Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
“Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.” Aldous Huxley
Today’s post is a republishing of a recent essay on TomDispatch by Professor Michael Klare; professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College. Once again, I am indebted to Tom Engelhardt for such permission.
However, before Michael Klare’s post let me interject this.
Tens of thousands marched to the White House on February 17th, to protest about the Keystone XL pipeline. Hundreds of thousands more across the globe are in support of the campaign to prevent the XL pipeline from ever being commissioned.
To my mind, political leaders are expected to show wisdom, patience and care in terms of how they respond to public opinion.
So was this really the smartest thing for President Obama to be doing at the same time as the protesters were massing outside the White House! From the Huffington Post:
Obama Golfed With Oil Men As Climate Protesters Descended On White House
WASHINGTON — On the same weekend that 40,000 people gathered on the Mall in Washington to protest construction of the Keystone Pipeline – to its critics, a monument to carbon-based folly — President Obama was golfing in Florida with a pair of Texans who are key oil, gas and pipeline players.
Read more of this story here.
On to the TomDispatch guest essay, always introduced by Tom.
Tomgram: Michael Klare, Will the Keystone XL Pipeline Go Down?
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Don’t miss Bill Moyers’s interview with TD Managing Editor Nick Turse on this week's “Moyers & Company,” which you can watch by clicking here. (And I don't mind adding that, in introducing Turse, Moyers calls TomDispatch "the indispensible website if you want the news powerful people would prefer to keep hidden.”) The focus of the interview is his new book, Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, which, miraculously enough, will be #35 on next week’s New York Times (extended) bestseller list -- and well it should be. If you want to know more about Turse's work, check out Jonathan Schell’s powerful TomDispatch essay “How Did the Gates of Hell Open in Vietnam?” Keep in mind that, for a donation of $100 to this website, you can still get a personalized, signed copy of the book. Just check out the offer at our donation page. Or if, like so many others, you are planning to buy the book at Amazon and you go there via any TomDispatch book link like this one, we get a small cut of whatever you purchase at no cost to you. Tom]
Think of it as a prospective irony: In a spirit of pure, blind partisanship, the drill-baby-drill folks in the Republican Party may have done themselves in. After all, their obsession with the Benghazi incident led them to launch a preemptive strike against the president’s choice for secretary of state, Susan Rice, for her statements on what happened when the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were murdered there. They sent her nomination down in flames. In the process, it’s just possible that they took out something far dearer to them. Though it didn’t get much attention during her disastrous nomination moment, we did learn that Rice and her husband had made significant investments in companies connected to the Canadian tar-sands industry and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which is to bring the resulting crude (and carbon-dirty) oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast. They reportedly had $300,000-$600,000 in stock in TransCanada, the company building the pipeline. In addition, “about a third of Rice’s personal net worth is tied up in oil producers, pipeline operators, and related energy industries north of the 49th parallel,” including Enbridge, a company which hopes to build another tar-sands pipeline. Had she been secretary of state, she might have had one of the great conflicts of interest of our time (or a major divestment problem).
Congress seems desperate to see that pipeline built. More than half the Senate — 44 Republicans, including key Rice opponent John McCain, and nine Democrats — signed a letter to that effect, but it matters little. Because of the international border Keystone XL crosses, only two people stand between us and its construction, the secretary of state and President Obama, who alone will make the final decision on whether the project should proceed. The president’s second choice for secretary of state, who recently swept through the nomination process, is of course former Senator John Kerry, a “climate hawk” who has already said that he will be deeply involved in the State Department’s review of the pipeline. (It’s worth noting that TransCanada, trying to cover all its bases, hired one of Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign staffers as a lobbyist, along with “heavyweights” from past Obama and Hillary Clinton presidential runs, and that Kerry does have to divest himself of holdings in two Canadian energy companies which have supported the pipeline.)
No one, of course, can know what the new secretary of state and the president will decide. They are, however, already being pushed hard by a growing coalition of environmentally oriented groups, fearful of what it would mean to get all those tar sands out of the ground and (as carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. In addition, this coming Sunday, February 17th, an enormous “forward on climate” rally is to take place in Washington. Originally organized by 350.org and TomDispatch regular Bill McKibben but now involving dozens of groups, it is expected to draw worried protestors (including this writer) from all over to demonstrate on the National Mall. The goal is, in part, to push President Obama to make the necessary decision on the Keystone pipeline. It’s remarkable that one man has the power to shoot this project down. As another TomDispatch regular, Michael Klare, explains below, should he do so, the tar-sands industry might never recover. That would lend a genuine hand to our over-heating planet, which means there has seldom been a situation where demonstrations to pressure a president were more in order. Tom
A Presidential Decision That Could Change the World
The Strategic Importance of Keystone XL
By Michael T. Klare
Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines. It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet. If that sounds overly dramatic, let me explain.
Sometimes, what starts out as a minor skirmish can wind up determining the outcome of a war — and that seems to be the case when it comes to the mounting battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. If given the go-ahead by President Obama, it will daily carry more than 700,000 barrels of tar-sands oil to those Gulf Coast refineries, providing a desperately needed boost to the Canadian energy industry. If Obama says no, the Canadians (and their American backers) will encounter possibly insuperable difficulties in exporting their heavy crude oil, discouraging further investment and putting the industry’s future in doubt.
The battle over Keystone XL was initially joined in the summer of 2011, when environmental writer and climate activist Bill McKibben and 350.org, which he helped found, organized a series of non-violent anti-pipeline protests in front of theWhite House to highlight the links between tar sands production and the accelerating pace of climate change. At the same time, farmers and politicians in Nebraska, through which the pipeline is set to pass, expressed grave concern about its threat to that state’s crucial aquifers. After all, tar-sands crude is highly corrosive, and leaks are a notable risk.
In mid-January 2012, in response to those concerns, other worries about the pipeline, and perhaps a looming presidential campaign season, Obama postponed a decision on completing the controversial project. (He, not Congress, has the final say, since it will cross an international boundary.) Now, he must decide on a suggested new route that will, supposedly, take Keystone XL around those aquifers and so reduce the threat to Nebraska’s water supplies.
Ever since the president postponed the decision on whether to proceed, powerful forces in the energy industry and government have been mobilizing to press ever harder for its approval. Its supporters argue vociferously that the pipeline will bring jobs to America and enhance the nation’s “energy security” by lessening its reliance on Middle Eastern oil suppliers. Their true aim, however, is far simpler: to save the tar-sands industry (and many billions of dollars in U.S. investments) from possible disaster.
Just how critical the fight over Keystone has become in the eyes of the industry is suggested by a recent pro-pipeline editorial in the trade publication Oil & Gas Journal:
“Controversy over the Keystone XL project leaves no room for compromise. Fundamental views about the future of energy are in conflict. Approval of the project would acknowledge the rich potential of the next generation of fossil energy and encourage its development. Rejection would foreclose much of that potential in deference to an energy utopia few Americans support when they learn how much it costs.”
Opponents of Keystone XL, who are planning a mass demonstration at the White House on February 17th, have also come to view the pipeline battle in epic terms. “Alberta’s tar sands are the continent’s biggest carbon bomb,” McKibben wrote at TomDispatch. “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature.” Halting Keystone would not by itself prevent those high concentrations, he argued, but would impede the production of tar sands, stop that “carbon bomb” from further heating the atmosphere, and create space for a transition to renewables. “Stopping Keystone will buy time,” he says, “and hopefully that time will be used for the planet to come to its senses around climate change.”
A Pipeline With Nowhere to Go?
