creative thinkers, are concerned with putting a price on what they call ?ecological services? ? such as the role wetlands play in cleaning runoff water and providing habitat for wildlife ? and suggesting ways that might make certain processes or products with less damage to the environment.

But they have no real critique of the system itself and there is no consideration given to alternative ways to organize and run an economy.

What is the general attitude of the environmentalist movement toward your view, i.e. a systemic, anti-capitalist point of view? Have attitudes been changing in recent years?

Over the last decade there are increasing numbers of environmentalists who do understand that capitalism is the critical issue. This is certainly a major step forward. However, most of these people call for what is essentially tinkering with the system ? better regulations, more government support for alternatives to fossil fuel energy, trying to factor in the costs of damage done to the environment into the prices of products ? while keeping the essence of capitalism intact.

Why not try to reform capitalism along ?green? or ?sustainable? lines, or aim for a ?zero growth? economy?

Truly ?green? or ?sustainable capitalism? is an oxymoron. The very heart of the system ? production of goods and services to make profits, which propels growth ? excludes the possibility of capitalism being anything other than a system that has environmental destruction as a by-product.

Of course, it's possible to have such things as better environmental regulations and use of fewer toxic chemicals. We now have sewage treatment plants to treat the waste of cities and the rivers are therefore cleaner.

But the need to grow ? to produce and sell more and more stuff while recognizing no boundaries ? and having profits as the driving force and overwhelming goal of production means the system will always be environmentally destructive.

Zero growth is an economic disaster in a capitalist economy. At this time (August 2011), the United States economy has been growing for more than two years since the official end of the Great Recession. But it's growing too slowly to provide enough jobs to re-employ the fired workers and get anywhere near full employment.

We have some 28 million people either unemployed (14 million), underemployed, or so discouraged that they have stopped looking for work (another 14 million between them). Sustained high rates of economic growth are needed to get anywhere near what might be considered full employment.

The only way that zero economic growth can be consistent with satisfying people's basic needs ? physical and non-physical ? is to have a different economic/social system in which production is done only for the purpose of providing these needs to the population instead of production for the purpose of selling stuff (regardless of its social value) and perpetually making profits.

Who are the kinds of people you hope will read this book, and what effect do you hope it will have?

Our hope is that this book will have an impact on people who already understand how serious the environmental problems are for humans as well as many other species. These people don't need to be convinced about the environmental disaster ? although there is enough information in the book to bring a deeper understanding of the issues to all who read it ? but rather need to grasp how what is happening is connected to the basic way our economic system functions. It's not an aberration ? but rather a natural outcome.

You're also the co-author of The ABCS of the Economic Crisis (with Michael D. Yates), which is a short introduction to the causes of the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession ? what is the relationship between that book and this new one?

Both books are aimed at a general audience and written to be accessible to everyone interested in these subjects. Both are also in the tradition of Monthly Review magazine as well as Monthly Review Press books ? they try to get to the root of issues. This means putting events into context to help people understand not only what problems or issues are occurring, but, more importantly, why they occurring and what might be done about them.

How are movements and governments in other countries responding to the ecological crisis, compared to in the United States? What can people in the U.S. and other core capitalist countries do?

There is a huge amount of activity around the world over concern with, and how to improve, the environment. One indication of this concern was the 2010 World Peoples' Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Bolivia. Some 30,000 people attended representing many countries, organizations, and indigenous groups. Many of those attending were from organizations engaged in actions around environmental justice and stopping the pillage of the earth as well as helping people cope with the consequences. One of the people I met was from the Alaska tribal council and told of helping to move an entire native Alaska village because sea level increases and melting permafrost under their village made another location necessary.

There is much that can be done now, in the U.S. and other core capitalist countries. For example, some groups are pushing for a carbon tax with money returned on an equal per capita basis. This would slow down energy use without penalizing the poor who tend to use lower amounts of energy than the wealthy ? they would receive more money than the extra they pay for the tax.

Just a few days ago people were arrested outside the White House while protesting the proposed building of a pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta Canada to Texas . Recovery of oil from the tar sands is an especially damaging process.

There is no lack of organizations that are doing meaningful things to help the environment. What there is, however, is a lack of groups and a movement that understand that the environmental problems are deeply embedded in the economy and that a different way of interacting with the economy, other people, and the environment is necessary.

  Read What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know About Capitalism
 August 26, 2011  
The Rape Of Libya
by Bill Van Auken , WSWS.org, Countercurrents

Five days after “rebels” entered Tripoli, under the cover of NATO bombing and led by foreign special forces, the abject criminality of imperialism’s takeover of Libya is becoming increasingly evident.

Fighting continues to rage throughout the Libyan capital, whose two million residents have been made hostages of the armed gangs and Western special forces troops that have seized control of the city’s streets.

The focus of NATO operations has become a frantic effort to hunt down and murder Muammar Gaddafi, who has ruled the country for 42 years. A $2 million bounty has been placed on his head, and the British media now openly boast that SAS special forces troops are leading the search for him and his family. A vast array of US armed Predator drones, AWACS spy planes and other surveillance equipment has been concentrated on the North African country to facilitate the manhunt.

The pretense that the US and its European NATO allies were intervening in Libya to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas from threat of attack,” as stated in the United Nations Security Council resolution, has effectively been abandoned. Behind the fig leaf of this resolution the naked imperialist and colonial character of the war has emerged.

The Security Council’s stipulations that ground troops not be introduced into the country, that an arms embargo be kept in place and that mercenaries be prevented from entering Libya have all been flouted in this criminal operation to seize control of an oil-rich former colony and loot its resources. There is barely any attempt to hide the fact that special forces, intelligence agents and mercenary military contractors have organized, armed and led the “rebels”, who have not made a single advance without the prior annihilation of government security forces by NATO warplanes.

After being terrorized for five months by NATO bombs and missiles, the people of Tripoli are now facing sudden death and a looming humanitarian catastrophe as a result of the NATO campaign to “protect civilians”.

Kim Sengupta of the Independent reported Thursday from the Tripoli neighborhood of Abu Salim, which the “rebels” stormed under the cover of NATO air strikes. Known as a pro-Gaddafi area, its residents have been subjected to a reign of terror.

“There was no escape for the residents of Abu Salim, trapped as the fighting spread all around them,” Sengupta reported. “In the corner of a street, a man who was shot in the crossfire, the back of his blue shirt soaked in blood, was being carried away by three others. ‘I know that man, he is a shopkeeper,’ said Sama Abdessalam Bashti, who had just run across the road to reach his home. ‘The rebels are attacking our homes. This should not be happening.

“‘The rebels are saying they are fighting government troops here, but all those getting hurt are ordinary people, the only buildings being damaged are those of local people. There has also been looting by the rebels, they have gone into houses to search for people and taken away things. Why are they doing this?’”

Asked why local residents were resisting the NATO-led force’s takeover of the city, Mohammed Selim Mohammed, a 38-year-old engineer, told the Independent, “Maybe they just do not like the rebels. Why are people from outside Tripoli coming and arresting our men?”

Meanwhile, other reports laid bare war crimes carried out by NATO and its local agents on the ground in Tripoli. Both the Associated Press and Reuters news agencies documented a massacre perpetrated against Gaddafi supporters in a square adjacent to the presidential compound that was stormed and looted on Tuesday.

“The bodies are scattered around a grassy square next to Moammar Gadhafi’s compound of Bab al-Aziziya. Prone on grassy lots as if napping, sprawled in tents. Some have had their wrists bound by plastic ties,” AP reported.

“The identities of the dead are unclear but they are in all likelihood activists that set up an impromptu tent city in solidarity with Gadhafi outside his compound in defiance of the NATO bombings.”

AP said that the grisly discovery raised “the disturbing specter of mass killings of noncombatants, detainees and the wounded.”

Among the bodies of the executed the report added were several that “had been shot in the head, with their hands tied behind their backs. A body in a doctor’s green hospital gown was found in the canal. The bodies were bloated.”

Reporting from the same killing field, Reuters counted 30 bodies “riddled with bullets”. It noted that “Five of the dead were at a field hospital nearby, with one in an ambulance strapped to a gurney with an intravenous drip still in his arm.” Two of the bodies, it said, “were charred beyond recognition.”

Amnesty International has raised urgent concerns about the killing, torture and brutalization of people being rounded up by the “rebels,” particularly African migrant workers who have been singled out for retribution because of the color of their skin.

In a report from a makeshift detention camp set up by the NATO-led forces in a Tripoli school, Amnesty stated:

“In an overcrowded cell, where some 125 people were held with barely enough room to sleep or move, a boy told Amnesty International how he had responded to calls by al-Gaddafi's government for volunteers to fight the opposition.

“He said that he was driven to a military camp in Az-Zawiya, where he was handed a Kalashnikov rifle that he did not know how to use.

“He told Amnesty International: ‘When NATO bombed the camp around 14 August, those who survived fled. I threw my weapon on the ground, and asked for refuge in a home nearby. I told the owners what happened, and I think they called the revolutionaries [thuuwar], because they came shortly after.

“‘They shouted for me to surrender. I put my hands up in the air. They made me kneel on the ground and put my hands behind by head. Then one told me to get up. When I did, he shot me in the knee at close range. I fell on the ground, and they continued beating me with the back of their rifles all over my body and face.

“‘I had to get three stitches behind by left ear as a result. In detention, sometimes they still beat us and insult us, calling us killers.’”

A pro-Gaddafi soldier told a similar story, recounting that he was captured August 19 while bringing supplies to his unit. “He said that he was beaten all over his body and face with the backs of rifles, punched and kicked. He bore visible marks consistent with his testimony.”

Amnesty said that “rebel” leaders estimated that one-third of the detainees were “foreign mercenaries,” meaning sub-Saharan Africans. “When Amnesty International spoke to several of the detainees, however, they said they were migrant workers. They said that they had been taken at gunpoint from their homes, workplaces and the street on account of their skin colour.” Several said that they feared for their lives and that guards had told them that they would be “eliminated or else sentenced to death.”

Among those detained were a family of five from Chad, including a minor, who were taken off of a truck while being driven to a farm to collect produce. A 24-year-old man from Niger who had worked in Libya for five years told Amnesty that armed men had seized him from his home, handcuffed and beaten him and thrown him into the trunk of a car. “I am not at all involved in this conflict,” he said. “All I wanted to do was to make a living. But because of my skin colour, I find myself here, in detention. Who knows what will happen to me now.”

The human rights group also cited a report from a Reuters reporting team which saw a “rebel” pickup truck carrying three black men in the back. One of them told Reuters he was Nigerian. “He sobbed as he said: ‘I do not know Gaddafi. I do not know Gaddafi. I am only working here.’”

News reports and statements from international aid agencies warn of a humanitarian catastrophe in the city as a result of the NATO siege. Reporting from a local hospital, the Telegraph said: “As battle raged in the Tripoli streets hundreds of casualties were brought in, rebel fighters, Gaddafi’s soldiers, and unlucky civilians, laying next to each other in bed and even on a floor awash with blood, screaming or moaning in agony. Many died before they could be treated.”

The paper interviewed Dr. Mahjoub Rishi, the hospital’s Professor of Surgery: “There were hundreds coming in within the first few hours. It was like a vision from hell. Missile injuries were the worst. The damage they do to the human body is shocking to see, even for someone like me who is used to dealing with injuries.” Most of the casualties, he said, were civilians caught in the crossfire.

The Telegraph reported that Tripoli’s two other major hospitals were similarly overflowing with casualties and desperately understaffed, as were all of the city’s private hospitals.

The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned that the city is facing a medical “catastrophe”.

The group told Reuters that “Medical supplies ran low during six months of civil war [i.e., NATO bombardment] but have almost completely dried up in the siege and battle of the past week. Fuel supplies have run out and the few remaining medical workers are struggling to get to work.” The lack of fuel means that hospitals that have kept their power by running generators can now no longer do so.

Health officials in Tripoli report that blood supplies have run out at the hospitals and that food and drinking water is unavailable over whole areas of Tripoli.

Meanwhile the governments of Algeria, Venezuela and South Korea have all reported that their embassies in Tripoli have been attacked and looted by “rebel” gunmen. While the governments of Algeria and Venezuela had opposed the NATO invasion and supported Gaddafi, South Korea, a close US ally, had taken no such positions.

The universal euphoria of the US and much of the European media, which is “embedded” with NATO and its “rebels,” cannot conceal the brutal reality that a war waged under the pretense of human rights and protecting civilians has unleashed immense death, human suffering and destruction.

Far from a “revolution” or struggle for “liberation,” what the world is witnessing is the rape of Libya by a syndicate of imperialist powers determined to lay hold of its oil wealth and turn its territory into a neo-colonial base of operations for further interventions throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

  Read The Rape Of Libya
 August 25, 2011  
An Elegy For The Age Of Space
by John Michael Greer , The Archdruid Report, Countercurrents

The orbiters are silent now, waiting for the last awkward journey that will take them to the museums that will warehouse the grandest of our civilization’s failed dreams. There will be no countdown, no pillar of flame to punch them through the atmosphere and send them whipping around the planet at orbital speeds. All of that is over.

In Houston, the same silence creeps through rooms where technicians once huddled over computer screens as voices from space crackled over loudspeakers. The screens are black now, the mission control rooms empty, and most of the staff have already gotten their pink slips. On the Florida coast, where rusting gantries creak in the wind and bats flutter in cavernous buildings raised for the sake of a very different kind of flight, another set of lauch pads sinks slowly into their new career as postindustrial ruins.

There are still rockets lifting off elsewhere, to be sure, adding to the globe’s collection of satellites and orbiting space junk. The International Space Station still wheels through the sky, visited at intervals by elderly Soyuz capsules, counting down the days and the missions until its scheduled deorbiting in 2016. In America, a few big corporations have manned space projects on the drawing boards, angling for whatever federal funding survives the next few rounds of our national bankruptcy proceedings, and a few billionaires here and elsewhere are building hobby spacecraft in roughly the same spirit that inspired their Gilded Age equivalents to maintain luxury yachts and thoroughbred stables.

Still, something has shifted. A tide that was expected to flow for generations and centuries to come has peaked and begun to ebb. There will still be rockets surging up from their launch pads for years or decades to come, and some few of them will have human beings on board, but the momentum is gone. It’s time to start coming to terms with the winding down of the age of space.

Ironically, one of the best pieces of evidence for that was the shrill reception given to an article in The Economist announcing The End of the Space Age. The irony was particularly delicious in that The Economist is a British periodical, and Britain has already been through its own retreat from space. During the first half of the 20th century, the British Interplanetary Society was among the most prestigious groups calling for manned space missions, but dreams of a British presence in space collapsed around the same time as Britain’s empire and industrial economy did. It’s hard to miss the schadenfreude in The Economist’s editorial stance, but it was even harder to overlook the bluster and denial splashed across the blogosphere in its wake.

A little perspective might be useful here. When the space shuttle first came off the drawing boards, the much-repeated theory was that it would be the first of a new breed of spacecraft that would make a flight from Cape Canaveral to orbit as commonplace as a flight from New York to Chicago. The next generation would swap out the shuttle’s disposable fuel tank and solid-fuel boosters for a fully reusable first stage that would take a shuttle-equivalent most of the way into orbit, then come back to Earth under its own power and get refueled for the next launch. Further down the road, but already in the concept phase, were spaceplanes that could take off from an ordinary runway, use standard jet engines to get to 50,000 feet or so, where rocket engines would cut in for the leap to orbit. Single-use rockets? In the minds of the space-savvy, they were already as outdated as Model T Fords.

Yet here we are in 2011, the space shuttle program is over, the replacements weren’t built, and for the five years of scheduled life the International Space Station has left, its crews will be getting there via the 1960s-era technology of Soyuz space capsules atop single-use rockets. As for the rest of the steps toward space everyone in the 1960s assumed we would have taken by now—the permanent space stations, the base on the Moon, the manned missions to Mars, and the rest of it—only the most hardcore space fans talk about them any more, and let’s not even discuss their chances of getting significant funding this side of the twelfth of never.

Mind you, I’m not cheering. Though I realized some years ago that humanity isn’t going to the stars—not now, not in the lifetime of our species—the end of the shuttle program with no replacement in sight still hit me like a body blow. It’s not just a generational thing, though it’s partly that; another large part of it was growing up where and when I did. By that I don’t just mean in the United States in the middle decades of the last century, but specifically in the triumphant years between John Glenn’s first orbital flight and Neil Armstrong’s final step onto lunar soil, in a suburb south of Seattle where every third family or so had a father who worked in the aerospace industry. Yes, I remember exactly where I was sitting and what was happening the moment that Walter Cronkite told the world that Apollo 11 had just landed on the Moon.

You didn’t grow up as a geeky, intellectual kid in that sort of setting without falling in love with space. Of course it didn’t hurt that the media was filled to the bursting point with space travel—turn on the tube any evening during my childhood, and if you didn’t get Lost In Space or Star Trek you’d probably catch The Invaders or My Favorite Martian—and children’s books were no different; among my favorites early on was Ronnie Rocket and Suzie Saucer, and I went from there to The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, The Spaceship Under the Apple Tree—well, you get the picture. (I won’t even get into science fiction here; that’s a subject that deserves an entire post to itself.) Toys? The G.I. Joe accessory I treasured most in those days was a plastic Mercury space capsule with space suit to match; I also played with Major Matt Mason, Man In Space, and plenty of less efficiently marketed toys as well.

The future that most people imagined in those days had plenty of options primed to catch a young boy’s imagination, to be sure. Sealab—does anybody remember Sealab these days?—was the Navy’s attempt to compete with the romance of space, complete with breathless National Geographic articles about "a new world of limitless resources beneath the sea." (Ahem.) For a while, I followed Sealab as passionately as I did the space program, and yes, my G.I. Joe also had a wetsuit and scuba gear. That was common enough, and so were my less scientific fixations of the time, the monster lore and paranormal phenomena and the like; when you’re stuck growing up in suburbia in a disintegrating family and the only source of hope you can come up with is the prospect that the world isn’t as tepidly one-dimensional as everyone around you insists it has to be, you take encouragement where you find it.

You might think that a kid who was an expert on werewolf trivia at age ten would have gone in for the wildest of space fantasies, but I didn’t. Star Trek always seemed hokey to me. (I figured out early on that Star Trek was a transparent pastiche of mid-1960s US foreign policy, with the Klingons as Russia, the Vulcans as Japan, the Romulans as Red China, and Captain Kirk as a wish-fulfillment fantasy version of Gen. William Westmoreland who always successfully pacified his extraterrestrial Vietnams.) Quite the contrary; my favorite spacecraft model kit, which hung from a length of thread in my bedroom for years, was called the Pilgrim Observer: some bright kit designer’s vision of one of the workhorse craft of solar system exploration in the late 20th century.

Dilithium crystals, warp drives, and similar improbabilities had no place in the Pilgrim Observer. Instead, it had big tanks for hydrogen fuel, a heavily shielded nuclear engine on a long boom aft, an engagingly clunky command module up front bristling with telescopes and dish antennas—well, here again, you get the picture; if you know your way around 1970s space nonfiction, you know the kit. It came with a little booklet outlining the Pilgrim I’s initial flyby missions to Mars and Venus, all of it entirely plausible by the standards the time. That was what delighted me. Transporter beams and faster-than-light starflight, those were fantasy, but I expected to watch something not too far from Pilgrim I lifting off from Cape Canaveral within my lifetime.

That didn’t happen, and it’s not going to happen. That was a difficult realization for me to reach, back in the day, and it’s one a great many Americans are doing their level best to avoid right now. There are two solid reasons why the future in space so many of us thought we were going to get never arrived, and each one provides its own reasons for evasion. We’ve talked about both of them in this blog at various times, and there’s more than the obvious reason to review them now.

The first, simply put, is that the United States has lost the space race. Now of course it was less a single race than a whole track and field competition, with the first event, the satellite shot-put contest (winner: Russia, with Sputnik I), followed by the single-orbit dash (winner: Russia, with Vostok I) and a variety of longer sprints (winner: much more often than not, Russia). The run to the Moon was the first real US gold medal—we did half a dozen victory laps back out there just to celebrate—and we also scored big in the planetary probe toss competition, with a series of successful Mariner and Voyager missions that mostly showed us just how stunningly inhospitable the rest of the solar system was. The race that ultimately counted, though, was the marathon, and Russia’s won that one hands down; they’re still in space, and we aren’t.

Behind that unwelcome news is the great geopolitical fact of the early 21st century, the decline and imminent fall of the American empire. Like any number of empires before us, we’ve gotten ourselves wedged tightly into the predictable downside of hegemony—the stage at which the costs of maintaining the economic imbalances that channel wealth from empire to imperial state outstrip the flow of wealth those imbalances are meant to produce. Once that stage arrives, the replacement of the failing empire by some new distribution of power is a foregone conclusion; the only question is how long the process will take and how brutal the final cost to the imperial state will turn out to be.

The Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union was a standard contest to see which empire would outlast the other. The irony, and it’s a rich one, is that the loser of that contest was pretty much guaranteed to be the winner in a broader sense. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia had an empire wrenched out of its hands, and as a result it was forced to give up the struggle to sustain the unsustainable. The United States kept its empire intact, and as a result it has continued that futile but obsessive fight, stripping its national economy to the bare walls in order to prop up a global military presence that will sooner or later bankrupt it completely. That’s why Russia still has a functioning space program, while the United States may have trouble finding the money to launch cheap fireworks by the time its empire finally slips from its fingers.

It’s our decidedly mixed luck, as discussed here more than once in the past, that America is entering on the downslope of its imperial decline just as a much vaster curve has peaked and begun to arc in the same direction. That’s the second reason that the space age is ending, not just for us but for humanity. In the final analysis, space travel was simply the furthest and most characteristic offshoot of industrial civilization, and depended—as all of industrial civilization depends—on vast quantities of cheap, highly concentrated, readily accessible energy. That basic condition is coming to an end around us right now. Petroleum has already reached its global production peak as depletion rates shoot past the rate at which new fields can be found and brought on line; natural gas and coal are not far behind—the current bubble in shale gas will be over in five or, just possibly, ten years—and despite decades of animated handwaving, no other energy source has proven to yield anything close to the same abundance and concentration of energy at anything like the same cost.