Why has the fight over a pipeline, which, if completed, would provide only 4% of the U.S. petroleum supply, assumed such strategic significance? As in any major conflict, the answer lies in three factors: logistics, geography, and timing.
Start with logistics and consider the tar sands themselves or, as the industry and its supporters in government prefer to call them, “oil sands.” Neither tar nor oil, thesubstance in question is a sludge-like mixture of sand, clay, water, and bitumen (a degraded, carbon-rich form of petroleum). Alberta has a colossal supply of the stuff — at least a trillion barrels in known reserves, or the equivalent of all the conventional oil burned by humans since the onset of commercial drilling in 1859. Even if you count only the reserves that are deemed extractible by existing technology, its tar sands reportedly are the equivalent of 170 billion barrels of conventional petroleum — more than the reserves of any nation except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The availability of so much untapped energy in a country like Canada, which is private-enterprise-friendly and where the political dangers are few, has been a magnet for major international energy firms. Not surprisingly, many of them, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell, have invested heavily in tar-sands operations.
Tar sands, however, bear little resemblance to the conventional oil fields which these companies have long exploited. They must be treated in various energy-intensive ways to be converted into a transportable liquid and then processed even further into usable products. Some tar sands can be strip-mined like coal and then “upgraded” through chemical processing into a synthetic crude oil — SCO, or “syncrude.” Alternatively, the bitumen can be pumped from the ground after the sands are exposed to steam, which liquefies the bitumen and allows its extraction with conventional oil pumps. The latter process, known as steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), produces a heavy crude oil. It must, in turn, be diluted with lighter crudes for transportation by pipeline to specialized refineries equipped to process such oil, most of which are located on the Gulf Coast.
Extracting and processing tar sands is an extraordinarily expensive undertaking, far more so than most conventional oil drilling operations. Considerable energy is needed to dig the sludge out of the ground or heat the water into steam for underground injection; then, additional energy is needed for the various upgrading processes. The environmental risks involved are enormous (even leaving aside the vast amounts of greenhouse gases that the whole process will pump into the atmosphere). The massive quantities of water needed for SAGD and those upgrading processes, for example, become contaminated with toxic substances. Once used, they cannot be returned to any water source that might end up in human drinking supplies — something environmentalists say is already occurring. All of this and the expenses involved mean that the multibillion-dollar investments needed to launch a tar-sands operation can only pay off if the final product fetches a healthy price in the marketplace.
And that’s where geography enters the picture. Alberta is theoretically capable of producing five to six million barrels of tar-sands oil per day. In 2011, however, Canada itself consumed only 2.3 million barrels of oil per day, much of it supplied by conventional (and cheaper) oil from fields in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland. That number is not expected to rise appreciably in the foreseeable future. No less significant, Canada’s refining capacity for all kinds of oil is limited to 1.9 million barrels per day, and few of its refineries are equipped to process tar sands-style heavy crude. This leaves the producers with one strategic option: exporting the stuff.
And that’s where the problems really begin. Alberta is an interior province and so cannot export its crude by sea. Given the geography, this leaves only three export options: pipelines heading east across Canada to ports on the Atlantic, pipelines heading west across the Rockies to ports in British Columbia, or pipelines heading south to refineries in the United States.
Alberta’s preferred option is to send the preponderance of its tar-sands oil to its biggest natural market, the United States. At present, Canadian pipeline companies do operate a number of conduits that deliver some of this oil to the U.S., notably the original Keystone conduit extending from Hardisty, Alberta, to Illinois and then southward to Cushing, Oklahoma. But these lines can carry less than one million barrels of crude per day, and so will not permit the massive expansion of output the industry is planning for the next decade or so.
In other words, the only pipeline now under development that would significantly expand Albertan tar-sands exports is Keystone XL. It is vitally important to the tar-sands producers because it offers the sole short-term — or possibly even long-term — option for the export and sale of the crude output now coming on line at dozens of projects being developed across northern Alberta. Without it, these projects will languish and Albertan production will have to be sold at a deep discount — at, that is, a per-barrel price that could fall below production costs, making further investment in tar sands unattractive. In January, Canadian tar-sands oil was already selling for $30-$40 less than West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the standard U.S. blend.
The Pipelines That Weren’t
Like an army bottled up geographically and increasingly at the mercy of enemy forces, the tar-sands producers see the completion of Keystone XL as their sole realistic escape route to survival. “Our biggest problem is that Alberta is landlocked,” the province’s finance minister Doug Horner said in January. “In fact, of the world’s major oil-producing jurisdictions, Alberta is the only one with no direct access to the ocean. And until we solve this problem… the [price] differential will remain large.”
Logistics, geography, and finally timing. A presidential stamp of approval on the building of Keystone XL will save the tar-sands industry, ensuring them enough return to justify their massive investments. It would also undoubtedly prompt additional investments in tar-sands projects and further production increases by an industry that assumed opposition to future pipelines had been weakened by this victory.
A presidential thumbs-down and resulting failure to build Keystone XL, however, could have lasting and severe consequences for tar-sands production. After all, no other export link is likely to be completed in the near-term. The other three most widely discussed options – the Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, British Columbia, an expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver, British Columbia, and a plan to use existing, conventional-oil conduits to carry tar-sands oil across Quebec, Vermont, and New Hampshire to Portland, Maine — already face intense opposition, with initial construction at best still years in the future.
The Northern Gateway project, proposed by Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, would stretch from Bruderheim in northern Alberta to Kitimat, a port on Charlotte Sound and the Pacific. If completed, it would allow the export of tar-sands oil to Asia, where Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sees a significant future market (even though few Asian refineries could now process the stuff). But unlike oil-friendly Alberta, British Columbia has a strong pro-environmental bias and many senior provincial officials have expressed fierce opposition to the project. Moreover, under the country’s constitution, native peoples over whose land the pipeline would have to travel must be consulted on the project — and most tribal communities are adamantly opposed to its construction.
Another proposed conduit — an expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Vancouver — presents the same set of obstacles and, like the Northern Gateway project, has aroused strong opposition in Vancouver.
This leaves the third option, a plan to pump tar-sands oil to Ontario and Quebec and then employ an existing pipeline now used for oil imports. It connects to a terminal in Casco Bay, near Portland, Maine, where the Albertan crude would begin the long trip by ship to those refineries on the Gulf Coast. Although no official action has yet been taken to allow the use of the U.S. conduit for this purpose, anti-pipeline protests have already erupted in Portland, including one on January 26th that attracted more than 1,400 people.
With no other pipelines in the offing, tar sands producers are increasing their reliance on deliveries by rail. This is producing boom times for some long-haul freight carriiers, but will never prove sufficient to move the millions of barrels in added daily output expected from projects now coming on line.
The conclusion is obvious: without Keystone XL, the price of tar-sands oil will remain substantially lower than conventional oil (as well as unconventional oil extracted from shale formations in the United States), discouraging future investment and dimming the prospects for increased output. In other words, as Bill McKibben hopes, much of it will stay in the ground.
Industry officials are painfully aware of their predicament. In an Annual Information Form released at the end of 2011, Canadian Oil Sands Limited, owner of the largest share of Syncrude Canada (one of the leading producers of tar-sands oil) noted:
“A prolonged period of low crude oil prices could affect the value of our crude oil properties and the level of spending on growth projects and could result in curtailment of production… Any substantial and extended decline in the price of oil or an extended negative differential for SCO compared to either WTI or European Brent Crude would have an adverse effect on the revenues, profitability, and cash flow of Canadian Oil Sands and likely affect the ability of Canadian Oil Sands to pay dividends and repay its debt obligations.”
The stakes in this battle could not be higher. If Keystone XL fails to win the president’s approval, the industry will certainly grow at a far slower pace than forecast and possibly witness the failure of costly ventures, resulting in an industry-wide contraction. If approved, however, production will soar and global warming will occur at an even faster rate than previously projected. In this way, a presidential decision will have an unexpectedly decisive and lasting impact on all our lives.
Michael Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left, just published in paperback. A documentary movie based on his book Blood and Oil can be previewed and ordered at http://www.bloodandoilmovie.com. You can follow Klare on Facebook by clicking here.
Copyright 2013 Michael T. Klare
The expression of being between a rock and a hard place comes to mind!
Going back to basics.
Many will know the origins of this blog; a chance comment by Jon Lavin back in England in early 2007 that dogs were integrous, (a score of 210 as defined by Dr David Hawkins).
Way back in 2009, I wrote this:
“There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyse the causes of happenings.” Dorothy Thompson.
When I started Learning from Dogs I was initially rather vague but knew that the Blog should reflect the growing need for greater integrity and mindfulness in our planetary civilisation. Here are some early musings,
Show that integrity delivers better results … integrity doesn’t require force … networking power of a group … demonstrate the power of intention … cut through the power of propaganda and media distortion …
Promulgate the idea that integrity is the glue that holds a just society together … urgent need as society under huge pressures …. want a decent world for my grandchildren … for all our grandchildren …. feels like the 11th hour….
But as the initial, rather hesitant, start to the Blog settled into a reliable, daily posting, and as the minuscule number of readers steadily grew to the present level of many hundreds each day, the clarity of the purpose of Learning from Dogs also improved.
Because, while it may sound a tad grandiose and pompous, if society doesn’t eschew the games, half-truths and selfish attitudes of the last, say, 30 years or more, then civilisation, as we know it, could be under threat.
Or, possibly, it’s more accurate to say that our civilisation is under threat and the time left to change our ways, to embrace those qualities of integrity, truth and consciousness for the very planet we all live on, is running out.
“Time left to change our ways is running out.“
So what’s rattled my cage, so to speak, that prompted today’s reflection? I’ll tell you! (You knew I was going to anyway, didn’t you!)
I’m drafting these thoughts around noon Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, 17th. At the same time, tens of thousands of ordinary good folk (40,000 plus at the latest estimate) are gathering by the Washington Monument ready to march past the White House demanding that President Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline and move forward toward climate action.
Do I trust the US Government to take this action? On balance, no! That hurts me terribly to write that. I really want to trust and believe what the President of my new home country says.
Here’s a snippet of what the President did say in his State of the Union speech on February 12th.
Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense.
We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.
A frank admission that the climate is changing in dramatic ways; the overwhelming judgment of science – fantastic!
The evidence that burning carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas) is the primary cause of today’s high CO2 levels is overwhelming. As a recent BBC radio programme reveals (being featured tomorrow) huge climate changes going back millions of years are a natural part of Earth’s history. However, as one of the scientists explains at the end of that radio programme, the present CO2 level, 395.55 ppm as of January, is now way above the safe, stable limit for the majority of life species on the planet.
But say you are reading this and are not yet convinced?
Let me borrow an old pilot’s saying from the world of aviation: If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!
That embracing, cautious attitude is part of the reason why commercial air transport is among the most safest forms of transport. If you had the slightest doubt about the safety of a flight, you wouldn’t board the aircraft.
If you had the slightest doubt about the future for civilisation on this planet likewise you would do something! Remember, that dry word civilisation means family, children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones. The last thing you would do is to carry on as before!
Which is where my lack of trust of leaders comes from!
Back to that State of the Union speech. Just 210 words after the spoken words “act before it’s too late“ (I counted them!) Pres. Obama says, “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.“
Here’s the relevant section:
I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.
Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.
Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.
We don’t require any more oil to be used. We are already using a staggering amount of it. Let me refer you to an essay on Nature Bats Last called Math. The scary kind, not the fuzzy kind. Prof. McPherson wrote:
I performed a little rudimentary math last week. A little because even a little pushes my limit for math, these days. And rudimentary for the same reason. The outcome was staggering: We’re using oil at the rate of 5,500 cubic feet per second (cfs).
“5,500 cubic feet per second“ Don’t know about you but I have some trouble in visualising that flow rate. Try this from later in the essay:
Here’s another shot of perspective: We burn a cubic mile of crude oil every year. The Empire State Building, the world’s ninth-tallest building, towers above New York at 1,250 feet. The world’s tallest building, Taipei 101, is 1,667 feet from ground to tip.
Put those buildings together, end to end, and you have one side of a cube. Do it again, and you have the second side. Once more, but this time straight up, and you have one big cube. Filling that cube with oil takes nearly 200 billion gallons … which is about one-sixth the size of the cube of oil we’re burning every year.
Burning a cubic mile every year! Yes, Mr. President, more oil permits is a wonderful way of taking action before it’s too late!
So let’s see what transpires? Let’s see if integrity is given the highest political focus. As in “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” Because if there’s ever been a time when all of us, from every spectrum of society need honesty about what we are doing to the planet, it’s now!
As the tag on the home page of this blog says, “Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.“
As a dog follows a scent.
I have been pondering about how one gets to the truth of a complex issue. And there’s none more complex nor more essential in terms of the truth of an issue than Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW).
It was kicked off by an email received from Dan Gomez. Followers of Learning from Dogs will have seen mention of Dan’s name as he regularly sends me bits and pieces. Indeed, let me refer you to a post that came out last August, Feeling depressed? Join your pals in the pool! and this extract:
Regular followers of Learning from Dogs will know that Dan and I go back a long way; far too long! In fact the occasion of me becoming aware of Mr. Daniel Gomez was at a Commodore Computer dealers conference in Boston, Mass.
I was giving a talk promoting a UK word-processing program that I was marketing for the Commodore. That software was called Wordcraft and I think the year was 1979, possibly 1980. Anyway, I used the word ‘fortnight’, which back in England is a common word meaning two weeks. Immediately, a voice called out from the audience, “Hey Handover, what’s a fortnight?“
The session deteriorated rapidly thereafter! Dan and I became very good friends and his LA company Cimarron became my West Coast USA distributor for Wordcraft. And it was Dan’s sister, Suzann, who invited me down to Mexico for Christmas 2007 which led to me meeting my beloved Jeannie! Funny old world!
Dan is a smart cookie. He holds a degree in psychology, as well as being a very easy guy to get along with. We have been good friends for more than 30 years.
Anyway, back to the theme of the post; determining the truth of a complex issue.
Recently, Dan sent me an email with the subject heading of The Controversy Continues – A couple of Articles for your Digestive Tract….
The first article was:
Report shows UN admitting solar activity may play significant role in global warming
A leaked report by a United Nations’ group dedicated to climate studies says that heat from the sun may play a larger role than previously thought.
“[Results] do suggest the possibility of a much larger impact of solar variations on the stratosphere than previously thought, and some studies have suggested that this may lead to significant regional impacts on climate,” reads a draft copy of a major, upcoming report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
According to Bloomberg News, US carbon emissions are down 13% over the past five years and that they are now the lowest since 1994. In fact, we are more than halfway to President Obama’s goal of a 17% reduction below our peak year of 2007.
Coal has fallen to only 18% of our energy use (down from 23% in 2007) and natural gas is up to 31%. Natural gas has half the carbon emissions of coal.