That means, as I’ve shown in detail in past posts here, that industrial civilization will be a short-lived and self-terminating phenomenon. It doesn’t mean, or at least doesn’t have to mean, that future civilizations will have to make do with an equivalent of the much simpler technological suites that civilizations used before the industrial age; I’ve argued at some length here and elsewhere that an ecotechnic society—a civilization that supports a relatively advanced technology on a modest scale using the diffuse and limited energy provided by sustainable sources, without wrecking the planet—is a live option, if not in the immediate future, then after the dark age the misguided choices of the recent past have prepared for us.

Still, of the thousands of potential technological projects that might appeal to the limited ambitions and even more strictly limited resources of some future ecotechnic society, space travel will rank very, very low. It’s possible that the thing will be done, perhaps in the same spirit that motivated China a little while back to carry out a couple of crisp, technically capable manned orbital flights; ten thousand years from now, putting a human being into orbit will still probably be the most unanswerable way for a civilization to announce that it’s arrived. There are also useful things to be gained by lofting satellites for communication and observation purposes, and it’s not at all impossible that now and then, over the centuries and millennia to come, the occasional satellite will pop up into orbit for a while, and more space junk will be added to the collection already in place.

That’s not the vision that fired a generation with enthusiasm for space, though. It’s not the dream that made Konstantin Tsiolkovsky envision Earth as humanity’s cradle, that set Robert Goddard launching rockets in a Massachusetts farmyard and hurled Yuri Gagarin into orbit aboard Vostok I. Of all people, it was historical theorist Oswald Spengler who characterized that dream most precisely, anatomizing the central metaphor of what he called Faustian civilization—yes, that’s us—as an eternal outward surge into an emptiness without limit. That was never a uniquely American vision, of course, though American culture fixated on it in predictable ways; a nation that grew up on the edge of vastness and cherished dreams of heading west and starting life over again was guaranteed to think of space, in the words of the Star Trek cliché, as "the final frontier." That it did indeed turn out to be our final frontier, the one from which we fell back at last in disarray and frustration, simply adds a mordant note to the tale.

It’s crucial to realize that the fact that a dream is entrancing and appeals to our core cultural prejudices is no guarantee that it will come true, or even that it can. There will no doubt be any number of attempts during the twilight years of American empire to convince Americans to fling some part of the energies and resources that remain to them into a misguided attempt to relive the dream and claim some supposed destiny among the stars. That’s not a useful choice at this stage of the game. Especially but not only in America, any response to the crisis of our time that doesn’t start by using much less in the way of energy and resources simply isn’t serious. The only viable way ahead for now, and for lifetimes to come, involves learning to live well within our ecological limits; it might also help if we were to get it through our heads that the Earth is not humanity’s cradle, or even its home, but rather the whole of which each of us, and our species, is an inextricable part.

That being said, it is far from inappropriate to honor the failed dream that will shortly be gathering dust in museums and rusting in the winds that blow over Cape Canaveral. Every civilization has some sprawling vision of the future that’s destined never to be fulfilled, and the dream of infinite expansion into space was ours. The fact that it didn’t happen, and arguably never could have happened, takes nothing away from the grandeur of its conception, the passion, genius, and hard work that went into its pursuit, or the sacrifices made on its behalf. Some future poet or composer, perhaps, will someday gather it all up in the language of verse or music, and offer a fitting elegy to the age of space.

Meanwhile, some 240,000 miles from the room where I write this, a spidery metallic shape lightly sprinkled with meteoritic dust sits alone in the lunar night on the airless sweep of Mare Tranquillitatis. On it is a plaque which reads WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND. Even if no other human eyes ever read that plaque again, as seems likely, it’s a proud thing to have been able to say, and a proud thing to have done. I can only hope that the remembrance that our species once managed the thing offers some consolation during the bitter years ahead of us.

John Michael Greer is the author of more than twenty books on a wide range of subjects, including The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, The Ecotechnic Future: Exploring a Post-Peak World, and the forthcoming The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered. He lives in Cumberland, MD, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara. He blogs at http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/

  Read An Elegy For The Age Of Space
 August 24, 2011  
Globalizing The Intifada
by William T. Hathaway , Countercurrents

The invaders have surrounded and attacked us, conquered here and there, and built their bases in our lands. So we attack the invaders where we can, determined to retake our lands and drive them out. We would prefer not to be warriors. We would rather raise our children in the ways of kindness. But for our children to have a future, we must now be warriors. So be it.

In Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan this war is most intense, but it is a international war, and people of every religion and race are under attack. The capitalist class is assaulting us worldwide, throttling our hopes of decent lives. We're now all in the same boat, a global Mavi Marmara, so our resistance must be global. Our foe is not just the Zionists but the larger Western corporate forces of which they are a part. To survive, we must set aside our religious and political differences and form a united front. Shias, Sunnis, secularists and socialists need to work together to defeat our common enemy. If we join in solidarity, we can win. Otherwise the imperialists will continue to divide and rule.

Non-violent opposition is important but not sufficient. To be effective in this war, it must be coupled with armed struggle. Both Gandhi and militant rebels were required to convince the British to free India. Both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were required to convince the US congress to end racial segregation. Gandhi himself recognized the need for self-defence when he wrote:

"I have been repeating over and over again that he who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honour by non-violently facing death may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden. He has no business to be the head of a family. He must either hide himself, or must rest content to live for ever in helplessness and be prepared to crawl like a worm at the bidding of a bully."

"I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence... I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor."

"Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission. The latter befits neither man nor woman. Under violence, there are many stages and varieties of bravery. Every man must judge this for himself. No other person can or has the right."

"Life itself involves some kind of violence and we have to choose the path of least violence."

(Source: The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, cited in the Gandhian Institute, http://www.mkgandhi.org/nonviolence/phil8.htm. Thanks to Nahida Izzat for finding the quotes.)

To defend even the little we have left, we must fight. Given the power of the capitalists and the intensity of their violence, we must battle them as guerrillas, striking their weak points then disappearing to recoup and strike again. Most of their weak points are now outside of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan and outside of their headquarter countries. That is most of the world, where their representatives roam freely on their missions of domination.

We have to convince our allies in these outlying areas to do more. This war is going to reach them sooner or later. Better for them now, before the enemy forces are concentrated in their countries. If the West conquers Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan and controls their resources, they may become too strong to stop. Now is a crucial time in the war. We need to expand it into a global Intifada.

Since most resistance groups are infiltrated with their agents and their torture makes keeping secrets impossible, our deeds must be known by only the necessary few. We can act individually, anonymously, lone wolves striking targets of opportunity then telling no one. Whenever possible we must survive to continue the struggle. Suicide attacks should be a last resort. We are needed here more than in heaven.

Weakening the beast at any point also weakens it globally, relieving pressure from the areas of critical combat. The beast's resources are finite and are approaching their limit. It cannot fight everywhere. By going global we can defeat it.

We don't need to win big battles. We just need to persist until the capitalists realize that continuing the war will cost them more than their potential profits. Then support for Israel will evaporate like spilled water in the Negev. The Israelis know this, which is why so many of them are already applying for foreign passports. The exodus is beginning.

We must fight on to real victory, not to some feeble compromise that gives us a few crumbs for surrendering. The history of anti-colonial struggles in Ireland, India and South Africa shows how making peace too soon can bring disaster. Revolutionary momentum is very hard to rebuild once it stops. To achieve real peace, our struggle must continue until we uproot the structural violence inherent in the invasion and occupation. This structural violence is generating the physical violence. Without justice, peace is impossible.

As we know too well, this war is creating terrible suffering on all sides. But if we surrender to their implacable aggression and allow the capitalists to dominate the world, the suffering will be far worse. Even the capitalists will be trapped in it because they've lost their humanity. By fighting them now, we are choosing Gandhi's "path of least violence."

William T. Hathaway is a US Special Forces combat veteran and an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. His latest book, RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War, presents the experiences of war resisters, deserters and peace activists in the USA, Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan. Chapters are posted on CounterCurrents and on a page of the publisher's website at http://media.trineday.com/radicalpeace. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.

  Read Globalizing The Intifada
 August 24, 2011  
The Roads To Our Alternative Energy Future
by Barath Raghavan , Contraposition, Countercurrents

A while back I tried to figure out whether we can keep running things the way we're running them: do we need to transition off of fossil fuels, how fast, and would we be able to provide today's level of energy supply using alternatives? I didn't include many of the details in that post, so I'd like to consider a few additional questions and look at this topic in greater depth.


>> How fast do we need to transition off of fossil fuels?
>> What industrial capacity is available today for different alternative energy technologies and what is likely to be available in the future?
>> What might we do if we can't replace fossil fuels with alternatives fast enough, and what might the consequences be?

I finally got around to re-doing these calculations (so I could present them in a talk last week), and wanted to go through the numbers.

How fast do we need to transition?

In his excellent talk on climate change and energy, Saul Griffith analyzes how fast climate change might require a transition off of fossil fuels. While there is good reason to think that 350 ppm of CO2 should be our global target, we passed that point in the late 1980s and have shown no signs of turning back. Ultimately the goal is to avoid exceeding 2C of warming, as it marks the rough threshold at which many climate feedbacks are likely to kick in, including permafrost melt and loss of the Amazon. Griffith observes that 400 ppm should be a target since it gives us a reasonable shot of staying below 2C, but we're only 2-3 years away from 400 ppm (we'll be at about 393 ppm by the end of the year) so it seems that is unlikely to happen. Griffith does his calculations assuming a target of 450 ppm, which by various projections only gives us a 1/3 to 1/2 chance of staying below 2C of warming. (As a point of reference, the "agreement" at the Copenhagen climate conference would have taken us to 770 ppm, which equates to roughly 5C of warming.)

Given a target of 450 ppm, Griffith calculates we need to transition in about 20 years. I think about it as follows: we're increasing CO2 by about 2.5 ppm / year at the moment (a little less when the economy isn't growing quickly - this is a whole other subject I'd like to explore). Any real-world deployment of alternatives would necessarily face some ramp-up and would be producing much more towards the end of the transition, and thus we'd probably keep fossil fuel generation going until near the end of the transition period. As a result, there'd be little drop-off in emissions until near the end, and so we should aim to transition over a period of about 20 years to avoid overshooting 450 ppm. As for transitioning faster, we can look to the Hirsch report, which argued that a 20 year energy crash program is about as fast as it can be done. So 20 years it is.

Industrial capacity

I had done some quick calculations last time around, but I wanted to delve into more detail on industrial production numbers. Specifically, what does the alternative energy industry say? I figure that each industry is its own best advocate, so it's likely that their numbers will be on the optimistic end of the spectrum.

First, how much would we need to build to provide 15 TW globally using mostly alternatives in 20 years? Griffith calculates that we'd need to build 2 TW each of Solar PV, Solar Thermal, Wind, and Geothermal, 3 TW of Nuclear, and 0.5 TW of Algae fuel (we'd also keep some existing fossil fuel and other production capacity). While I could quibble with the particulars, it's a fairly balanced profile and is a reasonable starting point for a calculation.

Let's start with Solar PV, with this blurb that says we'll be at 28 GW / year of (nameplate) production by 2012. Let's round that up to 30 GW / year and use a capacity factor of 15% (considering the 200 W / m2 that's available in most temperate zones). That yields about 4.5 GW / year of production. Let's allow for a steady 20% yearly increase in production over the next two decades. Combined production over 20 years will thus produce about 745 GW of PV capacity.

I'm going to assume that Solar Thermal can easily meet its 2 TW production slice, since there's not much to it (mirrors, motors, pumps, generators).

How about Wind? The Global Wind Energy Council expects 2500 GW of wind nameplate capacity by the 2030s. Using a standard 30% capacity factor gives us 750 GW of Wind capacity in 20 years.

Geothermal is a bit complicated, as there really aren't that many easy places to tap geothermal energy. The International Geothermal Association expects a 9 GW nameplate capacity increase over 5 years. Assuming the same growth trend, this yields 94.5 GW of capacity. Including a 65% capacity factor, this yields about 61 GW of new geothermal capacity in 20 years.

Biofuels are also complicated. While there are numerous current-day biofuels, including ethanol from corn and sugarcane, Griffith rightly considers better options such as algae-based oil. Biofuels digest estimates a production capacity of 1.6 billion gallons / year by 2014. That's about half of one day's global production of crude oil, per year. Given the 15% production growth rate, this yields 26 billion gallons / year of capacity in 20 years, which is about 1.7 million barrels of oil per day (about 2% of today's oil production). Assuming the same energy density as gasoline, this yields about 105 GW of capacity in 20 years.

Finally, nuclear. There are no good sources for expected production capacity, so to be optimistic (side note: I don't actually think we should build any more nuclear, but that's another issue) let's use the peak rate of construction ever achieved, 30 GW / year of nameplate capacity construction (MacKay looks at a 60 year construction horizon, which is far too long). This would yield about 600 GW of capacity in 20 years, assuming no loss thanks to nuclear's high capacity factor.

In total this yields about 4.2 TW of new capacity to add to an existing 2 TW of fossil fuels, 1 TW of nuclear, and 0.5 of hydro, yielding 7.7 TW - about half of the target. That is, even assuming optimistic rates of production of alternative energy sources, we'd be about 50% short of our energy target in 20 years.

A few scenarios

Doing the analysis above reminded me that a wholesale transition to alternatives seems unlikely to deliver energy at current levels of consumption/production. I'd like to briefly consider a few possible trajectories / scenarios here, which I'll explore in more depth another time.

>> Business-as-usual: we'll just keep on going with fossil fuels until we can no longer do so; that is we'll follow the oil depletion curve down and try to substitute with coal, tar sands, and other dirty fuels. We may not build new coal plants in the United States, but we probably won't decommission them as fast as we should to deal with climate issues, and China, India, and other countries will continue using coal at breakneck rates. This scenario might, in the short term, maximize global economic output (though it will likely still be decreasing on a long-term basis given the economic impact of oil depletion). It will however cause us to overshoot 450 ppm of CO2, taking us to perhaps 500 or 550 ppm, which is probably past the point of no return in terms of warming - natural feedbacks are likely to take over. (I think we probably are unlikely to go much further than that, since we'll start running out of cheap coal at that point.)

>> Unmanaged descent: we'll keep using fossil fuels, but the economic contraction due to oil depletion will hit hard enough that we'll end up using less energy overall. In this way, we'll haphazardly decrease our energy use at the expense of global human hardship. In this scenario, we'd probably avoid exceeding 450 ppm of CO2 simply due to a non-functioning economy, though we also won't be able to build alternatives at anything near the rate I describe above.

>> Managed descent: there are a lot of things that need to be done just right to manage our descent. First, we'd need policy-based solutions, either in the form of a carbon tax (or the equivalent) or energy quotas. Second, we'd need to stabilize swings in oil prices as I discussed before. Third, we'd need to invest in alternatives that have the highest capacity yield per unit time. From what I can tell, solar thermal is one of the best options, as it doesn't require particularly advanced technology and therefore could probably be ramped up quickly. It is however only viable in desert regions. My preference would be to target solar thermal, wind, and algae fuel as the three main alternative sources; solar PV can help at the household scale.

About the Author:

We’re a philosopher and a computer scientist trying to understand the world and the choices we make.

About ‘Contraposition’: There’s an aphorism in philosophical circles that goes “One man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens.” The idea is that two people can agree on a conditional statement `If p then q‘, but use it to make different inferences. Someone who endorses p will conclude that q (that’s modus ponens). Someone who denies q will deny p (that’s modus tollens). This double aspect of the conditional shows up in the fact that, in classical logic, ‘p -> q‘ is equivalent to ‘~q -> ~p‘. Converting from one to the other is called contraposition.

We’ve noticed that much of the sustainability/green/environmental community likes to reason in only one direction:

(1) If we’re going to maintain the current economy (p), then we’ll need alternative fuels that meet current energy needs (q).

But why not contrapose?

(2) If we can’t get alternative fuels to meet current energy needs (~q), then we won’t be able to maintain the current economy (~p).

If you emphasize (1), the lesson is: let’s get to work on making alternative fuels meet current (extravagant) energy needs. But if you emphasize (2), the lesson is: let’s start thinking about what a different economy would look like. We think it’s vital to start thinking about both directions, and not neglect the contrapositive.

  Read The Roads To Our Alternative Energy Future
  August 22, 2011  
Word document

The traditional saying runs as follows: “If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it, I can achieve it.” This means if my mind can conceive something that is beneficial to all people and my heart truly believes it, then constructive steps are bound to be taken and the projected dream is achieved. However, the other way round is equally true. The mind can conceive something that is not necessarily good, that may be detrimental and the heart may take it for granted. In this case, the actions pursued after are likely to be destructive.

Analysis of Human Actions

An analysis of actions taken by well known people in history does reveal this reality. The mind of great people such as Buddha, Confucius, and Christ all the way to Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa conceived a peaceful life through dedication to others and the renunciation of all the material things of this world. Their heart strongly believed in this and they eventually reaped tremendous benefits that are still being enjoyed by millions to this day.

On the other hand, the mind of great figures like Herod, Nero, Ivan the Terrible all the way to Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Idi Amin conceived a sadistic life by performing actions that were detrimental to millions. Their heart believed this as their eventual way of life, which led them to inflict mercilessly so much pain and suffering without any remorse. In view of this we may realize and understand that the mind and the heart are two great powerful elements, which we all have that could be used to literally save the world or destroy it.

Hence, it is very important for all of us to assume the responsibility to bring up a new generation that is capable of using the mind and the heart positively and constructively. This explains why the preamble of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) starts with the words: “Since wars begin in the minds of men it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

This explains why Jesus insisted upon the straightening up a tree at its initial growth because, He said, once the tree branch develops it would not be possible to have it then straighten up. It also explains why Vladimir Lenin said, “Give me a child until it is eight and it will be Bolshevist forever.” All human actions initiated with the human mind that perceived anything that came across. This explains the importance for parents, teachers and anyone responsible for the education of children in particular to instill in the human mind appreciation for anything that is good, constructive and beneficial to all people.

Nature of Mind and Heart

Of these two involved elements, it is more difficult to deal directly with the mind, since it is generally grounded in suspicion. On the other hand, it would be easier to deal directly with the heart since this is generally viewed as the seat of love and compassion. During our life we are bound to experience conflicts between the mind and the heart. On the whole, the mind tends to be stubborn, which explains the so called individual’s mind-set. Once our mind is made up, it would be very difficult in many instances to have it changed.

Those, whose actions are dominated by the heart, tend to reveal more patience, humility and generosity in their dealing with others. Also, such virtues enable us to win the hearts of others often with relative ease. Ascetical writers tell us God always try to deal with us from the heart, which explains why He loves us so dearly even if we were to offend Him on a daily basis. He never loses patience with us but He keeps on hoping that our heart will finally take over that we may begin to practice all possible virtues in life.

While our mind tends to seek for retaliation against our neighbor when things go wrong, the heart tends to find anything good possible in our neighbors as to justify our continued love and care for them. Some ascetical writers tell us that if God did not have infinite love for us in his heart, we would have been exterminated from the surface of this planet long time ago! We find in the Holy Scriptures that when God could not find human beings that were faithful to His divine commandments, He sent a deluge where all people, with the exception of Noah and his family, were destroyed.

Even then, we learn from the Holy Scriptures that God regretted it after and promised He would never again inflict a similar punishment. If we were to give a brief glance through history, we would soon discover that the major governments of the world quite often tend to resort to war to get what they ultimately want even at the cost of destruction of the infrastructure of cities and the massacre of millions of people with virtual no remorse whatsoever.

We should keep in mind that in the waging of wars, everyone is a loser, no one a winner. We have witnessed this in World War II between Great Britain and Germany. Germany lost the war and its economy collapsed. People were poor everywhere and fully deprived from the necessities of life. Great Britain won the war and its economy equally collapsed. Its people were poor everywhere and its economy collapsed as well. Not only so, but, as a result of such a war, Great Britain saw its British Empire disintegrating and collapsing.

Source of Economic Collapse

Historians tell us that every world power ceased to exist because of its financial collapse. This is verified in the Persian, Greek and Roman Empires, all the way to the Ottoman Empire, the Spanish, French and the British. Their usage of the military to solve conflicts made them pay a big price. Even today, the United States, which has tried to control the world with its big military, has had to pay the same price. Its economy has virtually collapsed and its presence as a policeman of the world is soon coming eventually to an end.

Nowadays, the American people are beginning to see with crystal clarity what it means to have their government proceeding to perform actions as they stem from the mind. Among others, we may mention the systematic use of retaliation by using its military continuously to invade other nations and turning segments of them into a cemetery. With all of these sad experiences behind us, the time is now ripe to learn the most important lesson from history. It is wiser to rule from the heart, where everyone is a winner and no one a loser, than from the mind where everyone will be a loser and no one a winner, as stated earlier.

When the mind does not try to pursue actions that are conducive to the welfare of all people without exception we always have corruption going on of one kind or another. Such a corruption is characterized by greed, selfishness, deception, manipulation, fraud, indifference, and jealousy, in addition to a few other negative qualities. When the heart is saturated with virtues like generosity, honesty, devotion to the service of others, fortitude, and compassion, besides other positive qualities, the mind tends to follow the dictates of the heart.

Regardless of how much harm we did to others and the multitude of sins we might have committed, we may be fully forgiven and be thoroughly peaceful if we genuinely repent and ask both God and the entire world to forgive us. Conversion, like that of St. Paul who sought to kill Christians, is still within our reach. We need to do our best, with God’s help, to change the institution of the military from one of destruction to one of construction. This way the entire world could benefit and the peace of mind and heart will become an integral part of us.
  Read Distinct Roles Played by the Individual Mind and Heart
 September 8, 2011  

“Why, in a world that produces more than enough food to feed everybody, do so many – one in seven of us – go hungry?”  -- Oxfam   

Famine is spreading like wildfire throughout the horn of Africa. As 12 million people battle hunger, the UN warns that 750,000 people in Somalia face imminent death from starvation over the next four months, in the absence of outside intervention. Over the course of just 90 days, an estimated 29,000 children under the age of five died in Southern Somalia, with another 640,000 children suffering from acute malnourishment.

In the rush to find a culprit to blame for the tragedy unfolding in East Africa, the mainstream news outlets attributed the cause to record droughts, a rise in food prices, biofuel production and land grabs by foreign investors with an added emphasis on the role of the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabaab. Yet these factors alone are not responsible for the famine; instead they have intensified an already dire hunger crisis that has persisted in Sub-Saharan Africa for decades, thanks to lending policies pushed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) that transformed a self-sufficient, food-producing Africa into a continent dependent on imports and food aid, leaving the continent vulnerable to food emergencies and famine.  

Since 1981, when these lending policies were first implemented, Oxfam found that the amount of sub-Saharan Africans surviving on less than one dollar a day doubled to 313 million by 2001, which is 46 percent of the population. Since the mid-1980s, the number of food emergencies per year on the continent has tripled.

According to Oxfam International spokesperson Caroline Pearce, the IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs of the '80s and '90s led to “huge disinvestments in the agricultural sector.” Pearce concludes, “What we’re seeing now in poor agricultural systems partly relates to those kind of policies. In many cases, we’re actually calling for things to be reestablished that were dismantled under structural adjustment programs in the past.”

Yet the impoverished countries of Africa, imperiled by mass starvation, continue to pay for a “free market” agenda, and it’s costing them their lives.

From Food Abundance to Mass Starvation

Walden Bello, reporting for Foreign Policy in Focus, observes that Africa was self-sufficient in food production after declaring independence from its colonial rulers in the 1960s. Yet today, hunger and famine in Africa have “become recurrent phenomena” across the continent.

According to BBC analyst Martin Plaut, Africa was also a food net exporter between 1966 and 1970, with an average of 1.3 million tons of food exported each year. In stark contrast, almost all of today’s African countries are dependent on imports and food aid, a dramatic shift that took less than 40 years to transpire.

Which begs the question: how did an entire continent go from being a net food exporter to a net food importer, from food abundance to mass starvation, in such a short period of time?

In her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein details how global power players use times of crisis and chaos as a pretext for imposing destructive free-market policies that advance the interests of the wealthy. As far back as the 1970s, economists inspired by free-market guru Milton Friedman were inspiring U.S.-backed coups and military juntas to push an unpopular radical free-market agenda onto the unwilling populations of countries like Chile, Brazil and Argentina.

But Klein highlights a significant shift in strategy that took place in the mid-1980s, when economists recognized that a financial crisis “simulates the effects of a military war—spreading fear and confusion, creating refugees and causing large loss of life” -- the same shock-inducing conditions that left societies ripe for disaster capitalism. 

Throughout the '60s and '70s, Western financial institutions went on a lending spree at extremely low interest rates, mostly to developing countries that were encouraged to borrow. By the late '70s and early '80s, U.S. interest rates soared to levels as high as 21 percent, devastating the fragile economies of developing nations that had taken on massive debt.  

Klein compares the impact of this “debt shock” to “a giant Taser gun fired from Washington, sending the developing world into convulsions." African countries could barely afford the sky-high interest payments, let alone the actual debt and were thrown into a downward spiral of financial crises. This is where the story of Africa’s famine truly begins.

'The Dictatorship of Debt'

The erosion of African agriculture is due in large part to policies imposed on debt-ridden African countries by the World Bank and the IMF—financial institutions set up in the aftermath of World War II with the stated aim of deterring financial crises like the ones that pushed Weimer Germany toward fascism.

The donor nations of the IMF and World Bank divvy up power within each institution based on the size of a country’s economy, allowing a handful of privileged nations, led by the U.S., to dominate decision making. As a result, Klein explains that the pro-corporatist administrations of Reagan and Thatcher in the '70s and '80s were “able to harness the two institutions for their own ends, rapidly increasing their power and turning them into primary vehicles for the advancement of the corporatist crusade.”

Driven by the ideology of the so-called free market, the IMF and World Bank attached conditions to desperately needed debt relief that required developing nations to implement Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), what Naomi Klein calls “the dictatorship of debt.”

SAPs forced governments to impose a neoliberal package of austerity, privatization and massive deregulation. For Africa, this meant cutting government subsidies to small farmers, eliminating tariffs and price controls, selling off food and grain reserves (which kept countries from starving in cases of drought or crop failure), increasing cash crop exports of raw materials to the west, and allowing foreign imports from the US and Europe to flood their markets.

Although the IMF and World Bank argued that restructuring was necessary to reduce Africa’s debt and foster economic growth, their policies produced the opposite effects: soaring debt and economic stagnation.

In a 2004 study commissioned by the Halifax Initiative, writer Asad Ismi meticulously documents the consequences of SAPs on the African continent. Between 1980 and 1993, he found a total of 566 structural adjustment programs were forced onto 70 developing countries, including 36 of Africa’s 47 Sub-Saharan nations. Since the implementation of SAPs in the 1980s, Africa’s debt soared more than 500 percent, with an estimated $229 billion worth of debt payments transferred from Sub-Saharan Africa to the west, four times the original debt owed. According to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Database, African debt still stands at $324.7 billion, with the overwhelming majority, $278.5 billion, owed by Sub-Saharan Africa, demonstrating that SAPs have pushed Africa into perpetual debt, with no end in sight.

What does this have to do with famine? Well, perpetual debt forces governments to divert spending to debt repayment, rather than investing in basic infrastructure like healthcare and education, which is relatively non-existent in Sub-Saharan Africa. With only 10 percent of the world’s population, the Sub-Saharan region comprises 68 percent of all people living with HIV. Yet, according to Ismi, “Africa spends four times more on debt interest payments than on health care.”

The same holds true for the agricultural sector. SAPs initiated the collapse of African food security, diverting land, water and labor away from small-scale farming toward the production of cash crops, whose earnings were used to pay off debt.

Ironically, as they demanded that African states eliminate subsidies for small-scale farmers, the United States and Europe continued to provide their agricultural sectors with billions of dollars in subsidies, forcing peasant farmers to compete with an influx of cheap, subsidized commercial staples from the west—clearly a losing battle.

In 2004, Project Censored described this U.S. practice as “underselling starving nations,” a process that ensures U.S. commodities cost less than their small-scale counterparts, essentially pricing local farmers out of the market. Walden Bello points out that the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture cemented these lopsided policies, making developing countries the permanent dumping grounds for cheap surplus production from the global north. Thus, between 1995 and 2004, agriculture subsidies in developed countries went from $367 billion to $388 per year.

The few subsidies the IMF did permit were strictly reserved for African commercial agriculture goods for export to Europe and America. For Kenya, where a quarter of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, this meant ditching government support for subsistence farmers and diverting resources to the production of raw exports (cash crops) for the west, like tea, coffee, tobacco and cut flowers. Earnings from exports were then used to service the country’s massive debt.  

After investigating the impacts of SAPs on Kenya’s struggle with malnutrition, Catherine Mezzacappa concludes, “Through their role in agricultural policy and social spending, structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank have contributed to the deepening of poverty and perpetuation of malnutrition in Kenya,” a country where “the leading causes of death among children are preventable and can be linked to malnutrition.”

As environmental activist Vandana Shiva put it in her book Stolen Harvest, “The hungry starve as scarce land and water are diverted to provide luxuries for rich consumers in Northern countries.”

Somalia’s Road to Famine

But for Somalia, the outcome was far worse, because the application of these neoliberal policies coincided with U.S. meddling and military intervention.

Michel Chossudovsky, author of The Globalization of Poverty, explains that despite frequent droughts, Somalia’s economy, led by small-scale farmers and pastoralists or “nomadic herdsmen,” was self-sufficient in food well into the 1970s. The pastoralists proved quite successful as livestock produced 80 percent of Somalia’s export earnings through 1983. But under SAPs, veterinarian services for livestock were privatized, making it difficult and unaffordable for herders in rural grazing areas to access animal healthcare, ultimately devastating pastoralists who made up half of the population. As for agriculture, the cheap imports of rice and wheat displaced small farmers, and resources were diverted to grow export commodities. Worst of all, “Water points and boreholes dried up due to lack of maintenance, or were privatized by local merchants and rich farmers,” due to the privatization of water resources. 

The impact of structural adjustment on Somalia’s food security was compounded by American and Soviet meddling during the Cold War. Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, explains that Somalia was initially a client state of the Soviet Union in the early '70s until Somali dictator Said Barre switched sides following a military coup in Ethiopia that replaced the U.S.-backed Ethiopian monarchy with a Soviet-backed “Marxist-Leninist” government. 

The U.S. proceeded to prop up the Barre regime with $50 million worth of weapons a year for access to strategic military bases, despite warnings that Somalia’s authoritarian leader was committing atrocious human rights violations. Eventually, repression and social unrest led to the outbreak of civil war in 1988 between rival factions, fought with weapons provided by the United States. When Barre was overthrown in 1991, he left behind a chaotic “power vacuum,” with rival factions vying for control in a country lacking any centralized structure capable of alleviating the food insecurity to come.

The neoliberal dismantling of Somalia’s agro-pastoralist economy combined with U.S.-fed sectarian violence left Somalia extremely vulnerable to famine when faced with a drought in 1992, causing the mass starvation of 300,000 people.

Fast forward to 2011, and conditions in Somalia remain relatively unchanged. Civil war continues unabated, food insecurity persists, and recurring U.S. intervention endures in the name of “fighting terror” as journalist Michelle Chen recently highlighted at Colorlines. Only this time, Somalia and its neighbors are battling this lethal combination after having spent decades living just above starvation levels. 

While economic policies from the '80s and '90s are not solely responsible for Somalia’s current famine, Chossudovsky asserts, it’s impossible to ignore that “ten years of IMF economic medicine laid the foundations for the country’s transition towards economic dislocation and social chaos.”

Malawi Starves

In one of most outrageous episodes of neoliberal incompetence, Walden Bello described the role of structural adjustment on Malawi in the late 1990s, when subsistence farmers were provided with “starter packs” of free fertilizers and seeds. The program yielded a surplus of corn. But then the World Bank and IMF stepped in to dismantle the program and compelled the government to sell the majority of its grain reserves in order to service its debt. Bello explains the fallout:

When the crisis in food production turned into a famine in 2001-2002, there were hardly any reserves left to rush to the countryside. About 1,500 people perished. The IMF, however, was unrepentant; in fact, it suspended its disbursements on an adjustment program with the government on the grounds that “the parastatal sector will continue to pose risks to the successful implementation of the 2002/03 budget. Government interventions in the food and other agricultural markets … crowd out more productive spending.

According to Bello, when the next food crisis hit in 2005, the Malawian government gave up on the “institutionalized stupidity” of the IMF and the World Bank. Bello writes:

A new president reintroduced the fertilizer subsidy program, enabling two million households to buy fertilizer at a third of the retail price and seeds at a discount. The results: bumper harvests for two years in a row, a surplus of one million tons of maize, and the country transformed into a supplier of corn to other countries in Southern Africa.

In the 2008 World Development Report, the World Bank shocked many when it acknowledged that structural adjustment from the 1980s was a failure that “dismantled the elaborate system of public agencies that provided farmers with access to land, credit, insurance inputs, and cooperative organization.” The Bank insists the intention was to “free up the market” so the supposed more efficient and less costly private sector could take over, but “that didn’t happen,” the report admits. It goes on to confess that the beneficiaries of privatization were “commercial farmers,” which left “smallholders exposed to extensive market failures, high transaction costs and risks, and service gaps” that threatened “their survival.”

Nevertheless, when asked whether structural adjustments increased food insecurity and vulnerability to famine in Sub-Saharan Africa, a World Bank spokesperson responded with the following statement:

The famine that has now been declared in six regions of Somalia and the food insecurity that has affected other neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa is the result of climate-related hazards in a context of political instability and conflict. It would be inaccurate to blame it on structural adjustment programs implemented three decades ago.

The spokesperson added that the Bank is providing $1 billion to aid the Horn of Africa, along with increased investments toward improving agriculture in the long-term, because “This crisis is a wake-up call for the need to manage agriculture in a changing climate.”

Recognizing Economic Violence

As tragic images of starving Africans in underdeveloped countries riddled with seemingly neverending violence and conflict fill the airwaves, a narrative emerges depicting Africa as a bottomless pit of charity and aid—one that ignores the historical context essential to understanding Africa’s impoverishment.  

Writing for Al Jazeera English, David Nally, the author of Human Encumbrances: Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine, concludes, “The portrayal of the passive victim enables NGOs and Western governments to assume the role of rescuer without having to ask uncomfortable questions about their own complicity in the suffering that is unfolding.”

It’s time the West faced up to the reality that this famine is the inevitable consequence of a broken food system that prioritizes the hefty pockets of the privileged above the empty stomachs of the vulnerable, draining Africa of its resources and essentially stripping Africans of their right to food and life. 

David Nally quotes Susan Sontag, reminding us that, "The more it's shown that 'the sort of thing which happens in that place' is partly an outcome of policies designed in this place, the more responsibility we have to do something about it. When viewing images of starving children or reading about deaths from malnutrition in the daily newspapers, we ought to consider critically the architecture of violence behind the picture or story, not merely the sad abjection of the victim."

Rania Khalek is a progressive activist. Check out her blog Missing Pieces or follow her on Twitter @Rania_ak. You can contact her at raniakhalek@gmail.com.
  Read Food Emergency: How the World Bank and IMF Have Made African Famine Inevitable
 August 21, 2011  

We live in interesting times. The global economy is splintering. U.S. voters hate all politicians and there's political unrest throughout the world. The root cause of this turmoil is the failure of the dominant economic paradigm -- global corporate capitalism.

The modern world is ruled by multinational corporations and governed by a capitalistic ideology that believes: Corporations are a special breed of people, motivated solely by self-interest. Corporations seek to maximize return on capital by leveraging productivity and paying the least possible amount for taxes and labor. Corporate executives pledge allegiance to their directors and shareholders. The dominant corporate perspective is short term, the current financial quarter, and the dominant corporate ethic is greed, doing whatever it takes to maximize profit.

Five factors are responsible for the failure of global corporate capitalism. First, global corporations are too big. We're living in the age of corporate dinosaurs. (The largest multinational is JP Morgan Chase with assets of $2 Trillion, 240,000 employees, and offices in 100 countries.) The original dinosaurs perished because their huge bodies possessed tiny brains. Modern dinosaurs are failing because their massive bureaucracies possess miniscule hearts.

Since the Reagan era global corporations have followed the path of least resistance to profit; they've swallowed up their competitors and created monopolies, which have produced humongous bureaucracies. In the short-term, scale helps corporations grow profitable, but in the long-term it makes them inflexible and difficult to manage. Gigantism creates a culture where workers are encouraged to take enormous risks in order to create greater profits; it's based upon the notion that the corporation is "too big to fail."

Second, global corporations disdain civil society. They've created a culture of organizational narcissism, where workers pledge allegiance to the enterprise. Corporate employees live in a bubble, where they log obscene hours and then vacation with their co-workers. Multinationals develop their own code of ethics and worldview separate from that of any national state. Corporate executives don't care about the success or failure of any particular country, only the growth and profitability of their global corporation. (Many large corporations pay no U.S. income tax; in 2009 Exxon Mobil actually got a $156 M rebate.)

Third, global corporations are modern outlaws, living outside the law. There is noinvisible hand that regulates multinationals. In 1759 Philosopher Adam Smith argued that while wealthy individuals and corporations were motivated by self interest, an "invisible hand" was operating in the background ensuring that capitalist activities ultimately benefited society. In modern times this concept became the basis for the pronouncements of the Chicago School of Economics that markets were inherently self regulating. However, the last five years have demonstrated that there is no "invisible hand" -- unregulated markets have spelled disaster for the average person. The "recovery" of 2009-10 ensured that "too big to fail" institutions would survive and the rich would continue to be rich. Meanwhile millions of good jobs were either eliminated or replaced by low-wage jobs with poor or no benefits.

Fourth, global corporations are ruining our natural capital. Four of the top 10 multinational corporations are energy companies, with Exxon Mobil leading the list. But there are many indications that our oil reserves are gone. Meanwhile, other forms of natural capital have been depleted -- arable land, water, minerals, forests, fish, and so forth. Multinational corporations have treated the environment as a free resource. When the timberlands of North America began to be depleted, lumber corporations moved to South America and then Asia. Now, the "easy pickings" are gone. Global corporations have ravished the world and citizens of every nation live with the consequences: dirty air, foul water, and pollution of every sort.

Fifth, global corporations have angered the world community. The world GDP is $63 Trillion but multinational corporations garner a disproportionate share -- with banks accounting for an estimated $4 trillion (bank assets are $100 trillion). Global black markets make $2 trillion -- illegal drugs account for at least $300 billion. In many parts of the world, a worker is not able to earn a living wage, have a bank account or drive a car, but can always obtain drugs, sex, and weapons. And while the world may not be one big village in terms of lifestyle, it shares an image of "the good life" that's proffered in movies, TV, and the Internet. That's what teenagers in Afghanistan have in common with teenagers in England; they've been fed the same image of success in the global community and they know it's inaccessible. They are angry and, ultimately, their anger has the same target -- multinational corporations (and the governments that support them).

We live in interesting times. The good news is we're witnessing the failure of global corporate capitalism. The bad news is we don't know what will replace it.


Bob Burnett is a writer and activist in Berkeley, Calif.
  Read 5 Reasons Capitalism Has Failed
 August 14, 2011  

The cuts in taxes for the mega-wealthy have led to record wealth inequality and resulted in a huge national deficit. Meanwhile, to make up for the deficit created in part by tax giveaways to one-tenth of one percent of the population, Democrats and Republicans are committed to making draconian budget cuts to vital social services, which target the poor, middle class, elderly and sick, while handing out billions more in corporate welfare annually. (Inequality = Debt = Austerity)

Just as the government has done, to make up for tax revenue lost to the mega-wealthy, Americans have made up for the decline in income by taking on large amounts of debt as well. (Inequality = Debt)

In a severely unequal society, massive debt will always be created, thus forming a vicious cycle of increasing inequality and increasing debt, until the fragmentation of society reaches a breaking point when those in debt cannot afford to pay back their debts without starving to death. (Inequality = Debt = Austerity = Civil Unrest)

The Indebted Citizen

As for statistics on Americans being buried in financial debt: As mentioned before, from 1990 – 2010 costs of living have increased 67%, while wages have stagnated and declined. As the national debt has reached a record $14.6 trillion, total personal debt is now over $16 trillion. Consumer debt is $2.5 trillion. Credit card debt is $805 billion and student debt now exceeds $1 trillion.

Obviously, the more severe your debts are, the more you have to cut back in spending and the less money you have to buy new items. (Debt = Austerity)

Meanwhile, a perfect storm circles overhead as society breaks down and falls into an economic death spiral – health care, food and gas costs are skyrocketing, while income and home values are plummeting. (Inflation + Deflation = Stagflation)

Given these conditions, it is not surprising that over 250 million Americans, another record-breaking number, are currently living paycheck-to-paycheck struggling to make ends meet.

The following charts, from Adviser Perspectives, show the increase in costs of living since 2000:



As you can see, the price of basic necessities are consistently increasing; only clothing (apparel) has declined. The second chart highlights the crucial skyrocketing cost of energy:



The third chart highlights the pernicious skyrocketing cost of education:



The cost of education essentially buries young people in debt they will spend a significant portion of their lives attempting to get out of. Given the increasing costs of living, and the decreasing ability to make an expected income from such an expensive level of education, this young demographic will most likely live an entire life locked into spiraling levels of debt.

Propaganda Inflation

When reporting on inflation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has twice, since 1980, revised its methodology to mask the severity of inflation, similar to how it masks the severity of unemployment. In its Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures inflation, it has heavily discounted the measurement weight of energy, food and education – three of the most significant costs for most American households.

To understand the significance of its revised methodology, current “official” CPI is at a 3.6 percent annual rate. However, if calculated the way it was before former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan altered it in 1980, it would be 11.1 percent, three times worse than officially stated.

So while the government and the Federal Reserve claim that inflation is low, a3.6 percent over the past year, food prices have increased 39 percent and US gas prices have increased 34 percent over the same time frame.

The increase in gas cost over the past year masks the severity of total gas price inflation, which is currently 125 percent more expensive since December 2008, increasing from $1.67 per gallon to $3.75.


As 90 percent of Americans experience income declines, and the value of the dollar declines, the price of necessities are rising, while the one major asset many Americans have, a house, is also declining in value. Already, thanks to declining home values, 28 percent of US homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their home is currently worth. With 10.4 million American families having lost their homes to foreclosure since 2007, Amherst Securities, a leading broker/dealer focused on mortgage-related investments, estimates that another 10.8 million homes are at risk of default over the next six years. This will obviously continue downward pressure on home values.

Deliberate Systemic Attacks

The dramatic increase in economic inequality and poverty, along with the unprecedented rise in wealth within the top one-tenth of one percent of the population has not happened by mistake. It is the designed result of deliberate governmental and economic policy. It is the result of the richest people in the world, and the “too big to fail” banks, using the campaign finance and lobbying system to buy off politicians who implement policies designed to exploit 99.9 percent of the population for their financial gain. To call what is happening a “financial terrorist attack” on the United States is not using hyperbole; it is the technical term for what is currently occurring.

As Che Guevara, a man who took on the global financial elite, said, “The amount of poverty and suffering required for the emergence of a Rockefeller, and the amount of depravity that the accumulation of a fortune of such magnitude entails, are left out of the picture, and it is not always possible to make the people in general see this.”

The rich have never been richer, while their paid-off politicians make budget cuts for the poor and middle class, and cause the cost of basic necessities to skyrocket.

The unfortunate reality of this crisis is that an economic war has been launched against us. 

As a wise old friend once said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

This post is an adapted excerpt from David DeGraw’s new report on the financial destruction of the United States. The full report can be read here: Analysis of Financial Terrorism in America.

  Read Debt, Debt, Debt: 90% of Americans Experience Income Decline As Wealth Gets Sucked Back Into Top .1% -- Debt Explodes As We Try to Make Ends Meet
 September 9, 2011  

Five years ago, at a private dinner where senior members from several major environmental organizations were seated next to her, Beth Raps, a progressive activist from Virginia, began talking about the need to figure out how to adapt to changing climate patterns. Mid-spiel, she noticed something odd. “Everyone had sort of started to edge away from me at the dinner table,” she recalls.