Evidence suggests that climate change and global warming are happening, but at a much slower rate than doomsday warnings suggested. We are now on track for an increase in global temperatures of one degree centigrade by 2100. This increase is not enough to cause major flooding or rises in sea levels.
Please feel free to read the whole Dick Morris piece here.
So on the face of it, two convincing reports, especially the one from Alec Rawls.
Now let me turn to Professor Guy McPherson; professor emeritus at the University of Arizona. Just take a peek at the professional recognition granted to Professor McPherson.
Guy McPherson writes a blog called Nature Bats Last. It is described thus:
This blog focuses on the natural world, with a particular emphasis on the twin sides of our fossil-fuel addiction: (1) global climate change and (2) energy decline. Because these phenomena impact every aspect of life on Earth, specific topics range widely, and include philosophy, evolution, economics, humanity, politics, current events, and many aspects of the human condition.
Less than 3 months ago, Guy McPherson visited Greenfield Community College in western Massachusetts to deliver his presentation “The Twin Sides of the Fossil-Fuel Coin: Developing Durable Living Arrangements in Light of Climate Change and Energy Decline.“
It lasts for just 40 minutes and needs to be watched. Why do I say needs to be watched? Because tomorrow I delve deeper into the challenges facing ordinary folk and watching the presentation and reflecting on the start of this post are very pertinent to following the scent of truth.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (“the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing”).
I’m at my PC thinking about tomorrow’s post. It’s past 4pm and my creative juices are elsewhere! So out of curiosity I wondered what I had published a year ago, in early February 2012. To my amazement what was published was as fresh and relevant as if it had been published today. So that’s what I am doing. Republishing it along with the sequels on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Climate, truth and integrity, part one.
It ought to be straightforward, but the reality is different!
Those of you, dear readers, that have been following these ramblings and musings over the last 30 months, now amounting to more than 1,200 Posts [now 1,582, Ed.] , will hopefully have sensed that Learning from Dogs is much more than a blogsite about dogs! It is, as I say here, about truth, integrity, honesty and trust using dogs as a powerful metaphor for these essential qualities of a civilised society.
But perhaps there is no topic more challenging for people to determine the truth than the topic of man’s impact on the earth’s climate. I’m sure that millions intuitively sense that we are over-consuming ourselves to oblivion. That is where I come from. I am not a scientist, just a humble writer, and rely on quality sources of information and instinct to form my conclusions in this area. I am also deeply suspicious of the largely out-of-sight relationships between large corporations, big money and politics!
I have no doubt that there are other millions of people who do believe that mankind is changing our planet’s climate.
So when I saw this article in the Wall Street Journal, I was dumbstruck. Here’s the headline and opening paragraph,
No Need to Panic About Global Warming
There’s no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to ‘decarbonize’ the world’s economy.
Editor’s Note: The following has been signed by the 16 scientists listed at the end of the article:
A candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy may have to consider what, if anything, to do about “global warming.” Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true. In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.
The long article closes with this paragraph just ahead of the ‘signatures’ of the scientists.
Every candidate should support rational measures to protect and improve our environment, but it makes no sense at all to back expensive programs that divert resources from real needs and are based on alarming but untenable claims of “incontrovertible” evidence.
Then in short order, up came this from the Daily Mail online,
The supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming is facing an inconvenient challenge after the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.
The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age to rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw frost fairs held on the Thames in the 17th Century.
Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, the data was issued last week without fanfare by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.
I subscribe both to Climate Sight and Lack of Environment, although wish I spent more time thoroughly reading these fabulous sources of information. However, I did spot an article on Climate Sight that came out on the 31st January with the heading of How much is most? It opened thus,
A growing body of research is showing that humans are likely causing more than 100% of global warming: without our influences on the climate, the planet would actually be cooling slightly.
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its fourth assessment report, internationally regarded as the most credible summary of climate science to date. It concluded that “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations”.
A clear question remains: How much is “most”? 51%? 75%? 99%? At the time that the IPCC report was written, the answer was unclear. However, a new frontier of climate research has emerged since, and scientists are working hard to quantify the answer to this question.
The timing was impeccable, so far as I was concerned. I posted a comment, “While in every way that I can think of, I support the premise of mankind affecting global climate, I would love to hear from someone who could reconcile the Post above with these recent items:” and then included the links to the WSJ and Daily Mail items.
Little did I realise what a response I would get. Just wonderful! I will offer some of them to you in this piece, but please do read all the comments offered on that Climate Sight post.
First up was Dana Nuccitelli. Dana is an environmental scientist at a private environmental consulting firm in the Sacramento, California area. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Master’s Degree in physics from the University of California at Davis. (Taken from here.) This is what he wrote,
How to reconcile the two? The folks who wrote those two articles you linked are misinformed and/or misinformers. I covered the first here (and) SkS will shortly have a post on the second as well, but I covered the solar cycle issue recently here.
Dana’s article in Skeptical Science, that first link, included this:
Nearly half of the list (at least 7 of 16) have received fossil fuel industry funding, and the list also includes an economist, a physician, a chemist, an aerospace engineer, and an astronaut/politician. These are apparently the best and brightest the climate denialists can come up with these days?
- Claude Allegre, former director of the Institute for the Study of the Earth, University of Paris
- J. Scott Armstrong, cofounder of the Journal of Forecasting and the International Journal of Forecasting;
- Jan Breslow, head of the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism, Rockefeller University;
- Roger Cohen, fellow, American Physical Society;
- Edward David, member, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences;
- William Happer, professor of physics, Princeton;
- Michael Kelly, professor of technology, University of Cambridge, U.K.;
- William Kininmonth, former head of climate research at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology;
- Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric sciences, MIT;
- James McGrath, professor of chemistry, Virginia Technical University;
- Rodney Nichols, former president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences;
- Burt Rutan, aerospace engineer, designer of Voyager and SpaceShipOne;
- Harrison H. Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. senator;
- Nir Shaviv, professor of astrophysics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem;
- Henk Tennekes, former director, Royal Dutch Meteorological Service;
- Antonio Zichichi, president of the World Federation of Scientists, Geneva.
RED – No climate science publications, member of at least one climate denialist group – GWPF (advisory board), George C. Marshall Institute (board of directors or roundtable speakers), Australian Climate Science Coalition (advisory panel), Heartland Institute (board of directors), and/or ExxonMobil
BLUE – Published climate science research
Orange – both a member of a climate denialist group and has published climate science research
Black – no climate science publications or climate denialist group membership
Next was Gail Zawacki who writes a compelling Blog Dead Trees and Dying Forests. She commented thus,
The first link went to this,
Panic Attack: Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal Finds 16 Scientists to Push Pollutocrat Agenda With Long-Debunked Climate Lies
By Joe Romm on Jan 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm
A lot of folks have asked me to debunk the recent anti-truthful Wall Street Journal article with the counterfactual headline, “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” I’ll combine my debunking with the rapidly growing list of debunkings from scientists and others. And I’ll update this as new debunkings come in.
That the WSJ would publish an amateurish collection of falsehoods and half truths is no surprise. The entire global Murdoch enterprise is designed to advance the pollutocrat do-nothing agenda (see Scientist: “The Murdoch Media Empire Has Cost Humanity Perhaps One or Two Decades in Battle Against Climate Change”). As National Academy of Sciences member Peter Gleick explains in his evisceration of the piece, “Remarkable Editorial Bias on Climate Science at the Wall Street Journal“:
But the most amazing and telling evidence of the bias of the Wall Street Journalin this field is the fact that 255 members of the United States National Academy of Sciences wrote a comparable (but scientifically accurate) essay on the realities of climate change and on the need for improved and serious public debate around the issue, offered it to the Wall Street Journal, and were turned down. The National Academy of Sciences is the nation’s pre-eminent independent scientific organizations. Its members are among the most respected in the world in their fields. Yet the Journal wouldn’t publish this letter, from more than 15 times as many top scientists. Instead they chose to publish an error-filled and misleading piece on climate because some so-called experts aligned with their bias signed it. This may be good politics for them, but it is bad science and it is bad for the nation.