Raps had raised what was then a taboo subject among most greens. No one wanted to mention adaptation as a possible response to a warming world. Not when environmentalists were facing stiff political resistance to setting limits to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate activists feared that if they acknowledged that some climate disruption was inevitable, it would undermine their push for emissions curbs (known as “mitigation” among climate wonks). To say we had to bolster our defenses against a changing climate would be an acknowledgement that mitigation was ineffective, that we couldn’t stall global warming by altering our carbon-spewing lifestyles. Talk of adaptation was seen as defeatist.

It didn’t help that Al Gore had dismissed adaptation as “an obstacle to the correct political response, which is prevention,” while climate skeptic George W. Bush championed adaptation when he refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that the United States could adjust to climate change and free-market forces would take care of problems as they arose. Basically, the political calculus was totally against Raps.

“It had been so spun that certainly people thought it was a horrible thing when I said I wanted to work on adaptation,” says Raps, who went on to co-found Adaptation Network, a former Earth Island Institute-sponsored project that served as a kind of one-stop resource center for all things related to adaptation to climate change.

Had Raps been talking at the same dinner table today, she might have found a more receptive audience.

It’s a confirmed fact that Earth is at a turning point in its 4.5-billion-year history, and that we humans are the catalyst of that change. We have so irrevocably altered our planet in the past 200 years that we’ve set off a new geological era, one that scientists are unofficially calling the “Anthropocene” – the Age of Man. The human footprint is writ large over Earth’s surface. Yet at no other time has humanity been so vulnerable to nature’s fury.

The evidence of our power to disrupt the climate – and proof of our vulnerability to that disruption – is mounting. Summer floods in Asia and Australia, winter storms in Europe and North America, heat waves and fires in Russia – extreme weather events directly impacted tens of millions of people, killed at least 60,000, and cost nearly $70 billion in 2010, which also happened to be the hottest year ever recorded. The battering has continued. In 2011, the US alone has been slammed with blinding snowstorms in the Northeast; the deadliest tornado season since 1936 which has cost 536 lives; the worst one-year drought in Texas since 1895; raging wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico; and massive flooding from North Dakota to Mississippi. These events have cost the United States between $23 and $28 billion already.

Apart from a few holdouts, the global scientific community agrees that the growing number of weather-related catastrophes are linked to climate change – the fallout from a warming world. No longer can we rely on the stable climate that has sustained our “good life” on Earth. Bigger, meaner, and more frequent storms, heat waves, fires, floods, and droughts are the new normal.

It is unquestionably time to bring adaptation into the climate change conversation.

Let’s face it: We’ve failed at mitigation so far. Our two-decade-old global framework to address climate change is woefully inadequate. The Kyoto Protocol is a mess of unmet goals and bickering governments. Carbon trading schemes have been fraught with fraud, theft, and even the involvement of organized crime. Here in the US, the Senate couldn’t manage to pass watered-down climate legislation last year. Meanwhile, there are more greenhouse gases in the air than ever.

Because of a generation of delay, we have locked ourselves into certain unavoidable climate disruptions. Even if we go cold turkey today and cut out all fossil fuel from our lives, global temperatures are still going to rise by at least 2 degree Celsius by 2100 – which scientists say is the threshold of dangerous climate change. This is in part because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for at least a century. And that means every bit of greenhouse gas we put into the atmosphere now is committing us to higher global temperatures in the future. Some climate scientists are now warning of a 4 degree Celsius rise by the end of the century.

So while the need to reduce our emissions is more urgent than ever, it’s clear that we also have to figure out how to hunker down and live with a harsher climate. What’s tragic is that we could have avoided this fate. Mitigation, although politically complicated, is much simpler than adaptation. Coming up with solutions to cope with an unpredictable climate is bound to frustrate even the best adaptation planners. But at this point, since we failed to do what was easy, we have little choice but to deal with a much more difficult challenge: finding a way to live on a whole new planet.

Here's the new mantra, gaining fairly wide currency: we have to adapt to that which we can’t prevent, and prevent that to which we can’t adapt.” That’s how author and climate activist Bill McKibben explained our predicament to me.

The mantra has been gaining strength among the close- knit community of climate scientists and activists over the past few years, says Susan Moser, an independent climate scientist whose work focuses on climate-change communication and society’s response. Hurricane Katrina and Al Gore’s flim, An Inconvenient Truth, were two big pivots that turned adaptation from a taboo subject to a grudgingly accepted strategy among professional environmentalists. An unrelenting torrent of extreme “natural” disasters in succeeding years helped drive home the point. The convergence of these events, Moser says, led to a gradual loosening of the entrenched positions on mitigation and adaptation. The two are no longer viewed as either/or alternatives, but as complementary parts of a holistic approach to dealing with global climate change.

But maintaining a balance between mitigation and adaptation can be challenging in a nation where the politics of denial still rules; where the public is less likely to believe in global warming than it was five years ago. “I think the focus on adaptation, though important, really gives a false sense of security,” says Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It gives the impression that we will be able to adjust to whatever climate impacts we create. Even the term ‘adaptation’ implies we will be able to make a kind of evolutionary change to adjust.”

Wolf has a point. Big Industry’s lobbying outfits like the US Chamber of Commerce, which spent more than $30 million in the 2010 election funding candidates who were climate deniers, often use the idea of climate adaptation to oppose emissions curbs. Humans could “acclimatize” to a hotter world “via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations,” the chamber said in written comments to the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2009.

Wolf cautions that any talk of adaptation “must be done firmly within the context of mitigation.” That seems to be the consensus among environmental campaigners, who, while admitting the need for adaptation, are still leery of shifting the spotlight from mitigation. Old concerns persist.

“Very few environmental groups are actively saying that we need to talk about [adaptation] as an equal and important piece of how we deal with climate change,” Moser says. “The exceptions I see are groups that are into ecosystem conservation like World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy.” They are the exceptions because climate change is already impacting their mission, as species across the world disappear hundreds of times faster than the natural rate. For the rest of the environmental community, though, adaptation continues to present a vexing political dilemma.

While activists debate the appropriate place of adaptation in their advocacy, some governments and businesses are already making adaptation plans. For them, the politics are irrelevant. They can see the new reality, and they are rushing to put in place policies to ride out the worst disruptions.

In March, President Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality instructed all federal agencies to analyze their vulnerabilities to climate change, train their workforce on climate science, and implement agency-specific adaptation plans by September 2012. Private companies that do business with the feds, such as builders and defense contractors, will also have to comply with the new adaptation guidelines.

The order is the most comprehensive federal directive on adaptation so far. But even prior to the directive, several federal agencies dealing with natural resource management had begun quietly exploring adaptation. The Department of Interior, for example, requires climate change impacts be considered in its decision-making. The US Forest Service last year released a roadmap to making the nation’s forests more resilient to climate change, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is leading efforts to anticipate the health effects of climate change, such as from heat waves and changes in disease patterns.

Dispersed adaptation efforts are happening across US states and cities, too. Thirteen states – Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin – have begun adaptation planning alongside their mitigation activities. Eight more are considering creating comprehensive adaptation plans, according to a Pew Center on Global Climate Change report.

Actual groundwork has begun in hundreds of riverine and coastal communities in anticipation of rising seas and overflowing (or drying) rivers. New York City is encircling its boroughs with shoreline parks, marshes, and dunes that will blunt the blow of rising waters and storm surges. It plans on introducing more ferries and painting rooftops white to reflect sunlight and make the city cooler. Chicago, which scientists say will feel more like a Louisiana city by the end of this century, is replacing six of its most common sidewalk trees (including the Illinois state tree, the white oak) with species like swamp oak and sweet gum that will thrive in a hotter climate. In California, planners are working on wetland restoration and considering higher sea walls around the San Francisco financial district, as well as levees around the Oakland and San Francisco airports.

Some coastal communities where climate change impacts already pose a clear and present danger have begun “managed retreat” efforts. The village of Newtok, Alaska is relocating nine miles inland to escape erosion and flooding caused by melting permafrost and ice sheets. Five other Indigenous Alaskan villages will have to be shifted soon. The list includes the village of Shishmaref, which voted to relocate in 2002 but doesn’t have the money to do so. “We are hoping to still move. We’ve been lucky we haven’t had too many storms in the last three years,” a weary Tony Weyiouanna, chairman of the Shishmaref Erosion and Relocation Coalition, told me. Weyiouanna says he has pretty much given up working on the relocation project. “I just got kind of burnt out, you know.” Managed retreat isn’t easy if you have nowhere to retreat to – a lesson worth keeping in mind.

There are many similar examples of big and small adaptation efforts across the country. But here’s the rub: Such proactive initiatives remain rare and isolated and, as the Pew report notes, there’s no process for sharing information and solutions across jurisdictions.

Missy Stults, climate programs director of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability-USA, a group that specializes in mitigation and adaptation support – calls the lack of coordination a normal teething problem. “It’s like any other social movement,” she explains. “You need someone to move first. And I think we are close to a tipping point where those being impacted now, the New Yorks, the Chicagos, the Miamis, are starting to move. At some point there’ll be a tip in society and other communities will start coming on board.”

That sounds reasonable enough; after all, it takes time to implement big changes. But the question is: Can we afford to wait much longer?

The ticking clock of rising greenhouse emissions means that adaptation is essential. But while we can comprehend the threat at a global level, climate change models still can’t accurately predict regional, to say nothing of local, impacts. The absence of detailed, local forecasts makes Moser fear that while the current adaptation efforts are a move in the right direction they are also “at risk of being under-informed, done hastily, or simply done without the benefit of all the appropriate expertise on the table.”

Let’s say, for instance, that California was forced to move sections of scenic Highway 1 inland. Which sections, exactly? What towns would be affected? How much would it cost? Or take cranberry farmers in Massachusetts, who could lose the cold winter temperatures they need for the berries to thrive. What should they grow instead? There are no obvious answers to such questions: Village by village, town by town, we will have to figure out where to retreat and where to retrench.

“If you look at mitigation, it’s relatively simple,” Stults says. “You can hire someone to do a greenhouse gas inventory, which tells you where you have to reduce emissions. And there are pretty standard things you do, right? … You think about renewables, get some alternative fuels in the mix – it’s pretty straightforward. But with adaptation you can’t say what the number one strategy is for every community. Because it’s fundamentally a local problem. Your vulnerability is dependent on where you are and in what circumstance. … And that’s what makes it so tough.”

In other words, we know what’s causing climate change – an increase in heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere largely as a result of human activities. And we know what to do to slow it down – reduce our emissions. But we don’t know enough about the impacts of global warming because the climate system is asymmetrical. While New York City might have to worry about flooding, upstate New York will have to cope with a drier climate.

Jack Liebster, principal planner of Marin County, California, knows this from personal experience. Marin is considered one of the nation’s top climate-ready communities, but Liebster says the county’s adaptation planning is hampered by lack of localized climate-impact studies. “When we are trying to figure out how our rainfall patterns are going to change, the global climate models that we have don’t resolve down to little Marin County,” he says. “They can’t tell us what’s it going to mean in terms of one of the advantages we have for dairy – the fog. Farming is a very important part of life here in Marin. Because of the moist, foggy, conditions we get very rich grazing lands for a much longer part of the year. Are we going to see less fog? Are we going to see hotter summers?”

Not surprising then, that many communities trying to figure out adaptation strategies are finding the process confusing when they get down to the details. The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, for example, found it so difficult to identify concrete adaptation strategies that the organization actually put out a paper titled “Why Adaptation Policy is More Difficult than We Think.”

Uncertainty is a major reason for the difficulty. Uncertainty about future climate projections – we continue to discover things about the climate that change our understanding of it. And, even more difficult, uncertainty about people’s values – our ideas about what should be saved depend on our socio-economic circumstances, political leanings, and geographic location. Peoples’ values are always changing, conflicting; they can’t be lumped into a scientist’s average value.

EPA’s sea level rise expert, James Titus, a self-proclaimed adaptationist, says “managing human expectations” is by far the toughest part of adaptation. “Most people assume that their community will be protected, and because it’s hard for governments to tell people to move (imagine no Wall Street or Miami Beach!) we might end up spending money and resources saving places even when it doesn’t make economic or environmental sense,” he says. The EPA, incidentally, published a manual in June on how not to hold back the sea, arguing that immovable seawalls and levees will eventually fail.

As Titus says, the best adaptation practices will require flexibility. Andrew Revkin, The New York Times’s former climate reporter and now a senior fellow atPace University, recommends policymakers replace the term “adaptation” with “resilience.” Adaptation, he believes, “implies a faux sense of concreteness and that we know the change that’s coming.” “Resilience” better captures scientists’ uncertainty about the severity of climate change impacts.

In a way, adaptation faces the same problems as mitigation – only more so. There’s the challenge of “indirect benefits”: The people developing adaptation plans might not be alive to see their benefits. Also, the related problem of time frame: Effective adaptation efforts will require decades of action, and that’s too long for most people to get a handle on. Then there’s the sense of false security that accompanies ignorance, the American public’s notion that we are in good shape compared to less wealthy nations.

“It’s our biggest blind spot,” Moser says.“Eventually the impact [of climate change] will become more and more expensive to deal with. To me, the lack of addressing this flawed notion proactively makes us more vulnerable.”

Moser’s concern reveals the trouble of climate change’s negative feedback loops – the more the climate changes, the faster it changes, the less we will be able to adapt to it. Unless we simultaneously slow down the pace of change, we will be playing a losing game of catch up. Which is why the best adaptation strategy remains mitigation. It’s the key to softening the blow even as we learn to live with it.

As far as learning to live with it goes, the US is way behind many other nations, both wealthier and poorer.

The Dutch – whose existence depends on their levees, lock gates, and sea pumps – are clearly ahead of the rest of the world. They are building a 200-year climate resilience system that includes “floating communities” that can rise with surging waters, garages that double as water catchments, higher floodgates, and coastlines bolstered with sand dunes. They are also relocating farmers from flood-prone areas and widening rivers and canals to contain anticipated overflows. But the cost is steep – an estimated $5.7 billion a year.

At the other end of the economic scale, Bangladesh has come up with some cheaper solutions. Floods, erosion, and cyclones are such familiar foes of the tiny, crowded nation that Dr. Ainun Nishat, one of its leading environmentalists, once described the country to me as “nature’s laboratory for natural disasters.” Although global warming is making things worse, the resilient Bangladeshis are coping by using low-tech strategies like floating fields made of dried water hyacinth, managing the flow of river sediments to create new land, as well as slightly higher-tech solutions like developing salinity-resistant rice strains and early cyclone warning systems.

Meanwhile, as governments worry about risk, some businesses are seeing opportunity. In a recent poll of global businesses, 86 percent of companies surveyed described responding to climate risks or investing in adaptation as a business opportunity.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Businesses worldwide are already feeling the impact of more frequent storms, water scarcity, and declining agricultural productivity. In the past few months, prices of sugar and cotton reached a three-decade high because floods in Australia destroyed sugarcane crops and the drought in Texas decimated cotton output. In this changing environment, as World Resources Institute managing director Manish Bapna says, “companies that move first to address the risks and develop innovative strategies to adapt to climate change are likely to be the winners.”

The biggest example of private sector engagement in adaptation planning is the insurance industry, which realized early that working on climate protection makes economic sense. The industry has much to lose. A report by financial services company, Allianz, estimates that from 2010 to 2019 the insurance industry’s average worldwide losses from weather related disasters could total $41 billion annually.

Insurance companies are, therefore, getting involved in a range of loss prevention and disaster risk management activities in collaboration with local governments. At least 30 insurance companies have signed a deal with the United Nations that commits them to help build resilience to climate change. Global reinsurer Swiss Re, for example, is collaborating with Oxfam, the Ethiopian government, and other partners to establish the Horn of Africa Risk Transfer for Adaptation project, which provides weather index insurance for small farmers in Ethiopia. The weather insurance scheme is resilience planning at its best: When it rains, farmers will thrive, and when it doesn’t, they won’t have to fear becoming destitute.

Adjusting to life on a hotter planet may have one virtue: It will require us to have conversations and collaborations with people and groups we have never considered before, like that villager in Bangladesh who knows how to make a bed of water hyacinths, or that big insurance company that many of us love to hate. Adaptation will force us to think laterally and to work in ways we are not accustomed to.

Back in Virginia, Beth Raps wonders if we might not be seeing “a kind of softening of the boundaries of what counts as climate change and the right response to it.” After all, a lot of what we need to do to adapt to a warmer world – like learning to make do with less water or switching to renewable fuels – is what we should be doing anyway to reduce environmental destruction. I’d go a step further and say there are other boundaries that are blurring: There’s a growing realization that global warming isn’t only about the environment, but also about human rights and economic justice and ultimately, since we can’t help but look at it from an anthropocentric perspective, about the survival of our species on Earth.

It is becoming obvious that while we may be creators of this new Anthropocene world, we are also dangerously close to becoming its destroyers. And while we may be “as gods,” we don’t have a heaven to escape to as Earth disintegrates below us. The real test now is to see if we have the wisdom to learn how to live with our own creation. 


Maureen Nandini Mitra is managing editor of Earth Island Journal.
  Read We're Locked Into Unavoidable Climate Disruption -- So, How Do We Begin to Adapt?
 September 2, 2011  
Cash-Strapped School District in PA Turns to Dangerous Shale Gas Drilling for Money
by Tara Lohan , AlterNet
Next week on September 7 activist will descend on Philadelphia, for the Shale Gas Outrage demonstration in order to "show a broad-based popular movement that will not tolerate contamination of our air, water, and earth by dirty drilling, or the corruption of our politicians by industry money. We will demand that not one more family be poisoned by fracking and shale gas extraction."

Unfortunately the folks in Blackhawk School District near Pittsburg didn't get the memo. According to UPI, "The district board voted in July to lease 160 acres of the district's land to Chesapeake Energy for $300,000. If Chesapeake successfully extracts gas from the district's property, the schools would get an additional 15 percent royalty on the profits."

And the worst part is that Blackhawk is not alone in their fundraising tactics:

Blackhawk joins dozens of school districts across the country that have made similar arrangements with natural gas companies.

Many of the leases have come in Pennsylvania and Texas, two states where an energy boom has coincided with cuts in state aid for education.

Now, there's a nice right-wing fantasy playing out: An industry that has escaped environmental regulation gets an economic boost thanks to cuts in education.

Oh and Chesapeake Energy, by the way, the company this school district is teaming up with — is directly contributing to our educational funding crisis by paying zero corporate income taxes. Hugh MacMillan from Food and Water Watch reports:

The company made a whopping pre-tax profit of $2.8 billion in 2010, but it paid $0 in corporate income tax to the U.S. Treasury. At the same time, the company’s CEO, Aubrey McClendon, was given $21 million in compensation. I emphasize given because how does one actually earn over $57,000 a day?

  Read Cash-Strapped School District in PA Turns to Dangerous Shale Gas Drilling for Money
 August 31, 2011  

Below is Bill McKibben's afterword to "Eaarth," where he shares his reflections of the ongoing environmental events since the publication of his book. Recently, McKibben has been a key leader in the protests in front of the White House against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The months after the initial publication of Eaarth saw some of the most intense environmental trauma the planet has ever witnessed, events that exemplified the forces I have described in the book.

For Americans, the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which began on April 20, 2010, may have provided the most powerful images—there was, after all, an underwater camera showing the leak up close. (Leak? This was not a leak—it was a stab wound that BP inflicted on the ocean floor, a literal hole in the bottom of the sea. If you ever had any doubts about peak oil, all it took was one view of the extreme places and pressures the oil companies now had to endure to find even marginal amounts of crude. The well that BP was drilling would have supplied only about four days’ worth of America’s oil consumption.) The pictures reminded us of the thing we’ve been trying to forget since Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly fifty years before: “Progress” and “growth” come with a dark side, in this case an easy-to-see dark black side. Just a couple of weeks before the spill, President Barack Obama had reopened much of the coastline to oil drilling, arguing, “It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced.” By midsummer, a chagrined president was reduced to telling the nation that he’d only lifted the moratorium “under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe.”

But that’s the point - there’s nothing absolutely safe anymore, not when we’re pushing past every limit. There’s not even anything relatively safe; we’re overloading every system around us. If it’s not too big to fail, it’s too deep to fail, or too complicated to fail. And it’s failing.

As it turns out, however, the BP spill was not the most dangerous thing that happened in the months after this book was first published. In fact, in the spring and summer of 2010, the list of startling events in the natural world included:

  • Nineteen nations setting new all-time high temperature records, which in itself is a record. Some of those records were for entire regions—Burma set the new mark for Southeast Asia at 118 degrees, and Pakistan the new zenith for all of Asia at 129 degrees. 
  • Scientists reported that the earth had just come through the warmest six months, the warmest year, and the warmest decade for which we have records; it appears 2010 will be the warmest calender year on record. 
  • The most protracted and extreme heatwave in a thousand years of Russian history (it had never before topped 100 degrees in Moscow) led to a siege of peat fires that shrouded the capital in ghostly, deadly smoke. The same heat also cut Russia’s grain harvest so sharply that the Kremlin ordered an end to all grain exports to the rest of the world, which in turn drove up world grain prices sharply.
  • Since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air (as explained in chapter 1), scientists were not surprised to see steady increases in flooding. Still, the spring and summer of 2010 were off the charts. We saw “thousand-year storms” across the globe, including in American locales like Nashville, the mountains of Arkansas, and Oklahoma City, all with deadly results. But this was nothing compared with Pakistan, where a flooded Indus River put 13 million people on the move, and destroyed huge swaths of the country’s infrastructure.
  • Meanwhile, in the far north, the Petermann Glacier on Greenland calved an iceberg four times the size of Manhattan.
  • And the most ominous news of all might have come from the pages of the eminent scientific journal Nature, which published an enormous study of the productivity of the earth’s seas. Warming waters had put a kind of cap on the ocean, reducing the upwelling of nutrient-rich cold water from below. As a result, the study found, the volume of phytoplankton had fallen by half over the last sixty years. Since phytoplankton is the world’s largest source of organic matter, this was unwelcome news.

Indeed, all of these observations were unwelcome, if at some level expected. They were further, deeper signs of earth transforming itself into Eaarth. And they had reached the level where few who lived through the events wanted to deny their meaning. Here was the president of Russia, Dimitri Medvedev, after watching the fires that shut down Moscow for weeks: “Everyone is talking about climate change now. Unfortunately, what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past.” (This from the president of a country whose economy totally depends on the endless production of oil and gas.)

And here was The New York Times, which had spent years piously explaining that there were two sides to the question of warming. In mid-August 2010, above the fold on a Sunday paper, the Times ran three huge photos of flood, melt, and fire, and beneath them a story that declared: “These far-flung disasters are reviving the question of whether global warming is causing more weather extremes. The collective answer of the scientific community can be boiled down to a single word: probably.” Okay, probably is still a weasel word—but for theTimes, a breakthrough. “The warming has moved in fits and starts, and the cumulative increase may sound modest,” the paper reported. “But it is an average over the entire planet, representing an immense amount of added heat, and is only the beginning of a trend that most experts believe will worsen substantially.”

There is no satisfaction at all in saying I told you so. I’ve been saying it for two decades, ever since the publication of The End of Nature, and it’s never been sweet in the slightest. I’d give a lot to have been wrong instead.

But if there’s one development that chafes above all others, it’s political: the decision by the U.S. Congress in the summer of 2010 to punt, spectacularly, on doing anything about climate change. During the Bush years, of course, inaction had been a given. But with the advent of Democratic majorities in Congress and then the election of Barack Obama, some hope emerged that Washington might decide to act. That action would never have been dramatic or decisive; in June 2009 the House passed a weak bill that would scarcely have cut emissions in the next few crucial years. But at least it was something, a token effort that might have boosted the world’s morale enough to help put international climate negotiations back on track, even after the debacle at Copenhagen six months later. When the legislation reached the Senate, however, it stalled for more than a year. Big coal and big oil didn’t care for it, and so their squads of lobbyists went to work. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who was leading the charge on the legislation, didn’t so much charge as retreat, again and again and again. Here’s how he put it on the eve of the final battle: “We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further.” With leadership like that, what could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, the White House did nothing that might have added to the pressure for change. Instead of using the horrible BP spill as a reason to act, President Obama failed to draw the obvious connection: that fossil fuel is dirty stuff, whether it spills into the Gulf from a broken well or spills into the atmosphere from the tailpipes of our cars. With no help from the administration, the outcome was such a given that the Senate decided not even to vote—the members of the “world’s greatest deliberative body” simply walked away. The best guess of various observers was that, after the GOP sweep in the midterm elections, we may have to wait until 2013 to see another legislative opening.

As readers of Eaarth know, I think it’s unlikely that bills of the scale proposed in Washington, or agreements of the magnitude considered in Copenhagen, will make any substantive difference in the outcome. Our leaders have failed to come to terms with the actual size of the problem: that unless we commit ourselves to a furious push to get back to 350 parts per million, the damage will be overwhelming. (The scariest thing about the scary summer of 2010 was that it happened with only one degree of warming, globally averaged; we face five or six degrees this century if we don’t take crisis action to get off fossil fuel.) Hence, in some sense, the failure of these various legislative efforts is disgusting but not decisive.

In certain ways, in fact, it clears the air. For years, the effort to build a movement to do something about climate change in the United States has been hampered by the presence of these weak bills. It was hard to rally people to a banner when that banner hung so limply. Now that there is no real chance of tough action in the next year or two, a real opportunity exists to build a powerful, angry movement, in the United States and around the world—a movement capable of pushing for real change on a scale that matters. That’s what organizations like 350.org are trying to do, exploring strategies that range from planet-scale art projects to concerted civil disobedience.

At the same time, since we’re not going to forestall some really disastrous climate change, the need to make communities more resilient continues apace. And sometimes these two thrusts can be combined. On October 10, 2010, 350.org coordinated 7,400 different actions in 188 countries into a Global Work Party. In far-flung places, people put up solar panels, dug community gardens, laid out bike paths—all the kinds of things that will help make those places more likely to endure in a warmer world. But they also used the occasion to send a strong political message to their leaders. At day’s end, they put down the shovels, picked up cellphones, and left the same message: “We’re getting to work, what about you?”

These are the two strands we must simultaneously undertake. We’ve got to harden our communities so they can withstand the couple of degrees of global warming that are now inescapable. (And, as the summer of 2010 showed, that’s no easy task.) At the same time, we’ve got to cooperate internationally to force legislative change that will hold those increases below the four or five degrees that would make a difficult century an impossible one. Much will depend on how effective that movement-building turns out to be.

In the end, the BP spill that dominated the headlines for much of the summer of 2010 turned out to be the less important sign of environmental crisis, and not only because its effect was smaller than, say, the Pakistani flooding. It’s because the BP spill was an accident. It was a one-off crisis: The proper response was to ban deepwater drilling till we know how to do it, to make sure all wells are as safe as possible, and to compensate fully everyone damaged by BP’s greed. In that sense, it fit in with our legacy idea of what constitutes pollution: something going wrong.

But the greatest danger we face, climate change, is no accident. It’s what happens when everything goes the way it’s supposed to go. It’s not a function of bad technology, it’s a function of a bad business model: of the fact that Exxon Mobil and BP and Peabody Coal are allowed to use the atmosphere, free of charge, as an open sewer for the inevitable waste from their products. They’ll fight to the end to defend that business model, for it produces greater profits than any industry has ever known. We won’t match them dollar for dollar: To fight back, we need a different currency, our bodies and our spirit and our creativity. That’s what a movement looks like; let’s hope we can rally one in time to make a difference.

Excerpted from Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, published in paperback in March by St. Martin’s Griffin. Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Bill McKibben. Excerpted by permission of Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

  Read As We Face Environmental Trauma and Do-Nothing Politicians, Our Last Hope Is Fighting Back
  August 22, 2011  
Word document

At this stage of history, the world is going through numerous serious problems, which could be fully brought under control only if we develop the habit of becoming involved. Problems should always be faced with courage, hope and perseverance. Needless to say, when we encounter a problem we may choose to solve it momentarily or permanently. If we choose the first one, then the problem keeps on coming back over and over again.

Focusing on the Problem’s Source

However, if we choose the second one, then that same problem will never surface again. This will simply involve getting to the source of it and block it there. If we were to make a study of the general tendency the governments of the world tend to adopt to solve our manifold problems, we would soon discover that they always tend to use the first option. This means, they make sure that the problem in consideration is brought under control momentarily.

Of course, once people see the problem solved, they all tend to take a sigh of relief. However, when the problem surfaces again, they all become frustrated and many may start to lose hope. Besides, many may become quite angry, an element that guarantees the loss of one’s happiness in life. As the Scholastics used to say, quidquid contingens est causam habet – whatever comes into being there must be a cause, that is, a valid reason. In fact, another scholastic logical saying goes like this: ex nihilo nihil fit – nothing comes out of nothing.

Each time we face problems in life we need to seek for solutions that are in the best interest of all people without exception. The great problem of most government officials in the world at large lies here. Instead of solving problems in the best interest of all people, they proceed to solve problems in the best interest of some to the exclusion of others. Over the centuries, this approach has created animosity and numerous conflicts needlessly.

A careful study of the history of the last 6,000 years of civilization demonstrates that the nation that was viewed as super-power at the time, it always served as a blessing or a curse. It served as a blessing when it took the initiative to provide positive and constructive solutions to encountered problems, where everyone tended to be a winner in some way and no one a loser. It served as a curse when it took the initiative to furnish negative and destructive means that was based on fear, annihilation and death.

US Addiction to War in Perspective

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States emerged as the sole world-power in the world. Instead of taking the initiative to develop an international program of disarmament and arms control, the United States embarked upon the largest military build-up in the entire history of humanity. Foreign US military bases were built around the world in 146 nations out of some 193 countries. Without further delay, the USA assumed the role of becoming the policeman of the world without the consent of the United Nations.

The United States is a capitalistic society, which is controlled with iron fist by big corporations that finance the election of virtually every major government official. Needless to say, those US government officials that were elected in the office they hold through the money of big corporations feel the sacrosanct obligation to promote their product regardless as to whether it is beneficial or detrimental. The weapons industry and the military industrial complex invest more money in time of elections than any other imaginable industry.

This means that for the US government to justify the manufacture of more and more weapons and the waging of more and more wars, it has to instill an atmosphere of fear in the American people. To this end, billions of dollars are spent weekly on the hundreds of US foreign military bases, which are equipped with highly expensive weapons, not to mention the numerous warships that are virtually found in every ocean. As a result, the United States ran out of money and has had to borrow billions of dollars amounting now to a few trillions.

And to turn an insult into injury, the US government is seeking to cut social security and health care, which are vital for the American people under the pretext of balancing the budget. Of course, those that are familiar with US politicians know very well that such is not the case. They want to deprive Americans from their necessities of life so that the US politicians at large would be able to spend such money on the manufacture of more weapons and the promotion of more wars. This American addiction to war is endangering the lives of all people around the world.

The time to reverse this trend is now before it will be too late. The first gigantic step that is needed to reverse this trend fast and smooth is for all people in every nation to be aware of such facts. It is our responsibility, individually and collectively, to reach as many people as possible to this end. The best available means of contact today is the internet. There was a time when the news media were used for such a purpose. But this is no longer the case since the major TV stations and newspapers in the USA are controlled by big war corporations.

War-Oriented News Media

If an American that runs for a political office, dares to advocate the closing down of needless US foreign military bases and to cut money from the bloated military budget, the US news media will not bring any news about him. They simply try to make people, to the best of their ability, not to know that he even exists. Out of the present eight Republican candidates running to become the next US president, with the exception of one, they are all saying that as President they would seek for more weapons and promote more wars as needed.

The only one that is advocating drastic cuts from the US bloated military budget and the closing of needless US foreign military bases, Representative Ron Paul, has been totally ignored by the US news media. When Ron Paul in the Iowa straw poll of republican presidential candidates came third, very close to be second, the US television ignored him and reported to the nation as the one who came third the one that came distant fourth lagging behind Ron Paul! Since the US news media cannot serve as an instrument to promote peace and harmony in the world, we need to explore ways to remedy this sad situation.

We learn from history that the most powerful element we have in a nation that is mostly feared by every government is the people who, once they draw the line, no one will stop them, not even the military, until they straighten things out. We have seen this in India, following World War II, and recently in Egypt to mention just a couple of examples. Why is it that the United States, in its determination to police the world, relies heavily on the military? The military is the only entity in the world that is subject to no national and international laws.

As far as the military is concerned there is no protocol. When the United States decided to control Iraq, it simply invaded that country. No passports, no identifications, no documents of any kind were needed. At least, when the Mexicans entered the United States illegally, their intention was to do menial work just to provide their families with a livelihood. They did not represent to the American people any threat except for giving needed services. On the other hand, the US military entered Iraq to demolish cities and destroy human lives.

No one tries to hold accountable the military for its disasters. Among other actions, we see destruction of nations, the merciless killing of thousands of innocent people, along with millions of refugees and thousands of children left orphans. And to comprehend the bizarre mind-set of our earthly society, the military individuals that commit these awful crimes are viewed as heroes! Are we living in a society that may be characterized as being mentally deranged?

Bringing the Military under Control

We all need to work together to turn things around. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate anything that is negative and destructive. Here are some vital steps that we need to take to this end, no matter how long it would take us. These steps are not enlisted in any specific order. Since the USA is fully involved in the business of weapons and wars, we need to concentrate on this country.

1. In political elections, the American people should remove from office any official that advocate more money for weapons and wars and have them replaced by those who advocate more money for health care and education.

2. Pressure should be put on senators and congressmen to close down quickly 50% of all US foreign military bases. This would save countless billions of dollars and to have such money used for the vital needs of the people.

3. Those that work for the weapons and military industries should quit their job while asking God to forgive them for having let themselves to be used as instruments to demolish nations and to massacre innocent people.

4. Those who live in countries where there are US military bases should insist with their respective government officials to have such deadly and provocative instruments closed down.

5. Government officials everywhere should refuse any offer made by the USA to provide them with weapons and military equipment; instead, they should state that they will accept only medical and educational means.

6. Pressure should be put on the US officials to change the role of the military from one that is destructive to one that is constructive; for example, using warships as floating hospitals to help the poorest nations on earth.

7. Americans should insist with their government officials to change drastically their philosophy of retaliation with that of reconciliation; we need to keep in mind that one catches more flies with honey.

8. Those that join the US military should be trained to do humanitarian work. They should be trained to help those in dire need to the best of their ability; no more training to destroy nations and massacre people.

9. Let us keep in mind that what makes a country great, productive and secure does not come from our reliance of a so called “strong military,” but it comes from the kind of education and health care we provide to the people.

10. We all know that charity begins at home; if the US government wants to help the people of other nations, it should start with helping its own people first by providing them with the vital necessities of life, not with weapons and wars.

11. If US government officials do believe that honesty is the best policy, they should device a plan to take all the money from every individual that became millionaire from the sales of weapons and the promotion of wars.

12. Such money then needs to be put in a general fund to be used only to provide people both in the United States and elsewhere around the world, with good health care, excellent education and adequate housing facilities.

Needless to say, we may go on and on since the topic under discussion, Our Involvement in Saving the World from Complete Destruction happens to be so broad! One traditional saying goes as follows: The journey of one thousand miles starts with the taking of the first step. Regardless of the position we occupy in life, we all have the potential to make substantial contributions to help make the world considerably better than the one we have inherited.

We should always make it a habit to support all those that are making good contributions in the best interest of all people without exception. At the same time, we should always demonstrate the courage to oppose all those who are performing actions that are detrimental even to a small segment of the population. This approach of ours should be adopted with determination regardless of the titles those performing such mentioned actions may carry.

In conclusion, we should try to acquire the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, namely: wisdom to see things into true perspective, understanding for purpose of better communication, counsel to help people move on the right track, fortitude that enables us to do what needs to be done, knowledge to help us make a better value judgment, compassion that enables us to treat everyone with love and mercy, and fear of God, which consists not in the fear that such a powerful entity has the power to destroy us, but in being very cautious not to offend the one that gives me everything that is positive and constructive day in and day out.
  Read Our Involvement in Saving the World from Complete Destruction
 August 29, 2011  

Climate science suggests that global warming will make hurricanes like Irene more destructive in three ways (all things being equal):

  1. Sea level rise makes storm surges more destructive.
  2. “Owing to higher SSTs [sea surface temperatures] from human activities, the increased water vapor in the atmosphere leads to 5 to 10% more rainfall and increases the risk of flooding,” as NCAR Senior Scientist Kevin Trenberth put it in an email.
  3. “However, because water vapor and higher ocean temperatures help fuel the storm, it is likely to be more intense and bigger as well,” as Trenberth writes

On the third point, warming also extends the range of warm SSTs, which can help sustain the strength of a hurricane as it steers on a northerly track. As meteorologist and former hurricane hunter Dr. Jeff Masters has explained:

… this year sea surface temperatures 1 – 3°F warmer than average extend along the East Coast from North Carolina to New York. Waters of at least 26°C extend all the way to Southern New Jersey, which will make it easier for Irene to maintain its strength much farther to the north than a hurricane usually can. During the month of July, ocean temperature off the mid-Atlantic coast (35°N – 40°N, 75°W – 70°W) averaged 2.6°F (1.45°C) above average, the second highest July ocean temperatures since record keeping began over a century ago (the record was 3.8°F above average, set in 2010.) These warm ocean temperatures will also make Irene a much wetter hurricane than is typical, since much more water vapor can evaporate into the air from record-warm ocean surfaces.

Also, hurricanes tend to be self-limiting, in that they churn up deeper (usually cooler) water, that can stop them from gaining strength and also weaken them.  So since global warming also warms the deeper ocean, it further helps hurricanes stay stronger longer.

One says, “all things being equal,”  because, among other things, it is possible that global warming will increase wind shear, which can disrupt hurricanes.

The media prefer to ask the wrong question — as Politico did Friday with its piece, “Was Hurricane Irene caused by global warming?”  But they do have a good quote from perhaps the leading expert on the subject:

I think the evidence is fairly compelling that we’re seeing a climate change signal in the Atlantic, ” said Kerry Emanuel,  a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Citing other recent trends of extreme weather, including hailstorms and catastrophic tornadoes, “one begins to wonder,  if you add all those up,  maybe you are seeing a global warming effect.”

Still, he adds, “I would be reluctant myself to say anything about global warming and Irene” — but again, that I think is a function of asking the wrong question.  That’s a point Climate Central makes in its post on this subject, “Irene’s Potential for Destruction Made Worse by Global Warming, Sea Level Rise“:


At the moment, the immediate question for anyone in the path of the storm is — or should be —  “how can I keep myself and my loved ones safe?” But another question may be lingering in the background. It’s the same question that came up in April, when a series of killer tornadoes tore up the South in April, and in May, when floods ravaged the entire Mississippi River basin, and in July, when killer  heat waves seared the Midwest and Northeast, and in August, when Texas officially completed its worst one-year drought on record — a drought that isn’t over by a long shot.

The question: is this weather disaster caused by climate change?

Wrong question.

Here’s the right question: is climate change making this storm worse than it would have been otherwise?

Answer: Absolutely

For one thing, sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean are higher now than they used to be, thanks to global warming, and ocean heat is what gives hurricanes their power. All other things being equal, a warmer ocean means a more powerful storm. It’s hard to say that all other things are exactly equal here, but it’s certainly plausible that Irene would have been a little weaker if precisely the same storm had come through, say, 50 years ago.

What we know for sure, however is that thanks largely to climate change, sea level is about 13 inches higher in the New York area than it was a century ago. The greatest damage from hurricanes comes not from high winds and torrential rains — although those do cause a lot of damage. It’s from the storm surge, the tsunami-like wall of water a hurricane pushes ahead of it to crash onto the land. It was Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge, not the wind or rain, that destroyed New Orleans back in 2005.

With an extra foot of sea level to start with, in other words, Irene’s storm surge is going to have a head start. And climate change is a big part of the reason why.

Note that teasing out a relationship between global warming and hurricane damage is tricky because “More than half the total hurricane damage in the U.S. (normalized for inflation and populations trends) was caused by just five events,” as Emanuel explained in an email to me a while back.  Storms that are Category 4 and 5 at landfall (or just before) are what destroy major cities like New Orleans and Galveston with devastating winds, rains, and storm surges.  One extra Cat 4 or 5 hitting Miami and you’ve obliterated the damage records.

Still, here’s a key finding of a 2009 study, “Tropical cyclone losses in the USA and the impact of climate change — A trend analysis based on data from a new approach to adjusting storm losses” (subs. req’d):

In the period 1971-2005, since the beginning of a trend towards increased intense cyclone activity, losses excluding socio-economic effects show an annual increase of 4% per annum. This increase must therefore be at least due to the impact of natural climate variability but, more likely than not, also due to anthropogenic forcings.

That isn’t definitive attribution — which the authors explicitly avoid — but it still is a statement of attribution.

UPDATE:  We are facing 10 times as much warming this century as in the last 50 years, so the 3 factors described above are going to have a greater and great impact over time.

Here’s more from Climate Central:

The relationship between climate change and hurricanes is one that scientists are still trying to understand. As I mentioned above, warm ocean waters provide the energy that keeps a hurricane going. That’s why the storms lose energy when they pass over land, and why they gain energy when they pass over warmer water (as Katrina did when itentered the Gulf of Mexico after crossing Florida).

Still the phrase “all other things being equal” is key. In a warming climate, all other things will not necessarily be equal. For one thing, wind patterns will probably change, and something called wind shear, which tends to snuff out hurricanes before they can fully form, may increase over the Atlantic as the climate changes. Moreover, some climate scientists argue that a key factor in hurricane formation is not simply the ocean temperature, but the differences in temperature from one ocean basin to another. One recent paper in Science concludes that the overall number of hurricanes in the Atlantic is likely to decrease over the coming century — but that the intensity of those that do happen is likely to increase.

But that says nothing — and nobody has a clue — about how many of those hurricanes will hit land, and if they do, whether it will be in densely populated areas or not (although more and more of the U.S. shoreline that lies in hurricane territory is filling up with people).

Nevertheless, one study has projected an overall 20 percent increase in hurricane-related damage based on population growth and sea-level rise alone, even if there were no change in hurricane frequency or strength.

Let’s also not forget that while storm surges pose the biggest danger, Irene will almost certainly bring torrential rains to a part of the country that has already been drenched over the past couple of weeks. With saturated ground and a deluge that could add up to 10 or even 20 inches of rain in just a day or so, rivers and creeks will likely overflow their banks, causing widespread flooding. And then there’s the wind, which will inevitably cut power to hundreds of thousands of people, at least (it can happen even when there isn’t a hurricane).

So this is another potential way that global warming can make hurricanes more destructive — by causing more deluges that can saturate the ground and worsen the flooding caused by a subsequent hurricane (whose deluge itself was likely worsened by global warming).

  Read How Global Warming Will Make Hurricanes Like Irene Worse
 August 22, 2011  

I doubt there's any student in the world who would object to having Fridays off. But when it comes to policy, the increasing number of American schools moving to a four-day week is not necessarily news to jump for joy about. In fact, it's potentially devastating for parents, school workers and students all left in the lurch by budget cuts. And it's happening more and more, as state and local budgets shrink to tiny levels and raising taxes on the wealthy is somehow considered verboten.

This anti-school thinking is evidenced by the fact that a leading right-wing businessman wrote an op-ed yesterday in which he questioned his taxes going toward the existence of a Department of Education. "Do we really need an energy department or an education department at all?" the American Enterprise Institute's Harvey Golub wrote in the Wall Street Journal, while arguing, contra Warren Buffet, that taxes for the ultra-rich not be raised.

We need more revenue for education, Harvey. Just ask the growing group of parents who are stuck with their young school-age children on Mondays or Fridays because the schools can't even afford to open that day.

The Associated Press reports that the Irene-Wakonda School District in South Dakota is the latest to move to the four-day week, bringing the state close to having one-fourth of its districts on the reduced schedule.

“It got down to monetary reasons more than anything else,’’ Superintendent Larry Johnke said. The $50,000 savings will preserve a vocational education program that otherwise would have been scrapped.

The four-day school week is an increasingly visible example of the impact of state budget problems on rural education. This fall, fully one-fourth of South Dakota’s districts will have moved to some form of the abbreviated schedule. Only Colorado and Wyoming have a larger proportion of schools using a shortened week. According to one study, more than 120 school districts in 20 states, most in the west, now use four-day weeks.

The AP notes that while district officials are quick to tout the fact that there's no recorded difference in standardized testing and so on for the schools with the four-day schedule, "parents aren't convinced." 