Science magazine – perhaps the nation’s most important journal on scientific issues – published the letter from the NAS members after the Journal turned it down.
A tad more surprising is that 16 admittedly non-leading scientists would choose to soil their reputations by stringing together a collection of long-debunked falsehoods. What is surprising is that these falsehoods are more easily debunked than the typical disinformer clap-trap because they are so out-of-date!
This is a long, detailed and powerful response to that WSJ article. Do try and read it in full.
Gail’s second link went to this,
Human emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases have risen so rapidly that they now overwhelm any plausible decrease in solar activity. Indeed, a paper from last June found that even if the Sun goes into “Hibernation” it won’t stop catastrophic global warming.
But that doesn’t stop serial disinformer David Rose of the UK’s Daily Mail from misleading the public — even after being slammed by top scientists in 2010 for falsely asserting “no global warming since 1995″ — see “Error-riddled articles and false statements destroy Daily Mail’s credibility.“ Rose has another willfully misleading piece, “Forget global warming – it’s Cycle 25 we need to worry about (and if NASA scientists are right the Thames will be freezing over again): Met Office releases new figures which show no warming in 15 years.”
OK, I think this is going to end up too long for one Post.
So let’s pause there and I will continue on Monday. [Tomorrow, Ed.]
Would love your comments, of course!
Noam Chomsky, Who Owns the World?
Once again, I am indebted to Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch fame for granting me permission to republish yet another fascinating essay.
In fact, this post was scheduled for Learning from Dogs very shortly after Tom’s essay appeared on TomDispatch some 5 months ago. For reasons that escape me now, I parked it and then forgot about it. But what is striking is that, as Tom points out in his introduction, the essay from Noam Chomsky was originally published on Tom Dispatch in April 2011, the thick end of 21 months ago. It reads as if it was off the press today. What a truly strange world we all live in.
I include a link to Noam Chomsky’s website after the essay, so now to Tom’s introduction:
In Noam Chomsky’s “Who Owns the World?” — the most popular TomDispatch post of all time (which means the last 10 years) — he wrote of one key imperial principle: “The U.S. cannot tolerate ‘any exercise of sovereignty’ that interferes with its global designs.” Hence, the under-reported but staggering U.S. build-up in the Persian Gulf.
Of late, most “build-up” publicity has gone to the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia (to “contain” China), including an announcement that 60% of U.S. naval power will sooner or later be deployed to Asian waters. But much of this remains a promise for the future. The real “pivot” focus of the moment, if it can even be called that after all these years, remains Iran.
That country is largely surrounded by American military bases continually being built up, including a new missile defense radar station at a secret site in Qatar, part of a developing U.S. regional anti-missile system. In addition, there is an ongoing build-up of U.S. commando forces; of the military power of U.S. regional allies, thanks to new weapons systems of all sorts regularly being put on offer by Washington; of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf, already enormous and still growing, including not one but two aircraft carrier battle groups, minesweepers, a new “floating base” for possible special operations forces, and tiny drone submersibles being “rushed” to the region. And don’t forget a similarly large-scale build-up of U.S. air power, including the deployment of the most advanced U.S. fighter plane, the F-22, to a base in the United Arab Emirates.
Add this to a series of warlike acts, including ever-tightening oil sanctions against Iran, the release of cyber worms meant to infect Iranian computer systems connected to its nuclear program, and an evident Israeli campaign to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists, and you have quite a “pivot” in what is, let’s not forget, the oil heartlands of the planet. Much of this is being covered in a scattered, almost absentminded way in the mainstream media. Yet anyone familiar with how World War I began knows that massive military build-ups or mobilizations — and a rickety Iranian regime is doing its best to respond regionally with its own mini-military build-up – can lead to war, whether either side actually intends it or not. A U.S. ship recently firing on an Indian boat — and killing one fisherman — near Iran is a reminder of where such inherently trigger-happy situations can lead.
Add to all this the fact that the planet’s former self-proclaimed “sole superpower” is visibly decaying and increasingly desperate to maintain its pretensions to global dominance, and you have a formula for future disaster. Isn’t it sad in its own way that Chomsky’s piece, first posted at this site in April 2011 (like the 2004 Chalmers Johnson piece reposted last Sunday), is in no way outmoded? It’s not faintly ready for the dustbin of history, and in fact, it remains ahead of its moment. In this sense, the United States is a Chomskyan nation, eerily following the path he’s laid out for it and so, undoubtedly, heading for something ugly indeed. Tom
Is the World Too Big to Fail?
The Contours of Global Order
By Noam Chomsky
The democracy uprising in the Arab world has been a spectacular display of courage, dedication, and commitment by popular forces — coinciding, fortuitously, with a remarkable uprising of tens of thousands in support of working people and democracy in Madison, Wisconsin, and other U.S. cities. If the trajectories of revolt in Cairo and Madison intersected, however, they were headed in opposite directions: in Cairo toward gaining elementary rights denied by the dictatorship, in Madison towards defending rights that had been won in long and hard struggles and are now under severe attack.
Each is a microcosm of tendencies in global society, following varied courses. There are sure to be far-reaching consequences of what is taking place both in the decaying industrial heartland of the richest and most powerful country in human history, and in what President Dwight Eisenhower called “the most strategically important area in the world” — “a stupendous source of strategic power” and “probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment,” in the words of the State Department in the 1940s, a prize that the U.S. intended to keep for itself and its allies in the unfolding New World Order of that day.
Despite all the changes since, there is every reason to suppose that today’s policy-makers basically adhere to the judgment of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s influential advisor A.A. Berle that control of the incomparable energy reserves of the Middle East would yield “substantial control of the world.” And correspondingly, that loss of control would threaten the project of global dominance that was clearly articulated during World War II, and that has been sustained in the face of major changes in world order since that day.
From the outset of the war in 1939, Washington anticipated that it would end with the U.S. in a position of overwhelming power. High-level State Department officials and foreign policy specialists met through the wartime years to lay out plans for the postwar world. They delineated a “Grand Area” that the U.S. was to dominate, including the Western hemisphere, the Far East, and the former British empire, with its Middle East energy resources. As Russia began to grind down Nazi armies after Stalingrad, Grand Area goals extended to as much of Eurasia as possible, at least its economic core in Western Europe. Within the Grand Area, the U.S. would maintain “unquestioned power,” with “military and economic supremacy,” while ensuring the “limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with its global designs. The careful wartime plans were soon implemented.
It was always recognized that Europe might choose to follow an independent course. NATO was partially intended to counter this threat. As soon as the official pretext for NATO dissolved in 1989, NATO was expanded to the East in violation of verbal pledges to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It has since become a U.S.-run intervention force, with far-ranging scope, spelled out by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who informed a NATO conference that “NATO troops have to guard pipelines that transport oil and gas that is directed for the West,” and more generally to protect sea routes used by tankers and other “crucial infrastructure” of the energy system.