Last year, the Wall Street Journal ran a big feature on the movement toward shorter school weeks as well, including a map showing at least 16 states where the policy is allowed, including Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia and South Dakota. The piece's author found that no conclusive data could be pinpointed explaining where test scores go when Friday classes disappear.

But education advocates expressed grave concern, saying teachers had to fight to keep students focused during the newly longer days, and Randi Weingarten of the AFT noted that implementing reforms and new ideas was more difficult with the four-day week.

To be fair to energetic local educators, there are some advantages in a reduced-day schedule, particularly for older students in rural areas with long commutes, according to this 2010 piece in USA Today and this 2008 Time Magazine piece on the growing trend in rural districts from Maine to New York to Georgia to the Southwest, and even Hawaii. The practice can allow teachers more time to prepare and students more time to rest. Going to doctors' appointments, helping out around the family farm, and other reasons to skip school may lessen in frequency. And the remaining school days will by necessity be longer and involve more tutoring and activities, which could motivate students.

But it certainly isn't a cure-all for budget woes. Educators from other districts where the experiment has been tried have also said it was hard to keep up the pace of the curriculum and some have eventually abandoned the schedule, saying it wasn't worth the money "saved."

Many districts that have the shortened schedule say they've seen students who are less tired and more focused, which has helped raise test scores and attendance. But others say that not only did they not save a substantial amount of money by being off an extra day, they also saw students struggle because they weren't in class enough and didn't have enough contact with teachers.

The best conclusion that could be drawn from the small amount of research and reporting that's been done on the matter is this: pedagogically, there's no formula and each school and population will see different results from the shortened week. So the real question remains, why are schools even pushed to make this choice?

Regardless of what works academically for each school, the idea that many are being forced to shut down because of budget constraints is disturbing to say the least--and that's indeed the case for many of these schools, as the WSJ article notes:

Some schools, meanwhile, say they are turning to the four-day schedule as a last resort. In North Branch, Minn., school Superintendent Deb Henton said her 3,500-student district, facing a $1.3 million deficit, is simply out of options. 
"We've repeatedly asked our residents to pay higher taxes, cut some of our staff, and we may even close one of our schools," she said. "What else can you really do?" Despite a "lot of opposition" from parents, she said, the district is set to adopt a four-day week for next school year.

Indeed, one of the groups hardest hit is working parents, who have to scramble for childcare on the extra day, an extra-tough task during the recession when many may need the time to work or look for work.

Another group hit hard? Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance staff and others whose smaller work-weeks may in fact be the main reason districts "save" money on the four-day week: they're gaining extra pockets in their budgets by cutting these staff members salaries by up to a fifth. This is hardly a rejuvenating measure, and combined with the hit to parents this loss of employment could certainly put a dent in small communities' financial well-being.

And presumably, for the day off to actually help schools academically, the facilities would still be open on the fifth day. If bus drivers and other staffers aren't around that fifth day because of budget cuts, then how can students get to school for extra help, or activities? It completely undercuts the point.

This lost day is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to school budget cuts. But it underscores quite drastically the way budget cuts are decimating schools' ability to make choices that will best help students; instead, they're left playing defense. Texas, which has many districts with the four-day policy, is a particularly egregious example of the toll budget cuts have taken on education.

A local columnist explained how the 2011-'12 school year is going to begin for young Texans: 

The massive cuts to public education approved last spring in Austin also will have long-lasting and devastating consequences for the children of our state. CPPP estimates that Texas schools must manage cuts, on average, of nearly $1,000 per student just when the needs of our students are increasing. Although earlier this month HISD restored some funding to schools that had been previously cut, the severity of the reductions mandated by the Legislature won't come to fruition for another year or longer. It is clear that dark times are ahead for the hard-working employees and families of Texas schools.

Paul Krugman made a similar point earlier this year when addressing Texas budget cuts, noting that the right-wing push to de-fund schools and hurt children will result in economic pain in the future: "The really striking thing about all this isn’t the cruelty — at this point you expect that — but the shortsightedness. What’s supposed to happen when today’s neglected children become tomorrow’s work force?"

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in Jezebel.com and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at sarahmseltzer.com.
  Read Schools Nationwide Cutting Down to 4 Days a Week, Because Wealthy Refuse to Pay Fair Share
 August 31, 2011  

People do not normally leave their homes, their families, and their communities unless they have no other option. Yet as environmental stresses mount, we can expect to see a growing number of environmental refugees. Rising seas and increasingly devastating storms grab headlines, but expanding deserts, falling water tables, and toxic waste and radiation are also forcing people from their homes.

Advancing deserts are now on the move almost everywhere. The Sahara desert, for example, is expanding in every direction. As it advances northward, it is squeezing the populations of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria against the Mediterranean coast. The Sahelian region of Africa—the vast swath of savannah that separates the southern Sahara desert from the tropical rainforests of central Africa—is shrinking as the desert moves southward. As the desert invades Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, from the north, farmers and herders are forced southward, squeezed into a shrinking area of productive land. A 2006 U.N. conference on desertification in Tunisia projected that by 2020 up to 60 million people could migrate from sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa and Europe.

In Iran, villages abandoned because of spreading deserts or a lack of water number in the thousands. In Brazil, some 250,000 square miles of land are affected by desertification, much of it concentrated in the country's northeast. In Mexico, many of the migrants who leave rural communities in arid and semiarid regions of the country each year are doing so because of desertification. Some of these environmental refugees end up in Mexican cities, others cross the northern border into the United States. U.S. analysts estimate that Mexico is forced to abandon 400 square miles of farmland to desertification each year.

In China, desert expansion has accelerated in each successive decade since 1950. Desert scholar Wang Tao reports that over the last half-century or so some 24,000 villages in northern and western China have been abandoned either entirely or partly because of desert expansion.

China is heading for a Dust Bowl like the one that forced more than 2 million "Okies" to leave their land in the United States in the 1930s. But the dust bowl forming in China is much larger and so is the population: China's migration may measure in the tens of millions. And as a U.S. embassy report entitled Grapes of Wrath in Inner Mongolianoted, "unfortunately, China's twenty-first century 'Okies' have no California to escape to—at least not in China."

With the vast majority of the 2.3 billion people projected to be added to the world by 2050 being born in countries where water tables are falling, water refugees are likely to become commonplace. They will be most common in arid and semiarid regions where populations are outgrowing the water supply and sinking into hydrological poverty. Villages in northwestern India are being abandoned as aquifers are depleted and people can no longer find water. Millions of villagers in northern and western China and in northern Mexico may have to move because of a lack of water.

Thus far the evacuations resulting from water shortages have been confined to villages, but eventually whole cities might have to be relocated, such as Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, and Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan province. Sana'a, a fast-growing city of more than 2 million people, is literally running out of water. Quetta, originally designed for 50,000 people, now has a population exceeding 1 million, all of whom depend on 2,000 wells pumping water from what is believed to be a fossil aquifer. In the words of one study assessing its water prospect, Quetta will soon be "a dead city."

Two other semiarid Middle Eastern countries that are suffering from water shortages are Syria and Iraq. Both are beginning to reap the consequences of overpumping their aquifers, namely irrigation wells going dry. In Syria, these trends have forced the abandonment of 160 villages. And a U.N. report estimates that more than 100,000 people in northern Iraq have been uprooted because of water shortages.

A final category of environmental refugee has appeared only in the last 50 years or so: people who are trying to escape toxic waste or dangerous radiation levels. During the late 1970s, Love Canal—a small town in upstate New York, part of which was built on top of a toxic waste disposal site—made national and international headlines. Beginning in August 1978, families were relocated at government expense and reimbursed for their homes at market prices. By October 1980, a total of 950 families had been permanently relocated. A few years later, the federal government arranged for the permanent evacuation and relocation of all 2,000 residents of Times Beach, Missouri, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discovered dioxin levels well above the public health standards.

While the United States has relocated two communities because of health-damaging pollutants, the identification of more than 450 "cancer villages" in China suggests the need to evacuate hundreds of communities. China's Ministry of Health statistics show that cancer is now the country's leading cause of death, and with little pollution control, whole communities near chemical factories are suffering from unprecedented rates of cancer. Young people are leaving for the city in droves, for jobs and possibly for better health. Yet many others are too sick or too poor to leave.

Another infamous source of environmental refugees is the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Kiev, which exploded in April 1986. This started a powerful fire that lasted for 10 days. Massive amounts of radioactive material were spewed into the atmosphere, showering communities in the region with heavy doses of radiation. As a result, the residents of the nearby town of Pripyat and several other communities in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were evacuated, requiring the resettlement of 350,400 people. In 1992, six years after the accident, Belarus was devoting 20 percent of its national budget to resettlement and the many other costs associated with the accident.

When a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March 2011, the ensuing nuclear crisis at the badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plant forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. Whether they will be able to return or will become permanently displaced is a question that remains unanswered.

Separating out the geneses of today's refugees is not always easy. Often the environmental and economic stresses that drive migration are closely intertwined. But whatever the reason for leaving home, people are taking increasingly desperate measures. Some of their stories are heartrending beyond belief.

As a general matter, environmental refugees are migrating from poor countries to rich ones, from Africa, Asia, and Latin America to North America and Europe. Some of the largest flows will be across national borders and they are likely to be illegal. The potentially massive movement of people across national boundaries is already affecting some countries. The United States is erecting a fence along the border with Mexico. The Mediterranean Sea is now routinely patrolled by naval vessels trying to intercept the small boats of African migrants bound for Europe. India, with a steady stream of migrants from Bangladesh and the prospect of millions more to come, is building a 10-foot-high fence along their shared border.

Maybe it is time for governments to consider whether it might not be cheaper and far less painful in human terms to treat the causes of migration rather than merely respond to it. This means working with developing countries to restore their economy's natural support systems—the soils, the water tables, the grasslands, the forests—and it means accelerating the shift to smaller families to help people break out of poverty. Treating symptoms instead of causes is not good medicine. Nor is it good public policy.

Adapted from World on the Edge by Lester R. Brown. Full book available online at www.earth-policy.org/books/wot.

Lester R. Brown is president of Earth Policy Institute, an organization dedicated to building a sustainable future. He has authored or co-authored over 50 books, the most recent of which is Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, and has received 24 honorary degrees and numerous awards, including the 1987 United Nations Environment Prize, a MacArthur Foundation "genius award," and the 1994 Blue Planet Prize. He lives in Washington, D.C.
  Read Expanding Desert, Falling Water Tables, and Toxic Pollutants Are Driving People From Their Homes
 August 26, 2011  

 JUAN GONZALEZ: As children across the nation head back to school, we turn now to a number of recent developments in education news. Here in New York, nearly 780 employees of the city’s Education Department will lose their jobs by October in the largest layoff at a single agency since Michael Bloomberg became mayor in 2002. I reported in today’s Daily News that those layoffs are going to be hitting particularly hard the poorest school districts in the city. The layoffs stem from budget cuts to schools, which have occurred in each of the last four years. The cuts have cost more than 2,000 full-time public school teachers their assignments and now threaten the job security of more than 400 school aides and 82 parent coordinators.

At last month’s "Save Our Schools" rally in Washington, D.C., education author Jonathan Kozol criticized the drive toward fewer teachers and larger classes.

JONATHAN KOZOL: Class size is soaring in the poorest schools. I walk into classes with 35, 40, 42 children packed into a single room. Originality? Forget it. Creativity? Forget it. Critical thinking, asking questions? There’s no time for children to ask questions. If they learn to ask demanding questions, they might start to question why the people we elect to office will not keep their promises.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, a Manhattan appeals court ruled unanimously yesterday the City of New York should release performance rankings of thousands of public school teachers to the public. Known as "Teacher Data Reports," the rankings grade more than 12,000 of the city’s 75,000 public school teachers based on how much progress their students make on state standardized tests. The teachers’ union opposes the ruling, arguing the reports are deeply flawed, subjective measurements that were intended to be confidential.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The court decision comes just days after the New York Times reported that annual allegations of test tampering and grade changing by educators have more than tripled since Mayor Bloomberg took control of New York City’s school system. The revelation is the latest in a string of cheating scandals across the nation. In Atlanta, a recent government probe found that 44 schools and 178 teachers and principals had been faking standardized test scores for the past decade.

Matt Batesky, a global history teacher at Lyons Community School in Brooklyn, criticized the emphasis on school testing.

MATT BATESKY: One of the things that we do constantly now is just test prep all the time. Our curriculum is basically, "Here is our test. How can we get our students to pass it?" because it’s so high stakes that if the students don’t pass it, they don’t graduate. And if they don’t graduate, you know, that hurts the student and it also hurts our school.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In other education news, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan plans to use waivers to rewrite parts of the nation’s signature federal education law, No Child Left Behind. The controversial law’s reauthorization has been stalled in Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to discuss these developments, we’re joined now by a woman who’s long been known as an advocate of No Child Left Behind, charter schools, standardized testing, and using the free market to improve schools. But she’s had a radical change of heart in recent years. I’m talking about the influential education scholar Diane Ravitch. She was assistant secretary of education and counselor to Education Secretary Lamar Alexander under President George H.W. Bush and appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board under President Clinton. She’s the author of over 20 books, a research professor of education at New York University, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her latest book chronicles how and why she decided to break with conservative education policies she once championed. It’s called The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

We’re also joined by Brian Jones, a Harlem elementary school teacher for the last eight years, a member of the Grassroots Education Movement and narrator of a documentary called The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.

Diane Ravitch and Brian Jones, thanks so much for being with us.


AMY GOODMAN: And I just wanted to start by saying, as we were playing Dr. King’s "I Have a Dream" speech, Diane, you said you were there.

DIANE RAVITCH: I was. I was at the Mall and marched, and it was one of the great moments of my life. So I’m very happy I had that chance to hear him.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s move from the 1963 March on Washington and the dream that Dr. King had to where you think education is today.

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, we have been, for at least the last decade and more, trapped in this standardized testing obsession. And we have the No Child Left Behind law, which George W. Bush sponsored, and it was overwhelmingly endorsed by Congress in 2001. And it has imposed on the schools utopian goals that, by the year 2014, 100 percent of children will be proficient. And if they’re not proficient, your principal will be fired, the teachers will be fired, the school will be closed, or it will be turned over to private management or turned into a charter school.

So, I can’t imagine what they were thinking, except that there was this idea that there had been a Texas miracle. That’s what George W. Bush ran on, was the Texas miracle. And we now know there was no Texas miracle. And yet we’re stuck with a law that no one has the wits to change, and it just stays there, crushing schools across the country with standardized testing. So we had, for example, President Obama in his State of the Union address this year said the most important way to win the future is to encourage innovation, creativity and imagination. We will never do that with the route that we’re taking now, with all of this emphasis on high-stakes testing and attacking teachers. And, you know, what’s going on across the country—budget cutting in state after state, increasing class sizes—this is all terrible for the future.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And when you hear about all of these testing scandals now that are breaking out, where obviously educators, under pressure to produce results so that they can save their jobs, are erasing test results—but not just a few, we’re talking about, in the case of Atlanta, possibly Washington, D.C., and some other cities, massive fraud that’s gone on.

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, there was a pretty dramatic scandal in Washington, D.C., which USA Today broke open. And that was, there was one particularly celebrated school, where the principal had gotten awards. He was used in advertisements for the district: "Do you want to be the next..." — and they had his picture and names in the ads. He’s resigned, because the rate of erasures in his school, from wrong to right, was so dramatic, they said you could win the Powerball more easily than come up with this rate of erasures. So, we’re seeing these scandals because we have a system that incentivizes cheating. We’re saying to people, if you don’t meet a goal that we know is impossible, you’ll be fired.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how the cheating exactly works. The teachers switch the answers after the kids hand in, so the kids don’t even know that their answers have been changed?

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, there are many ways to cheat, and I’m sure that Brian has seen—I’m sure he hasn’t done it, but he knows the ways. But it’s been documented in Washington and Baltimore and Atlanta. There were people—there were teachers and principals literally changing the answers from wrong to right, and they were going through these Scantron sheets and making the erasures. And so, there was an electronic analysis. Interestingly enough, New York City, when mayoral control began, eliminated the erasure analysis, which is the easiest way to see that the answers had been changed from wrong to right or right to wrong. They’re usually almost always changed from wrong to right. That’s one way.

There are other ways in which you can not test certain children, discourage them from coming to school, because they’re low-scoring, keep those kids out of your school, which some schools do. Particularly charter schools will push out low-performing kids or simply not accept them. And then there’s statewide institutionalized cheating. New York State saw its test scores go up year after year. And then, last year, after the mayoral election, announced that the test scores that we had boasted about for so many years were actually not true, and all the scores dropped across the state. That was institutionalized cheating.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the state did that merely by changing what they would consider the number of questions had to be answered right to reach a certain level.


JUAN GONZALEZ: So, and basically dumbed down the—

DIANE RAVITCH: They dropped the passing mark.


AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan plans to use waivers to rewrite parts of the nation’s signature federal education law, No Child Left Behind. I want to turn to a clip of the interview he recently did on CNN.

BROOKE BALDWIN: What will these schools have to prove, have to offer, to get a waiver?

SECRETARY OF EDUCATION ARNE DUNCAN: Well, we’re still working through that package. We will announce the final package next month after Labor Day. But I’ve tried to hit on a couple of the key points. Where there are high standards, we want to partner with folks. Where they’re dumbing down standards, reducing them, that’s not a state we want to partner with. Where districts and states are focusing on growth and gain rather than absolute test scores, how much are folks improving, we want to work with them. Where they’re being very thoughtful and creative around teacher and principal evaluation, we want to work with them.


SECRETARY OF EDUCATION ARNE DUNCAN: Where they’re willing to challenge the status quo in very low-performing schools, dropout factories, where 50, 60, 70 percent of students are dropping out—where we’re seeing real courage, Brooke, that’s where we want to partner.

AMY GOODMAN: Diane Ravitch, what about these waivers?

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, he’s giving states—or offering them a waiver from the mandates of No Child Left Behind and substituting the mandates he likes, none of which have any evidence behind them. When he talks about improving teacher evaluation, what he really means is Race to the Top things like judging teachers by test scores. There is hardly a testing expert in the country who thinks that this is a good idea, and there is none that I’ve been able to find who thinks it’s a good idea to release these ratings to the media, because they are largely inaccurate.

They say you can identify those at the extremes, the best and the worst. And frankly, if you have a principal who doesn’t know who their best and worst teachers are, they’re not a very good principal. But in the middle, there is so much inaccuracy, instability, that they’re—not worthless, but they should be confidential. What Secretary Duncan is doing is saying, if you want to get the federal funding, you have to evaluate teachers by test scores, you have to be prepared to close schools. This is NCLB brought up to an even higher level. And you also have to be prepared to increase the number of charter schools, which are private management.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Brian Jones, you’re a teacher in the trenches. Can you talk about the pressures on teachers these days with this emphasis on standardized testing and what it means actually to the kind of work that you do?

BRIAN JONES: Well, to me, the students are cheated even before the test is taken. Look, the cheating, the real social cheating, happens in the way that the high-stakes standardized testing distorts school itself.

Let me tell one story. I was doing a science experiment with a group of fourth graders. We were in the middle of a week-long science experiment, and we had—everyone had trays out on their tables, and they were pouring and mixing and investigating. We were having all kinds of rich discussions. And an administrator came in and said, "You have to stop what you’re doing right now," handed—put down a pile of workbooks and said, "You have to begin doing this right now." I begged her, in front of the students, "Please, let us just finish this experiment right now, in the next few minutes, and then we’ll do that." She said, "No, you have to put all this away right now and get working on the workbooks." So, the kids are cheated ahead of time. It teaches teachers to jump through these hoops, to not encourage critical thinking. It teaches all of us that knowledge is somewhere produced by Pearson or by one of these test companies, and you can’t create it, you can’t investigate it, you can’t do any of that. All you have to do is, more or less, remember it.

Here’s another way students are cheated. In elementary school, which I teach, we tend to go through genre studies. We take a genre of literature at a time and go through it. Well, now what more and more schools are doing is teaching the test itself as a genre—that is, studying the features of a test, as you would a novel, or as you would historical fiction or mysteries. You’re laughing, but this is very serious. Any teacher watching this knows what I’m talking about, that you, in elementary school, in many schools, especially the schools where that gun to the head is already cocked—in the poorest schools, in the schools that teach the most disadvantaged students, students of color, in schools in Harlem—you have to teach students how to take a test. You have to tell eight-year-olds about multiple choice, right? And the thing that gets me is that the, you know, wealthy individuals who promote these policies send their own kids to schools that look nothing like that, where inquiry is promoted, where they don’t spend all day obsessing about how they’re going to do on someone else’s test.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In the private schools, where athletics starts in the third grade—

BRIAN JONES: Of course, right.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —with teams of all kinds of intramural teams that the schools have.

BRIAN JONES: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: When does testing start?

BRIAN JONES: Well, it depends on the school, but I’ve seen schools that begin right away, that begin the first week of school, where they begin with pretests to try to, you know, tell the kids—if you ask a kid in Harlem—go to any school in Harlem and ask a young elementary school student, "What’s the point of school? Why are you here?" They’ll tell you, "It’s to pass tests, so that I can get a job."

There’s nothing about—you know, I heard Jonathan Kozol speak at the Save Our Schools march, and he said something that really stayed with me. He said, at the wealthy schools, at your Phillips Exeter and Andover Academies, you know, those kids get to feast on the treasures of the earth. They get to enjoy literature and savor it. And they get to savor their savoring of it. And in our schools, too often kids are given these kind of cardboard passages that are meant to show them what a noun is. But there’s no joy in it. And there’s no—I would argue there’s no real learning.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break, and we’ll come right back. Brian Jones, Harlem elementary school teacher, and Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Brian Jones, an elementary school teacher in Harlem for eight years, also an actor, and Diane Ravitch, assistant secretary of education. We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Diane Ravitch, I want to ask you about the business side of all of this education reform, not only in terms of the testing companies, but increasingly the new wave of reform now is the question of online learning. The school’s chancellor of New York City, Joel Klein, resigned to go work for Rupert Murdoch in a company that Rupert Murdoch bought that’s going to specialize in basically replacing the teacher in the classroom with online learning. Could you talk about that?

DIANE RAVITCH: Sure. There is a narrative. You can read about it in Chubb and Moe’s most recent book called Liberating Learning, where they imagine online learning replacing teachers, where there’s a teacher somewhere, let’s say, in a barn in Kansas monitoring 100 or 200 computer screens, 24/7. And I recall that Chancellor Klein said at the time, we could reduce our teaching staff by 30 percent if we could have more online learning. New York is now investing—I forget how many hundreds of millions of dollars—in IT contracts, technology contracts, because they see online learning as the future.

I can tell you, because I reviewed the research just last night, because I was having a Twitter debate with someone, there is no research behind this. They say, "We don’t have any evidence." Personally, I believe that children need teachers. They need an adult, a grown-up. They need the interaction with other students to talk about things, to debate, to discuss. What I’ve heard from many people is children sitting at home on a computer interacting with a blinking screen, all they’re doing is answering questions. And frankly, you don’t know who answered the questions. If they submit an essay, you don’t know who wrote the essay.

But we have states like Florida now mandating online courses. The state of Utah, where the state superintendent ran for office with huge contributions from online companies, is mandating online learning. Rupert Murdoch gave a speech not long ago, when he bought this company Wireless Generation. He bought it for $360 million, and he said at that time, "This is a $500 billion industry, and we want to be the leader in that industry." So there is a lot of money in play here and no evidence that it’s going to improve kids’ education. And, you know, my view is, it’s the poor will get computers, the rich will get computers and teachers.

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about big business, big business and the tests.

DIANE RAVITCH: Right. And the testing industry itself is a multibillion-dollar industry that has grown and fattened over the past decade. Pearson, for example, McGraw-Hill, the two big ones. Pearson has a $500 million contract with the state of Texas, another, I forget how many, hundreds of millions with Florida. Now they’ve just taken the New York contract. This is a multibillion-dollar enterprise. So, it will be very difficult to back away from what we’re locked into now, the kind of intellectual wasteland of so many of our public schools, because there is big business in keeping it this way.

BRIAN JONES: And if you publish the test, then the school is—I mean, they would be suicidal not to purchase the test preparation materials made by the same company that makes the test. So think about all those disposable workbooks that you have to then buy every year, in huge quantities, for every student.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Brian, you were heavily involved with this film, The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.

BRIAN JONES: Right, right.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Clearly, Waiting for Superman had a major impact across the country, in terms of this debate and was very much promoted by some of the television networks, as well. Why did you get involved in that, and what were you trying to do with the counter-documentary?

BRIAN JONES: Well, this film was made, Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman was made, by a group called the Grassroots Education Movement. And we just felt that the film, having seen it, was so outrageous and so full of lies and slander and so slanted, before we even had done the homework of figuring out who was really behind it and who had funded it and all of that, just on its own, on its face value. But the other thing about the film is it was so effective. It was such a well-made film. I mean, it really takes you in. It’s artfully done, a beautifully made film. So, we thought, well, you know, we might have some idea how to use iMovie, and maybe we can make our own film. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Who funded Waiting for Superman?

BRIAN JONES: Oh, well, it’s funded by all of the same forces that you’ve—it’s the same names that have lined up again and again. It’s actually escaping my mind at the moment. Do you remember?

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, I can tell you that the two major producers—

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Gates was among them.

DIANE RAVITCH: No, the two major producers were Participant Media, whose CEO was previously the CEO of a for-profit chain of post-secondary institutions, vocational schools, for-profit. And the other company, Walden Media, is headed by a very conservative billionaire named Philip Anschutz, who contributes to the Discovery Institute, which is against evolution, and to all the right-wing think tanks that advocate for privatization and vouchers.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now!’s Jaisal Noor spoke with author Lois Weiner about teacher unions. She’s the author of The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers, and Their Unions. I wanted to play a clip from that interview.

LOIS WEINER: Unlike school boards, unions are membership organizations. And we can’t just blame union leaders. We have to understand that the issue here is that teachers don’t see the unions as vehicles for struggle. And I think that if that—I think that if that doesn’t happen, we really are going to see the destruction of public education in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Lois Weiner. Brian Jones, talk about the relationship between teachers and unions.

BRIAN JONES: Well, I think right now what we’ve seen is that teachers need to be more active in their unions. There needs to be a movement of ordinary teachers to challenge what we see, because we’re the ones who see it it happening in the classroom. I think we need to unite with parents and try to build a kind of social justice unionism that takes on not only questions of our working conditions, which are learning conditions, but also questions of curriculum and pedagogy. The group I’m a part of, the Grassroots Education Movement, gemnyc.org, is trying to do just that right here in New York.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds. Can you address the issue of unions and teachers?

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, to me, the big issue today is there’s a narrative that says teachers are the problem in American education. I have been arguing poverty is the problem. We tie right into your segment on Dr. King. Poverty is the problem. Thirty-five percent of black kids live in poverty. Twenty percent of all American kids live in poverty. That’s the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Diane Ravitch, Brian Jones, thanks so much for being with us.


Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!.

Juan Gonzalez is the co-host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!.

 September 13, 2011  

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1. Twin Towers

Two years from now the staffs of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker will move into the most haunted building in the world.  There, the elite of American celebrity photographers, gossip columnists, and magazine journalists may meet some macabre new muses.

Aloft in the upper stories of 1 World Trade Center (where Condé Nast publishing has signed the biggest lease), they will gaze out their windows at that ghostly void, just a few yards away, where 658 doomed employees of Cantor Fitzgerald were sitting at their desks at 8:46 AM, September 11, 2001.

Not to worry: The “Freedom Tower” -- the boosters reassure us -- will be an enduring consolation to the families of 9/11’s martyrs as well as an icon of civic and national renaissance.  Not to mention its dramatic resurrection of property values in the neighborhood.  (I confess that I find this conflation of real-estate speculation with sublime memorial unnerving: like proposing to build a yacht marina over the sunken Arizona or a Katrina theme park in the Lower Ninth Ward.)

One World Trade Center, in the original design, was also meant to restore vertical architectural supremacy to Manhattan and to be the tallest building in the world.  This global phallic rivalry was won instead by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa super-tower, completed last year and twice as high as the Empire State Building.

In a few years Dubai, however, will have to surrender the gold cup to Saudi Arabia and the bin Laden family

Financed by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who revels in being known as the “Arabian Warren Buffet,” the planned Kingdom Tower in Jeddah -- the ultimate hyperbole for Saudi despotism -- will pierce the clouds along the Red Sea coastline at an incredible altitude of one full kilometer (3,281 feet).

One World Trade Center, on the other hand, will max out at 1,776 feet above the Hudson.  (Conspiracy theorists can obsess over this coincidence: the number of feet higher the Saudi Arabian tower will be than the American one almost exactly equals the number of people who died in the North Tower of the WTC in 2001.)

With little publicity, the initial billion-dollar contract for the Jeddah spire was awarded by Prince Al-Waleed to the Arab world’s mega-builders and skyscraper experts -- the Binladen Group.   It may keep their family name alive for centuries to come.

2. Collusion

Ten years ago, lower Manhattan became the Sarajevo of the War on Terrorism.   Although conscience recoils against making any moral equation between the assassination of a single Archduke and his wife on June 28, 1914, and the slaughter of almost 3,000 New Yorkers, the analogy otherwise is eerily apt.

In both cases, a small network of peripheral but well-connected conspirators, ennobled in their own eyes by the bitter grievances of their region, attacked a major symbol of the responsible empire.  The outrages were deliberately aimed to detonate larger, cataclysmic conflicts, and in this respect, were successful beyond the darkest imagining of the plotters. 

However, the magnitudes of the resulting geopolitical explosions were not simple functions of the notoriety of the acts themselves.  For example, in Europe between 1890 and 1940, more than two dozen heads of state were assassinated, including the kings of Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria, an empress of Austria, three Spanish prime ministers, two presidents of France, and so on.  But apart from the murder of Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, none of these events instigated a war.

Likewise, a single suicide bomber in a truck killed 241 U.S. Marines and sailors at their barracks at the Beirut Airport in 1983.  (Fifty-eight French paratroopers were killed by another suicide bomber the same day.)  A Democratic president almost certainly would have been pressured into massive retaliation or full-scale intervention in the Lebanese civil war, but President Reagan -- very shrewdly -- distracted the public with an invasion of tiny Grenada, while quietly withdrawing the rest of his Marines from the Eastern Mediterranean.

If Sarajevo and the World Trade Center, in contrast, unleashed global carnage and chaos, it was because a de facto collusion existed between the attackers and the attacked.  I’m not referring to mythical British plots in the Balkans or Mossad agents blowing up the Twin Towers, but simply to well-known facts: by 1912, the Imperial German General Staff had already decided to exploit the first opportunity to make war, and powerful neocons around George W. Bush were lobbying for the overthrow of the regimes in Baghdad and Tehran even before the last hanging chad had been counted in Florida in 2000.

Both the Hohenzollerns and the Texans were in search of a casus belli that would legitimate military intervention and silence domestic opposition. 

Prussian militarism, of course, was punctually accommodated by the Black Hand -- a terrorist group sponsored by the Serbian general staff -- that assassinated the Archduke and his wife, while al-Qaeda's horror show in lower Manhattan consecrated the divine right of the White House to torture, secretly imprison, and kill by remote control.

At the time, it seemed almost as if Bush and Cheney had staged a coup d’étatagainst the Constitution.  Yet they could cynically but accurately point to a whole catalogue of precedents. 

3. “Innocence” and Intervention

To put it bluntly, every single chapter in the history of the extension of U.S. power has opened with the same sentence: “Innocent Americans were treacherously attacked…”

Remember the Maine in Havana harbor in 1898 (274 dead)?

The Lusitania torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915 (1,198 drowned, including 128 Americans)?

Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916 (18 U.S citizens killed)?

Pearl Harbor (2,402 dead)?

Same sneak attack, same righteous national outrage. Same pretext for clandestine agendas.

In addition, historians will also recall the besieged legation in Peking (1899), Emilio Aguinaldo’s alleged perfidy outside Manila (1899), various crimes against American banks and businessmen in Central America and the Caribbean (1900-1930), the Japanese bombing of the USS Panay in 1938, the Chinese army’s crossing of the Yalu River into Korea (1950), the Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam (1964), the North Korean capture of the Pueblo(1968), the Cambodian seizure of the Mayaguez (1975), the U.S. Embassy hostages in Tehran (1979), the imperiled medical students in Grenada (1983), the harassed American soldiers in Panama (1989), and so on.

This list barely scratches the surface: the synchronization of self-pity and intervention in U.S. history is relentless.

In the name of “innocent Americans,” the United States annexed Hawaii and Puerto Rico; colonized the Philippines; punished nationalism in North Africa and China; invaded Mexico (twice); sent a generation to the killing fields of France (and imprisoned dissenters at home); massacred patriots in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua; annihilated Japanese cities; bombed Korea and Indochina into rubble; buttressed military dictatorships in Latin America; and became Israel’s partner in the routine murder of Arab civilians.

4. Decline and Fall?

Someday -- perhaps sooner than we think -- a new Edward Gibbon in China or India will surely sit down to write The History of the Decline and Fall of the American Empire.  Hopefully it will be but one volume in a larger, more progressive oeuvre -- The Renaissance of Asia perhaps -- and not an obituary for a human future sucked into America’s grasping void.

I think she’ll probably classify self-righteous American “innocence” as one of the most toxic tributaries of national decline, with President Obama as its highest incarnation.  Indeed, from the perspective of the future, which will be deemed the greater crime: to have created the Guantanamo nightmare in the first place, or to have preserved it in contempt of global popular opinion and one’s own campaign promises?

Obama, who was elected to bring the troops home, close the gulags, and restore the Bill of Rights, has in fact become the chief curator of the Bush legacy: a born-again convert to special ops, killer drones, immense intelligence budgets, Orwellian surveillance technology, secret jails, and the superhero cult of former general, now CIA Director David Petraeus.

Our “antiwar” president, in fact, may be taking U.S. power deeper into the darkness than any of us dare to imagine.  And the more fervently Obama embraces his role as commander in chief of the Delta Force and Navy Seals, the less likely it becomes that future Democrats will dare to reform the Patriot Act or challenge the presidential prerogative to murder and incarcerate America’s enemies in secret.

Enmired in wars with phantoms, Washington has been blindsided by every major trend of the last decade.  It completely misread the real yearnings of the Arab street and the significance of mainstream Islamic populism, ignored the emergence of Turkey and Brazil as independent powers, forgot Africa, and lost much of its leverage with Germany as well as with Israel’s increasingly arrogant reactionaries.  Most importantly, Washington has failed to develop any coherent policy framework for its relationship with China, its main creditor and most important rival.

From a Chinese standpoint (assumedly the perspective of our future Ms. Gibbon), the United States is showing incipient symptoms of being a failed state.  When Xinhua, the semi-official Chinese news agency, scolds the U.S. Congress for being “dangerously irresponsible” in debt negotiations, or when senior Chinese leaders openly worry about the stability of American political and economic institutions, the shoe is truly on the other foot.  Especially when standing in the wings, bibles in hand, are the mad spawn of 9/11 -- the Republican presidential candidates.

Mike Davis is author, most recently, of the kids' adventure, 'Land of the Lost Mammoths' (Perceval Press, 2003) and co-author of 'Under the Perfect Sun: the San Diego Tourists Never See' (New Press, 2003). He is currently working on a book about the recent political earthquake in California, 'Heavy Metal Freeway' (to be published by Metropolitan Books).
  Read The Decline and Fall of the American Empire
  September 22, 2011  
September 22, 2011

The greatest problem of the American people is threefold in nature: (1) Congress, commonly known as the US government, which formulates and makes laws, (2) Whitehouse, the seat of the US President, who is empowered to set up guidelines and policies that are beneficial to the entire nation, and (3) Supreme Court, composed of nine members each one nominated by the US President but has to be approved by Congress in order to take office.

Branches of US Government

These three branches of the US government were set up by the Founding Fathers of the nation to serve as checks and balances. This means that the American people would be more likely to be protected from any kind of power-abuse. In spite of this, the American people are increasingly becoming more and more nervous. They feel that they have literally ceased to occupy top priority in the overall nation’s agenda. Since actions speak louder than words, this does not need much explanation to discover it.

As a result, the nation plunged into turmoil, which could be traced to a mixture of ignorance or stupidity, power-abuse and corruption as well as conspicuous lack of courage to do what needs to be done fearlessly. According to Socrates, who lived some 2,500 years ago, every problem we encounter could be solved if we were to take the first step. This consists of bringing the problem into the open for everyone to see. Once people become aware of an existing problem, they soon begin to see how this problem would affect them.

When this is discovered, then steps are quickly taken and the problem is eventually solved. This explains why many governments in history feared most their people who could eventually remove them from power. It also explains why many governments feel safe to immerse their people into ignorance by not letting them know what is going on. Let us now analyze carefully how each of the three branches of the US government has emerged to become the greatest problem of the American people.

Congress in Perspective

This body is composed of 100 senators, two from each of the 50 states, and 435 congressmen the number of which varies in each state depending on the number of their respective population. Since political elections in the USA evolved to become a popularity contest, a lot of money is needed for extensive self-advertisement through the major news media: radio, press and television. This is virtually the only way prospective senators and congressmen have to take, in an effort to be elected. Sooner or later, a substantial number of these elected officials begin to show by their actions irresponsibility and corruption.

Needless to say, the bulk of money comes from the rich and big industries. Of course, since both of these elements are involved in the business of making money, all financial assistance given to prospective political figures are always given with strings attached. This means that, in return, the elected senator and congressman must dedicate his/her life not primarily to help the American people in all of their necessities but to develop policies that would make the rich become richer and for corporations to sell their respective products.

We can understand why at this stage of history, the majority of American politicians in Congress do not want to impose any taxes on the millionaires and billionaires. On the contrary, they rather take all money they want from the health and educational needs of the American people. And they would rather continue to make the poor get poorer than develop a program of fairness and balance among all Americans, rich and poor alike. This reveals irresponsibility and disrespect for the American people by all means.

Once senators and congressmen start to become abusive and corrupt they would do anything to get what they want even by literally robbing mercilessly the American people from their hard-earned money. This could be illustrated by the so called “social security” money. All Americans who work have a portion of their paycheck that goes for their social security. This means after they retire, maybe 25, 30 or 35 years later, they will start receiving a monthly paycheck. The social security could be described as the money of people that helps people.

For the members of congress to manufacture more and more devastating weapons and to engage in more and more wars, the latest being Afghanistan and Iraq, they have to spend tens of billions of dollars. So, without the consent of the American people, the US senators and congressmen took the social security money, which was all earned by the people for their future, and put such money into the general fund, from which they began to finance weapons and wars with billions of dollars stolen from the people’s social security money.

In brief, the US Congress has now virtually bankrupted the social security money fund. And to turn an insult into injury, the 2012 Republican presidential candidates are advocating the elimination of the social security money fund! As already stated, this money never belonged to the American government. It always belonged to the American people. Hence, those who have tampered with social security money in the US government have committed a power-abuse crime for which they should be held fully accountable. They should all be prosecuted for treason and be adequately punished with long jail sentences.

Whitehouse in Operation

Anyone that runs to become US President normally reveals a will to alleviate all or some of the manifold problems the American people are facing. However, after the American people elect the one they think would be for them a great asset, they begin to experience frustration and disappointment as the time goes by. The position of the US President is somewhat different in nature from that of both the US Senate and the US House of Representatives. The United States president enjoys executive power.

Every law passed by the US Congress will eventually become effective only after the US President signs it. In fact, the US President has the power of veto. This means if he chooses not to sign the enacted law by Congress it cannot be put into operation. Also, although the US Constitution makes it clear that only the US Congress can declare war, yet the US President may involve the USA into war by-passing Congress. This explains why the USA has so often been engaged in virtually every global conflict since World War II ended in 1945.

This also explains why the USA, which has always been described as the richest nation on earth, is today on the verge of bankruptcy. The recent US wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq have cost the USA already $4 trillion dollars, half of this amount was literally stolen from the hard-earned money of the American people – the social security money. If the US government has destroyed the necessities of life of the American people, how can we expect people of other countries to believe that the USA is there to save their necessities of life?

As St. Thomas Aquinas stated on more than one occasion, nemo dat quod non habet – you cannot give something you do not have. In the 2008 US Presidential race, Barack Obama has impressed Americans with his intelligence and clarity of mind. He made it clear that he would replace struggles and wars with other nations by healthy dialogues and strong diplomacy. He also promised to close the US torturous prison of Guantanamo Bay. Besides, he vouched to end the Iraqi war, which he opposed from the outset.

This good and well-intentioned US President found the hard way that anyone who occupies the Whitehouse has enormous pressure from big corporations whose job is to get what they want by all means. Not only the US Congress but also the US President has to submit, by all means, to the ruthless will of big corporations headed by the weapons industry and the military industrial complex. The executives of these two industries understand fully well that to survive in their business there must always be wars going on; there should always be turmoil not only in the USA but in every global area.

This explains why the military industrial complex and the promotion of wars are viewed, especially by most US politicians, as the Holy Cow, more sacred than God Himself! President Obama has been so much under pressure from Republicans, where their ultimate goal is to oust him from the Whitehouse, that he has compromised his principles beyond comprehension. The Republicans want to continue to protect the rich as to become even richer, while they are literally dumping the poor making them poorer.

Instead of having the US Democratic President drawing the line and be firm with Republicans on a no-matter-what basis, he continues to cave in even at the cost of breaking the promises he made to the American people during the time of election. All of this does not reveal what kind of President Barack Obama happens to be, but it reveals that the real power in the United States is vested neither in Congress not in the Whitehouse but, quite shamelessly and very disgracefully, in big corporations.

US Supreme Court in Reality

The establishment of the US Supreme Court was done with the best of good intentions. But even here, as the traditional saying goes, the way to hell is paved with good intentions. Although it is true that the US Supreme Court proved to be more of an asset in the entire history of its existence, it is still subject to make serious mistakes. Fairly recently, the US Supreme Court, which consists of nine individuals appointed for life, revealed its true color. To comprehend fully well the actions of the US Supreme Court we have to know, in the first place, how did such individuals got there.

When a vacancy occurs, either through death or retirement, then the US President appoints one to fill up this vacancy. However, this nominated individual will take office only if approved by the US Congress. Over the past several decades, the nomination of such individuals was quite predictable. If the US President is a democrat he tends to appoint one who espouses his own political party philosophy and beliefs.

This applies equally well if the US President happens to be a Republican. Fairly recently, the US Supreme Court by 5 to 4 votes, stated that US corporations should be viewed as persons! This brought a tremendous negative reaction that challenges the wisdom of having such members on the Supreme Court for life. These five members that voted for this measure were virtually all Republicans, while those that voted against were obviously democrats. As stated earlier, the Republicans are concerned mainly in making the rich become richer. Republicans do not want to tax the rich even, believe it or not, if they were multi-billionaires.

Until this stated measure was taken by the US Supreme Court, while individuals could donate money as much as they wanted to help elect the candidate of their choice, US corporations were quite limited as to the amount of money they could give in political campaigns. Of course, since the US Supreme Court has just declared that the US corporations should be viewed as “persons,” they are now free to spend unlimited millions of dollars on politicians of their respective choice. Needless to say, we are all aware of the traditional saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The US Supreme Court gave the green light to such corporations to start now giving any amount of money they want without limit. Hence, knowingly or unknowingly, the US Supreme Court took the initiative to literally “legalize” corruption, the mafia type. Former US President Jimmy Carter referred to this US Supreme Court decision as “stupid.” Others were wondering what kind of education these five US Supreme Court members received in their elementary and secondary schools where they learned that in English we have three types of pronouns. They are “he,” “she” and “it.”

“He” is masculine, “she” is feminine, and “it” is neuter. Hence, we use the pronoun “it” to refer to a hospital, school and corporation as well as to a table, chair and door. Maybe former US President Jimmy Carter was absolutely right in referring to this stated US Supreme Court decision as “stupid.” We are all familiar with the proverb: To err is human, to forgive divine but to persist in error is diabolical. In view of this, we have to realize that it is never wise in planet earth to have an individual to stay in power of any kind for life.

The time for the US Supreme Court members to have a limited term has definitely arrived. Besides, the American people must begin to become fully involved in seeing to it that those that represent them in the US Congress, the Whitehouse and the US Supreme Court do show in their actions that their primary concern is the welfare of all the American people. All US citizens have a sacrosanct right by natural law for adequate residential facilities, a good health care system and a free education from the cradle to the grave.