Grand Area doctrines clearly license military intervention at will. That conclusion was articulated clearly by the Clinton administration, which declared that the U.S. has the right to use military force to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources,” and must maintain huge military forces “forward deployed” in Europe and Asia “in order to shape people’s opinions about us” and “to shape events that will affect our livelihood and our security.”
The same principles governed the invasion of Iraq. As the U.S. failure to impose its will in Iraq was becoming unmistakable, the actual goals of the invasion could no longer be concealed behind pretty rhetoric. In November 2007, the White House issued a Declaration of Principles demanding that U.S. forces must remain indefinitely in Iraq and committing Iraq to privilege American investors. Two months later, President Bush informed Congress that he would reject legislation that might limit the permanent stationing of U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq or “United States control of the oil resources of Iraq” — demands that the U.S. had to abandon shortly after in the face of Iraqi resistance.
In Tunisia and Egypt, the recent popular uprisings have won impressive victories, but as the Carnegie Endowment reported, while names have changed, the regimes remain: “A change in ruling elites and system of governance is still a distant goal.” The report discusses internal barriers to democracy, but ignores the external ones, which as always are significant.
The U.S. and its Western allies are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world. To understand why, it is only necessary to look at the studies of Arab opinion conducted by U.S. polling agencies. Though barely reported, they are certainly known to planners. They reveal that by overwhelming majorities, Arabs regard the U.S. and Israel as the major threats they face: the U.S. is so regarded by 90% of Egyptians, in the region generally by over 75%. Some Arabs regard Iran as a threat: 10%. Opposition to U.S. policy is so strong that a majority believes that security would be improved if Iran had nuclear weapons — in Egypt, 80%. Other figures are similar. If public opinion were to influence policy, the U.S. not only would not control the region, but would be expelled from it, along with its allies, undermining fundamental principles of global dominance.
The Invisible Hand of Power
Support for democracy is the province of ideologists and propagandists. In the real world, elite dislike of democracy is the norm. The evidence is overwhelming that democracy is supported insofar as it contributes to social and economic objectives, a conclusion reluctantly conceded by the more serious scholarship.
Elite contempt for democracy was revealed dramatically in the reaction to the WikiLeaks exposures. Those that received most attention, with euphoric commentary, were cables reporting that Arabs support the U.S. stand on Iran. The reference was to the ruling dictators. The attitudes of the public were unmentioned. The guiding principle was articulated clearly by Carnegie Endowment Middle East specialist Marwan Muasher, formerly a high official of the Jordanian government: “There is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” In short, if the dictators support us, what else could matter?
The Muasher doctrine is rational and venerable. To mention just one case that is highly relevant today, in internal discussion in 1958, president Eisenhower expressed concern about “the campaign of hatred” against us in the Arab world, not by governments, but by the people. The National Security Council (NSC) explained that there is a perception in the Arab world that the U.S. supports dictatorships and blocks democracy and development so as to ensure control over the resources of the region. Furthermore, the perception is basically accurate, the NSC concluded, and that is what we should be doing, relying on the Muasher doctrine. Pentagon studies conducted after 9/11 confirmed that the same holds today.
It is normal for the victors to consign history to the trash can, and for victims to take it seriously. Perhaps a few brief observations on this important matter may be useful. Today is not the first occasion when Egypt and the U.S. are facing similar problems, and moving in opposite directions. That was also true in the early nineteenth century.
Economic historians have argued that Egypt was well-placed to undertake rapid economic development at the same time that the U.S. was. Both had rich agriculture, including cotton, the fuel of the early industrial revolution — though unlike Egypt, the U.S. had to develop cotton production and a work force by conquest, extermination, and slavery, with consequences that are evident right now in the reservations for the survivors and the prisons that have rapidly expanded since the Reagan years to house the superfluous population left by deindustrialization.
One fundamental difference was that the U.S. had gained independence and was therefore free to ignore the prescriptions of economic theory, delivered at the time by Adam Smith in terms rather like those preached to developing societies today. Smith urged the liberated colonies to produce primary products for export and to import superior British manufactures, and certainly not to attempt to monopolize crucial goods, particularly cotton. Any other path, Smith warned, “would retard instead of accelerating the further increase in the value of their annual produce, and would obstruct instead of promoting the progress of their country towards real wealth and greatness.”
Having gained their independence, the colonies were free to ignore his advice and to follow England’s course of independent state-guided development, with high tariffs to protect industry from British exports, first textiles, later steel and others, and to adopt numerous other devices to accelerate industrial development. The independent Republic also sought to gain a monopoly of cotton so as to “place all other nations at our feet,” particularly the British enemy, as the Jacksonian presidents announced when conquering Texas and half of Mexico.
For Egypt, a comparable course was barred by British power. Lord Palmerston declared that “no ideas of fairness [toward Egypt] ought to stand in the way of such great and paramount interests” of Britain as preserving its economic and political hegemony, expressing his “hate” for the “ignorant barbarian” Muhammed Ali who dared to seek an independent course, and deploying Britain’s fleet and financial power to terminate Egypt’s quest for independence and economic development.
After World War II, when the U.S. displaced Britain as global hegemon, Washington adopted the same stand, making it clear that the U.S. would provide no aid to Egypt unless it adhered to the standard rules for the weak — which the U.S. continued to violate, imposing high tariffs to bar Egyptian cotton and causing a debilitating dollar shortage. The usual interpretation of market principles.
It is small wonder that the “campaign of hatred” against the U.S. that concerned Eisenhower was based on the recognition that the U.S. supports dictators and blocks democracy and development, as do its allies.
In Adam Smith’s defense, it should be added that he recognized what would happen if Britain followed the rules of sound economics, now called “neoliberalism.” He warned that if British manufacturers, merchants, and investors turned abroad, they might profit but England would suffer. But he felt that they would be guided by a home bias, so as if by an invisible hand England would be spared the ravages of economic rationality.
The passage is hard to miss. It is the one occurrence of the famous phrase “invisible hand” in The Wealth of Nations. The other leading founder of classical economics, David Ricardo, drew similar conclusions, hoping that home bias would lead men of property to “be satisfied with the low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations,” feelings that, he added, “I should be sorry to see weakened.” Their predictions aside, the instincts of the classical economists were sound.
The Iranian and Chinese “Threats”
The democracy uprising in the Arab world is sometimes compared to Eastern Europe in 1989, but on dubious grounds. In 1989, the democracy uprising was tolerated by the Russians, and supported by western power in accord with standard doctrine: it plainly conformed to economic and strategic objectives, and was therefore a noble achievement, greatly honored, unlike the struggles at the same time “to defend the people’s fundamental human rights” in Central America, in the words of the assassinated Archbishop of El Salvador, one of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the military forces armed and trained by Washington. There was no Gorbachev in the West throughout these horrendous years, and there is none today. And Western power remains hostile to democracy in the Arab world for good reasons.
Grand Area doctrines continue to apply to contemporary crises and confrontations. In Western policy-making circles and political commentary the Iranian threat is considered to pose the greatest danger to world order and hence must be the primary focus of U.S. foreign policy, with Europe trailing along politely.
What exactly is the Iranian threat? An authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence. Reporting on global security last year, they make it clear that the threat is not military. Iran’s military spending is “relatively low compared to the rest of the region,” they conclude. Its military doctrine is strictly “defensive, designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities.” Iran has only “a limited capability to project force beyond its borders.” With regard to the nuclear option, “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.” All quotes.
The brutal clerical regime is doubtless a threat to its own people, though it hardly outranks U.S. allies in that regard. But the threat lies elsewhere, and is ominous indeed. One element is Iran’s potential deterrent capacity, an illegitimate exercise of sovereignty that might interfere with U.S. freedom of action in the region. It is glaringly obvious why Iran would seek a deterrent capacity; a look at the military bases and nuclear forces in the region suffices to explain.
Seven years ago, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld wrote that “The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy,” particularly when they are under constant threat of attack in violation of the UN Charter. Whether they are doing so remains an open question, but perhaps so.
But Iran’s threat goes beyond deterrence. It is also seeking to expand its influence in neighboring countries, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence emphasize, and in this way to “destabilize” the region (in the technical terms of foreign policy discourse). The U.S. invasion and military occupation of Iran’s neighbors is “stabilization.” Iran’s efforts to extend its influence to them are “destabilization,” hence plainly illegitimate.
Such usage is routine. Thus the prominent foreign policy analyst James Chace was properly using the term “stability” in its technical sense when he explained that in order to achieve “stability” in Chile it was necessary to “destabilize” the country (by overthrowing the elected government of Salvador Allende and installing the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet). Other concerns about Iran are equally interesting to explore, but perhaps this is enough to reveal the guiding principles and their status in imperial culture. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s planners emphasized at the dawn of the contemporary world system, the U.S. cannot tolerate “any exercise of sovereignty” that interferes with its global designs.
The U.S. and Europe are united in punishing Iran for its threat to stability, but it is useful to recall how isolated they are. The nonaligned countries have vigorously supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium. In the region, Arab public opinion even strongly favors Iranian nuclear weapons. The major regional power, Turkey, voted against the latest U.S.-initiated sanctions motion in the Security Council, along with Brazil, the most admired country of the South. Their disobedience led to sharp censure, not for the first time: Turkey had been bitterly condemned in 2003 when the government followed the will of 95% of the population and refused to participate in the invasion of Iraq, thus demonstrating its weak grasp of democracy, western-style.
After its Security Council misdeed last year, Turkey was warned by Obama’s top diplomat on European affairs, Philip Gordon, that it must “demonstrate its commitment to partnership with the West.” A scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations asked, “How do we keep the Turks in their lane?” — following orders like good democrats. Brazil’s Lula was admonished in a New York Times headline that his effort with Turkey to provide a solution to the uranium enrichment issue outside of the framework of U.S. power was a “Spot on Brazilian Leader’s Legacy.” In brief, do what we say, or else.
An interesting sidelight, effectively suppressed, is that the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal was approved in advance by Obama, presumably on the assumption that it would fail, providing an ideological weapon against Iran. When it succeeded, the approval turned to censure, and Washington rammed through a Security Council resolution so weak that China readily signed — and is now chastised for living up to the letter of the resolution but not Washington’s unilateral directives — in the current issue ofForeign Affairs, for example.
While the U.S. can tolerate Turkish disobedience, though with dismay, China is harder to ignore. The press warns that “China’s investors and traders are now filling a vacuum in Iran as businesses from many other nations, especially in Europe, pull out,” and in particular, is expanding its dominant role in Iran’s energy industries. Washington is reacting with a touch of desperation. The State Department warned China that if it wants to be accepted in the international community — a technical term referring to the U.S. and whoever happens to agree with it — then it must not “skirt and evade international responsibilities, [which] are clear”: namely, follow U.S. orders. China is unlikely to be impressed.
There is also much concern about the growing Chinese military threat. A recent Pentagon study warned that China’s military budget is approaching “one-fifth of what the Pentagon spent to operate and carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” a fraction of the U.S. military budget, of course. China’s expansion of military forces might “deny the ability of American warships to operate in international waters off its coast,” the New York Times added.
Off the coast of China, that is; it has yet to be proposed that the U.S. should eliminate military forces that deny the Caribbean to Chinese warships. China’s lack of understanding of rules of international civility is illustrated further by its objections to plans for the advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington to join naval exercises a few miles off China’s coast, with alleged capacity to strike Beijing.
In contrast, the West understands that such U.S. operations are all undertaken to defend stability and its own security. The liberal New Republic expresses its concern that “China sent ten warships through international waters just off the Japanese island of Okinawa.” That is indeed a provocation — unlike the fact, unmentioned, that Washington has converted the island into a major military base in defiance of vehement protests by the people of Okinawa. That is not a provocation, on the standard principle that we own the world.
Deep-seated imperial doctrine aside, there is good reason for China’s neighbors to be concerned about its growing military and commercial power. And though Arab opinion supports an Iranian nuclear weapons program, we certainly should not do so. The foreign policy literature is full of proposals as to how to counter the threat. One obvious way is rarely discussed: work to establish a nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the region. The issue arose (again) at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference at United Nations headquarters last May. Egypt, as chair of the 118 nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, called for negotiations on a Middle East NWFZ, as had been agreed by the West, including the U.S., at the 1995 review conference on the NPT.
International support is so overwhelming that Obama formally agreed. It is a fine idea, Washington informed the conference, but not now. Furthermore, the U.S. made clear that Israel must be exempted: no proposal can call for Israel’s nuclear program to be placed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency or for the release of information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities.” So much for this method of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.
Privatizing the Planet
While Grand Area doctrine still prevails, the capacity to implement it has declined. The peak of U.S. power was after World War II, when it had literally half the world’s wealth. But that naturally declined, as other industrial economies recovered from the devastation of the war and decolonization took its agonizing course. By the early 1970s, the U.S. share of global wealth had declined to about 25%, and the industrial world had become tripolar: North America, Europe, and East Asia (then Japan-based).
There was also a sharp change in the U.S. economy in the 1970s, towards financialization and export of production. A variety of factors converged to create a vicious cycle of radical concentration of wealth, primarily in the top fraction of 1% of the population — mostly CEOs, hedge-fund managers, and the like. That leads to the concentration of political power, hence state policies to increase economic concentration: fiscal policies, rules of corporate governance, deregulation, and much more. Meanwhile the costs of electoral campaigns skyrocketed, driving the parties into the pockets of concentrated capital, increasingly financial: the Republicans reflexively, the Democrats — by now what used to be moderate Republicans — not far behind.
Elections have become a charade, run by the public relations industry. After his 2008 victory, Obama won an award from the industry for the best marketing campaign of the year. Executives were euphoric. In the business press they explained that they had been marketing candidates like other commodities since Ronald Reagan, but 2008 was their greatest achievement and would change the style in corporate boardrooms. The 2012 election is expected to cost $2 billion, mostly in corporate funding. Small wonder that Obama is selecting business leaders for top positions. The public is angry and frustrated, but as long as the Muasher principle prevails, that doesn’t matter.
While wealth and power have narrowly concentrated, for most of the population real incomes have stagnated and people have been getting by with increased work hours, debt, and asset inflation, regularly destroyed by the financial crises that began as the regulatory apparatus was dismantled starting in the 1980s.
None of this is problematic for the very wealthy, who benefit from a government insurance policy called “too big to fail.” The banks and investment firms can make risky transactions, with rich rewards, and when the system inevitably crashes, they can run to the nanny state for a taxpayer bailout, clutching their copies of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.
That has been the regular process since the Reagan years, each crisis more extreme than the last — for the public population, that is. Right now, real unemployment is at Depression levels for much of the population, while Goldman Sachs, one of the main architects of the current crisis, is richer than ever. It has just quietly announced $17.5 billion in compensation for last year, with CEO Lloyd Blankfein receiving a $12.6 million bonus while his base salary more than triples.