The members of the US Congress must make it clear that the time for the USA to solve social problems everywhere through wars has now become a thing of the past. Unless the United States works closely with the United Nations in developing seriously an international program of disarmament and arms control, the American people will continue to be seriously misguided by these three branches of the US overall government. Those who occupy a position of some kind in the US government need to keep the following in mind.

Backbone of the Nation

The American people are the backbone of the nation. We have a strong country not when we have a strong military but when we have healthy people that are properly educated and who enjoy living in adequate facilities. Besides, let us keep in mind that honesty is the best policy, which means we should realize that the weapons industry wants to keep in business through the never-ending of wars. For such an industry people are merely means to reach their money-making goals, regardless of how many innocent people are killed.

In view of this, the three branches of the US government should keep in mind the words of US President Dwight Eisenhower who warned the United States Congress saying: Every dollar you spend on weapons and wars is a theft from the hungry and the poor. We should add that the excessive money that is spent on weapons and wars constitutes an abuse of power in a number of ways especially when we consider that many in the US government became rich as a result. What amazes many is the hypocrisy of some US government officials.

The United States claims to be a predominantly Christian nation where God is revered in the open and where Jesus is viewed as the Master Teacher with great respect and reverence. Yet, anything that this Master Teacher of Nazareth taught and with which US government officials disagree, is simply dumped into the garbage literally. Ironically, this is observed systematically and with regularity among those who view themselves politically as conservatives! Let us bring a practical example to illustrate this vividly.

When the apostle Peter took off the sword to defend his Master, Jesus did not hesitate to tell him: “Put the sword away for he who kills by the sword will die by the sword.” And on another occasion Jesus warned his disciples saying: “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.” The USA, in resorting to weapons and wars to continue to solve global conflicts, has chosen the path to its own tribulations, with the American people ending up suffering as a result. The US three branches of government need to make the welfare of the American people a top priority that comes above anything else.
  Read The Greatest Problem of the American People
 September 18, 2011  

It’s a story that should take your breath away: the destabilization of what, in the Bush years, used to be called “the arc of instability.”  It involves at least 97 countries, across the bulk of the global south, much of it coinciding with the oil heartlands of the planet.  A startling number of these nations are now in turmoil, and in every single one of them -- from Afghanistan and Algeria to Yemen and Zambia -- Washington is militarily involved, overtly or covertly, in outright war or what passes for peace. 

Garrisoning the planet is just part of it.  The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence services are also running covert special forces and spy operations, launching drone attacks, building bases and secret prisons, training, arming, and funding local security forces, and engaging in a host of other militarized activities right up to full-scale war.  But while you consider this, keep one fact in mind: the odds are that there is no longer a single nation in the arc of instability in which the United States is in no way militarily involved.  

Covenant of the Arc

“Freedom is on the march in the broader Middle East,” the president said in his speech.  “The hope of liberty now reaches from Kabul to Baghdad to Beirut and beyond. Slowly but surely, we're helping to transform the broader Middle East from an arc of instability into an arc of freedom.”

An arc of freedom.  You could be forgiven if you thought that this was an excerpt from President Barack Obama’s Arab Spring speech, where he said “[I]t will be the policy of the United States to… support transitions to democracy.”  Those were, however, the words of his predecessor George W. Bush.  The giveaway is that phrase “arc of instability,” a core rhetorical concept of the former president’s global vision and that of his neoconservative supporters.

The dream of the Bush years was to militarily dominate that arc, which largely coincided with the area from North Africa to the Chinese border, also known as the Greater Middle East, but sometimes was said to stretch from Latin America to Southeast Asia.  While the phrase has been dropped in the Obama years, when it comes to projecting military power President Obama is in the process of trumping his predecessor. 

In addition to waging more wars in “arc” nations, Obama has overseen the deployment of greater numbers of special operations forces to the region, has transferred or brokered the sale of substantial quantities of weapons there, while continuing to build and expand military bases at a torrid rate, as well as training and supplying large numbers of indigenous forces.  Pentagon documents and open source information indicate that there is not a single country in that arc in which U.S. military and intelligence agencies are not now active.  This raises questions about just how crucial the American role has been in the region’s increasing volatility and destabilization.

Flooding the Arc

Given the centrality of the arc of instability to Bush administration thinking, it was hardly surprising that it launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and carried out limited strikes in three other arc states -- YemenPakistan, and Somalia.  Nor should anyone have been shocked that it also deployed elite military forcesand special operators from the Central Intelligence Agency elsewhere within the arc.

In his book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind reported on CIA plans, unveiled in September 2001 and known as the “Worldwide Attack Matrix,” for “detailed operations against terrorists in 80 countries.”  At about the same time, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed that the nation had embarked on "a large multi-headed effort that probably spans 60 countries.”  By the end of the Bush years, the Pentagon would indeed have special operations forces deployed in 60 countries around the world. 

It has been the Obama administration, however, that has embraced the concept far more fully and engaged the region even more broadly.  Last year, the Washington Post reported that U.S. had deployed special operations forces in 75 countries, from South America to Central Asia.  Recently, however, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me that on any given day, America’s elite troops are working in about 70 countries, and that its country total by year’s end would be around 120.  These forces are engaged in a host of missions, from Army Rangers involved in conventional combat in Afghanistan to the team of Navy SEALs who assassinated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, to trainers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines within U.S. Special Operations Command working globally from the Dominican Republic to Yemen

The United States is now involved in wars in six arc-of-instability nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  It has military personnel deployed in other arc states, including Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.  Of these countries,Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all host U.S. military bases, while the CIA is reportedly building a secret base somewhere in the region for use in its expanded drone wars in Yemen and Somalia.  It is also using already existing facilities in DjiboutiEthiopia, and the United Arab Emirates for the same purposes, and operating a clandestine base in Somalia where it runs indigenous agents and carries out counterterrorism training for local partners. 

In addition to its own military efforts, the Obama administration has also arranged for the sale of weaponry to regimes in arc states across the Middle East, including Bahrain, Egypt, IraqJordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.  It has been indoctrinating and schooling indigenous military partners through the State Department’s and Pentagon’s International Military Education and Training program.  Last year, it provided training to more than 7,000 students from 130 countries.  “The emphasis is on the Middle East and Africa because we know that terrorism will grow, and we know that vulnerable countries are the most targeted,” Kay Judkins, the program’s policy manager, recently told the American Forces Press Service.

According to Pentagon documents released earlier this year, the U.S. has personnel -- some in token numbers, some in more sizeable contingents -- deployed in 76 other nations sometimes counted in the arc of instability: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Syria, Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

While arrests of 30 members of an alleged CIA spy ring in Iran earlier this year may be, like earlier incarcerations of supposed American “spies”pure theaterfor internal consumption or international bargaining, there is little doubt that the U.S. is conducting covert operations there, too.  Last year, reports surfaced that U.S. black ops teams had been authorized to run missions inside that country, and spies and local proxies are almost certainly at work there as well.  Just recently, the Wall Street Journal revealed a series of “secret operations on the Iran-Iraq border” by the U.S. military and a coming CIA campaign of covert operations aimed at halting the smuggling of Iranian arms into Iraq.

All of this suggests that there may, in fact, not be a single nation within the arc of instability, however defined, in which the United States is without a base or military or intelligence personnel, or where it is not running agents, sending weapons, conducting covert operations -- or at war.

The Arc of History

Just after President Obama came into office in 2009, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  Drawing special attention to the arc of instability, he summed up the global situation this way: “The large region from the Middle East to South Asia is the locus for many of the challenges facing the United States in the twenty-first century.”  Since then, as with the Bush-identified phrase “global war on terror,” the Obama administration and the U.S. military have largely avoided using “arc of instability,” preferring to refer to it using far vaguer formulations.

During a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association's annual Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium earlier this year, for example, Navy Admiral Eric Olson, then the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, pointed toward a composite satellite image of the world at night.  Before September 11, 2001, said Olson, the lit portion of the planet -- the industrialized nations of the global north -- were considered the key areas.  Since then, he told the audience, 51 countries, almost all of them in the arc of instability, have taken precedence.  "Our strategic focus,” he said, “has shifted largely to the south... certainly within the special operations community, as we deal with the emerging threats from the places where the lights aren't."

More recently, in remarks at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., John O. Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, outlined the president’s new National Strategy for Counterterrorism, which highlighted carrying out missions in the “Pakistan-Afghanistan region” and “a focus on specific regions, including what we might call the periphery -- places like Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and the Maghreb [northern Africa].”

“This does not,” Brennan insisted, “require a ‘global’ war” -- and indeed, despite the Bush-era terminology, it never has.  While, for instance, planning for the 9/11 attacks took place in Germany and would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid hailed from the United Kingdom, advanced, majority-white Western nations have never been American targets.  The “arc” has never arced out of the global south, whose countries are assumed to be fundamentally unstable by nature and their problems fixable through military intervention.

Building Instability 

A decade’s evidence has made it clear that U.S. operations in the arc of instability are destabilizing.  For years, to take one example, Washington has wielded military aid, military actions, and diplomatic pressure in such a way as to undermine the government of Pakistan, promote factionalism within its military and intelligence services, and stoke anti-American sentiment to remarkable levels among the country’s population.  (According to a recent survey, just 12% of Pakistanis have a positive view of the United States.)

A semi-secret drone war in that nation’s tribal borderlands, involving hundreds of missile strikes and significant, if unknown levels, of civilian casualties, has been only the most polarizing of Washington’s many ham-handed efforts.  When it comes to that CIA-run effort, a recent Pew survey of Pakistanis found that 97% of respondents viewed it negatively, a figure almost impossible to achieve in any sort of polling.

In Yemen, long-time support -- in the form of aid, military training, and weapons, as well as periodic air or drone strikes -- for dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh led to a special relationship between the U.S. and elite Yemeni forces led by Saleh’s relatives.  This year, those units have been instrumental in cracking down on the freedom struggle there, killing protesters and arresting dissenting officers who refused orders to open fire on civilians.  It’s hardly surprising that, even before Yemen slid into a leaderless void (after Saleh was wounded in an assassination attempt), a survey of Yemenis found -- again a jaw-dropping polling figure -- 99% of respondents viewed the U.S. government’s relations with the Islamic world unfavorably, while just 4% “somewhat” or “strongly approved” of Saleh’s cooperation with Washington.

Instead of pulling back from operations in Yemen, however, the U.S. has doubled down. The CIA, with support from Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service, has been running local agents as well as a lethal drone campaign aimed at Islamic militants.  The U.S. military has been carrying out its own air strikes, as well as sending in more trainers to work with indigenous forces, while American black ops teams launch lethal missions, often alongside Yemeni allies.

These efforts have set the stage for further ill-will, political instability, and possible blowback.  Just last year, a U.S. drone strike accidentally killed Jabr al-Shabwani, the son of strongman Sheikh Ali al-Shabwani.  In an act of revenge, Ali repeatedly attacked of one of Yemen's largest oil pipelines, resulting in billions of dollars in lost revenue for the Yemeni government, and demanded Saleh stop cooperating with the U.S. strikes.

Earlier this year, in Egypt and Tunisia, long-time U.S. efforts to promote what it liked to call “regional stability” -- through military alliances, aid, training, and weaponry -- collapsed in the face of popular movements against the U.S.-supported dictators ruling those nations.   Similarly, in BahrainIraqJordan,KuwaitMoroccoOmanSaudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, popular protests erupted against authoritarian regimes partnered with and armed courtesy of the U.S. military.  It’s hardly surprising that, when asked in a recent survey whether President Obama had met the expectations created by his 2009 speech in Cairo, where he called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” only 4% of Egyptians answered yes.  (The same poll found only 6% of Jordanians thought so and just 1% of Lebanese.)

A recent Zogby poll of respondents in six Arab countries -- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates -- found that, taking over from a president who had propelled anti-Americanism in the Muslim world to an all-time high, Obama managed to drive such attitudes even higher.  Substantial majorities of Arabs in every country now view the U.S. as not contributing “to peace and stability in the Arab World.”

Increasing Instability Across the Globe

U.S. interference in the arc of instability is certainly nothing new.  Leaving aside current wars, over the last century, the United States has engaged in military interventions in the global south in Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Egypt, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Panama, the Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Somalia, Thailand, and Vietnam, among other places.  The CIA has waged covert campaigns in many of the same countries, as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, and Syria, to name just a few.

Like George W. Bush before him, Barack Obama evidently looks out on the “unlit world” and sees a source of global volatility and danger for the United States.  His answer has been to deploy U.S. military might to blunt instability, shore up allies, and protect American lives. 

Despite the salient lesson of 9/11-- interventions abroad beget blowback at home -- he has waged wars in response to blowback that have, in turn, generated more of the same.  A recent Rasmussen poll indicates that most Americans differ with the president when it comes to his idea of how the U.S. should be involved abroad.  Seventy-five percent of voters, for example,agreed with this proposition in a recent poll: “The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest.”  In addition, clear majorities of Americans are against defending Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other arc of instability countries, even if they are attacked by outside powers.

After decades of overt and covert U.S. interventions in arc states, including the last 10 years of constant warfare, most are still poor, underdeveloped, and seemingly even more unstable.  This year, in their annual failed state index -- a ranking of the most volatile nations on the planet -- Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace placed the two arc nations that have seen the largest military interventions by the U.S. -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- in their top ten. Pakistan and Yemen ranked 12th and 13th, respectively, while Somalia -- the site of U.S. interventions under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, during the Bush presidency in the 2000s, and again under Obama -- had the dubious honor of being number one.

For all the discussions here about (armed) “nation-building efforts” in the region, what we’ve clearly witnessed is a decade of nation unbuilding that ended only when the peoples of various Arab lands took their futures into their own hands and their bodies out into the streets.  As recent polling in arc nations indicates, people of the global south see the United States as promoting or sustaining, not preventing, instability, and objective measures bear out their claims.  The fact that numerous popular uprisings opposing authoritarian rulers allied with the U.S. have proliferated this year provides the strongest evidence yet of that. 

With Americans balking at defending arc-of-instability nations, with clear indications that military interventions don’t promote stability, and with a budget crisis of epic proportions at home, it remains to be seen what pretexts the Obama administration will rely on to continue a failed policy -- one that seems certain to make the world more volatile and put American citizens at greater risk.


Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and a senior editor at AlterNet. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso).

 You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on

  Read Obama's Arc of Instability: Destabilizing the World One Region at a Time
 September 3, 2011  
Why We Should Steal Finland's Education System
by PZ Myers , Pharyngula, AlterNet Hot News and Views
The American education system is a mess — thanks to the right wing cranks, we keep trying to apply free market principles to a process to which they don't apply. Watching America deal with education is a lot like watching the old USSR trying to cope with competitive economies — that there's a place for everything does not imply that one strategy is the solution for all problems.

What we ought to do is look at other countries around the world that have successful educational systems, and emulate them (isn't that a good capitalist value? Steal the ideas that work?). I have a suggestion: Let's steal Finland's educational system.

The transformation of the Finns' education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country's economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA?scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. "I'm still surprised," said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. "I didn't realize we were that good."

In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on compe­tition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. "I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts," said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. "If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect."

There's a brief summary of how they did it. I think the first and most important step was making a decision that education was important.

In 1963, the Finnish Parlia-ment made the bold decision to choose public education as its best shot at economic recovery. "I call this the Big Dream of Finnish education," said Sahlberg, whose upcoming book, Finnish Lessons, is scheduled for release in October. "It was simply the idea that every child would have a very good public school. If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive."

Practically speaking--and Finns are nothing if not practical--the decision meant that goal would not be allowed to dissipate into rhetoric. Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Public schools would be organized into one system of comprehensive schools, or peruskoulu, for ages 7 through 16. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions. Besides Finnish and Swedish (the country's second official language), children would learn a third language (English is a favorite) usually beginning at age 9. Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools (grades 10 through 12). The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master's degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities--at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg. By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children--clever or less so--were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early '90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. "We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work," said Louhivuori. "Our incentives come from inside."

They put good teachers in charge of deciding how students should be taught? How radical.

  Read Why We Should Steal Finland's Education System
 September 21, 2011  
In Tough Times, Tough Luck: Colleges Favoring at Richer Applicants
by Sarah Seltzer ,
AlterNet Hot News and Views
During the recession, college admissions' favoritism towards the wealthy, already somewhat present in policies that favor economically loaded factors like SATs and extracurricular activities that imply privilege (golf team, anyone?), becomes even more pronounced.

From the Washington Post, reporting on the 2011 Inside Higher Ed survey of college admissions directors:

The survey found that recruiting larger numbers of “full-pay” students, those who receive no financial aid, was viewed as a “key goal” at public institutions. Providing aid for low-income students was cited as a lower priority.

Dozens of colleges profess on their Web sites to a policy of admitting students without regard to financial need. Yet, the Inside Higher Ed survey found that 10 percent of four-year colleges reported admitting full-pay students with lower grades and test scores than other admitted students.

Roughly one-quarter of admission directors reported pressure from someone — college administrators, trustees or fund-raisers — to admit a student irrespective of her or his qualifications to attend.

When I was a student at an ultra-competitive New York City prep school, even my otherwise liberal classmates were often made furious at the notion of affirmative action, convinced that somehow someone with lower qualifications than they had was going to get an advantage in the college game due to their backgrounds.

But really, low-income students across the country should have been resentful of my well-to-do classmates instead of the other way around: as a teacher of ours who had previously worked in college admissions reminded us, the biggest affirmative action policy at colleges across the United States is and always has been bias in favor of "the color green." Dumb rich kids are getting into school over qualified kids with less privilege.

Much of this, it should be noted, is due to draconian budget cuts which leave colleges, even with the most noble mission statements, with little financial flexibility. It's a very bad sign for our storied tradition of public education.

  Read In Tough Times, Tough Luck: Colleges Favoring at Richer Applicants
 August 15, 2011  
Thinning Arctic Sea Ice Poised to Undergo Record Decline in Mid-August, Volume Minimum Likely
by Joe Romm , ThinkProgress, AlterNet Hot News and Views


Sea Ice Area, Cryosphere Today, 1979-2000 in gray [click to enlarge]

It looks increasingly likely that we’ll match or beat the 2007 record for Arctic sea ice area.  That means we should easily set the record for volume, since the ice is considerably thinner than 4 years ago.  The death spiral continues.

Whether we will set the record for sea ice extent, which tends to get most of the media coverage, is a tougher call.  Extent and area are diverging more than usual, as I’ll discuss below.  But either way, the next few weeks should be pretty fascinating to watch.

As meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters explained yesterday, “Arctic sea ice poised to undergo record decline in mid-August“:


A strong high pressure system with a central pressure of 1035 mb has developed over the Arctic north of Alaska, and will bring clear skies and warm southerly winds to northeast Siberia and the Arctic during the coming week, accelerating Arctic sea ice loss. Widespread areas of northeastern Siberia are expected to see air temperatures 4 – 12°C (7 – 22°F) above average during the coming week, and the clockwise flow of air around the high pressure system centered north of Alaska will pump this warm air into the Arctic. Arctic sea ice extent, currently slightly higher than the record low values set in 2007, should fall to to its lowest extent for the date by the third week of August as the clear skies and warm southerly winds melt ice and push it away from the coast of Siberia. This weather pattern, known as the Arctic Dipole, was also responsible for the record sea ice loss in 2007, but was stronger that year. The weather conditions that led to the 2007 record were quite extreme–one 2008 study led by Jennifer Kay of the National Center for Atmospheric Research showed that 2007′s combination of high pressure and sunny skies in the Arctic occur, on average, only once every 10 – 20 years.

The 2011 summer weather pattern in the Arctic has not been nearly as extreme as in 2007, but the total sea ice volume has declined significantly since 2007, leading to much loss of old, thick, multi-year ice, making it easier to set a new low extent record with less extreme weather conditions. The GFS model is predicting that the Arctic Dipole will weaken by 8 – 15 days from now, with cloudier weather and weaker high pressure over the Arctic. This should slow down the rate of Arctic sea ice loss to very near the record low values observed in 2007. It remains to be seen if 2011 Arctic sea ice extent will surpass the all-time low set in September 2007; it will be close, and will depend on the weather conditions of late August and early September, which are not predictable at this time. It is already possible to sail completely around the North Pole in ice-free waters through the Northeast Passage and Northwest Passage, according to sea ice maps maintained by the UIUC Cryosphere Today website. This marks the fourth consecutive year–and the fourth time in recorded history–both of these Arctic shipping routes have melted free. Mariners have been attempting to sail these passages since 1497. This year, the Northeast Passage along the north coast of Russia melted free several weeks earlier than its previous record early opening.

Much of the reporting on the Arctic is in terms of “sea ice extent.”  That’s what the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reports in its widely tracked daily update.  As the NSIDC explains in its FAQ:

A simplified way to think of extent versus area is to imagine a slice of swiss cheese. Extent would be a measure of the edges of the slice of cheese and all of the space inside it. Area would be the measure of where there is cheese only, not including the holes….

The most common threshold (and the one NSIDC uses) is 15 percent, meaning that if the data cell has greater than 15 percent ice concentration, the cell is considered ice covered; less than that and it is said to be ice free.

For a longer discussion of area vs. extent, see here.

Right now, there is a record divergence between area and extent, as Neven reports in his must-read Arctic Sea Ice Blog.  “When the pack gets compacted area and extent will come closer together. But in the melting season the gap gets greater. This is because ice is melting, gets spread out and melt ponds start to form.”

Here are two plots from the International Arctic Research Center in corporation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).


AMSR-E Sea Ice Extent

As you can see, 2011 has matched 2007 in area, but lags noticeably in extent.

Neven writes:

I don’t think this is just the ice pack spreading a lot. I think that in a significant part of the Arctic – the Pacific side to be exact (the Beaufort, Chukchi and East Siberian Seas) – the ice is, to quote Professor Peter Wadhams from this BBC interview a few years back, “just melt[ing] away quite suddenly”. Or to link back to the title of the last SIE update: ‘flash melting.’ And it’s showing up in area numbers first.

If so, both area and extent will continue to plummet in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned.

  Read Thinning Arctic Sea Ice Poised to Undergo Record Decline in Mid-August, Volume Minimum Likely