It wouldn’t do to focus attention on such facts as these. Accordingly, propaganda must seek to blame others, in the past few months, public sector workers, their fat salaries, exorbitant pensions, and so on: all fantasy, on the model of Reaganite imagery of black mothers being driven in their limousines to pick up welfare checks — and other models that need not be mentioned. We all must tighten our belts; almost all, that is.
Teachers are a particularly good target, as part of the deliberate effort to destroy the public education system from kindergarten through the universities by privatization — again, good for the wealthy, but a disaster for the population, as well as the long-term health of the economy, but that is one of the externalities that is put to the side insofar as market principles prevail.
Another fine target, always, is immigrants. That has been true throughout U.S. history, even more so at times of economic crisis, exacerbated now by a sense that our country is being taken away from us: the white population will soon become a minority. One can understand the anger of aggrieved individuals, but the cruelty of the policy is shocking.
Who are the immigrants targeted? In Eastern Massachusetts, where I live, many are Mayans fleeing genocide in the Guatemalan highlands carried out by Reagan’s favorite killers. Others are Mexican victims of Clinton’s NAFTA, one of those rare government agreements that managed to harm working people in all three of the participating countries. As NAFTA was rammed through Congress over popular objection in 1994, Clinton also initiated the militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border, previously fairly open. It was understood that Mexican campesinos cannot compete with highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness, and that Mexican businesses would not survive competition with U.S. multinationals, which must be granted “national treatment” under the mislabeled free trade agreements, a privilege granted only to corporate persons, not those of flesh and blood. Not surprisingly, these measures led to a flood of desperate refugees, and to rising anti-immigrant hysteria by the victims of state-corporate policies at home.
Much the same appears to be happening in Europe, where racism is probably more rampant than in the U.S. One can only watch with wonder as Italy complains about the flow of refugees from Libya, the scene of the first post-World War I genocide, in the now-liberated East, at the hands of Italy’s Fascist government. Or when France, still today the main protector of the brutal dictatorships in its former colonies, manages to overlook its hideous atrocities in Africa, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy warns grimly of the “flood of immigrants” and Marine Le Pen objects that he is doing nothing to prevent it. I need not mention Belgium, which may win the prize for what Adam Smith called “the savage injustice of the Europeans.”
The rise of neo-fascist parties in much of Europe would be a frightening phenomenon even if we were not to recall what happened on the continent in the recent past. Just imagine the reaction if Jews were being expelled from France to misery and oppression, and then witness the non-reaction when that is happening to Roma, also victims of the Holocaust and Europe’s most brutalized population.
In Hungary, the neo-fascist party Jobbik gained 17% of the vote in national elections, perhaps unsurprising when three-quarters of the population feels that they are worse off than under Communist rule. We might be relieved that in Austria the ultra-right Jörg Haider won only 10% of the vote in 2008 — were it not for the fact that the new Freedom Party, outflanking him from the far right, won more than 17%. It is chilling to recall that, in 1928, the Nazis won less than 3% of the vote in Germany.
In England the British National Party and the English Defence League, on the ultra-racist right, are major forces. (What is happening in Holland you know all too well.) In Germany, Thilo Sarrazin’s lament that immigrants are destroying the country was a runaway best-seller, while Chancellor Angela Merkel, though condemning the book, declared that multiculturalism had “utterly failed”: the Turks imported to do the dirty work in Germany are failing to become blond and blue-eyed, true Aryans.
Those with a sense of irony may recall that Benjamin Franklin, one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, warned that the newly liberated colonies should be wary of allowing Germans to immigrate, because they were too swarthy; Swedes as well. Into the twentieth century, ludicrous myths of Anglo-Saxon purity were common in the U.S., including among presidents and other leading figures. Racism in the literary culture has been a rank obscenity; far worse in practice, needless to say. It is much easier to eradicate polio than this horrifying plague, which regularly becomes more virulent in times of economic distress.
I do not want to end without mentioning another externality that is dismissed in market systems: the fate of the species. Systemic risk in the financial system can be remedied by the taxpayer, but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat, but they must maximize short-term profit and market share. If they don’t, someone else will.
This vicious cycle could well turn out to be lethal. To see how grave the danger is, simply have a look at the new Congress in the U.S., propelled into power by business funding and propaganda. Almost all are climate deniers. They have already begun to cut funding for measures that might mitigate environmental catastrophe. Worse, some are true believers; for example, the new head of a subcommittee on the environment who explained that global warming cannot be a problem because God promised Noah that there will not be another flood.
If such things were happening in some small and remote country, we might laugh. Not when they are happening in the richest and most powerful country in the world. And before we laugh, we might also bear in mind that the current economic crisis is traceable in no small measure to the fanatic faith in such dogmas as the efficient market hypothesis, and in general to what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, 15 years ago, called the “religion” that markets know best — which prevented the central bank and the economics profession from taking notice of an $8 trillion housing bubble that had no basis at all in economic fundamentals, and that devastated the economy when it burst.
All of this, and much more, can proceed as long as the Muashar doctrine prevails. As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.
Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous best-selling political works. Recent books include a new edition of Power and Terror, The Essential Chomsky (edited by Anthony Arnove), a collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, and Hopes and Prospects, also available as an audiobook. His web site is http://www.chomsky.info. To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Chomsky discusses the recent shredding of the principles of the Magna Carta, click here or download it to your iPod here. This piece is adapted from a talk given in Amsterdam in March 2011.
Copyright 2011 Noam Chomsky
As I indicated in my introduction, Noam’s website is here. Hope you can call back tomorrow as I continue with a look at the world we now live in.
Powerful words from President Obama; now we the people must act.
I’m taking the liberty of reproducing in full the item that was published by Bill McKibben of 350.org yesterday. As I wrote on the 17th this year has to be the year that we make a difference, a call to every man, woman and child on the planet. This is a snippet from that post.
With these in mind, Doherty proposes a new grand strategic concept: “The United States must lead the global transition to sustainability.“
What a vision for the United States of America. That this Nation will be the most wonderful example of how man can learn, adapt and change.
So to the call issued by 350.org.
Here’s what President Obama said about climate change during his address today:
With words like that, it’s easy to let ourselves dream that something major might be about to happen to fix the biggest problem the world has ever faced.
But we know that even if the President is sincere in every syllable, he’s going to need lots of backup to help him get his point across in a city dominated by fossil fuel interests. And, given the record of the last four years, we know that too often rhetoric has yielded little in the way of results.
That’s why we need you — very badly — to take a trip to our nation’s capital on Feb. 17th. We’ll gather on the National Mall, in what is shaping up to be be the largest environmental rally in many years.
Click here to join us in DC: act.350.org/signup/presidentsday
Together we’ll send the message loud and clear: ‘If you’re serious about protecting future generations from climate change, stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. If you can do that, Mr. President, we can all work together to help build a climate legacy that will be a credit to your critical eight years in office.’
Look – numbers count. If 20,000 of us show up on February 17th, it will be noticed. We need you in that number. The President may have given us an opening, but it’s up to us to go through it, and we need to do it together.
Thanks for all you’ve done to bring us this far, friends. Let’s keep it up – this is our chance.
Even if you are unable to be there in person on the 17th., do what you can to circulate this just as far and wide as possible.
The shocking distortions made by The Daily Mail newspaper.
On the 9th January, 2013 The Daily Mail published this item:
The crazy climate change obsession that’s made the Met Office a menace
- The £200 million-a-year official weather forecaster often gets it wrong
- This week it has admitted there is no evidence that ‘global warming’ is happening
- The Met Office quietly readjusted its temperature projections on its website on Christmas Eve
PUBLISHED: 19:45 EST, 9 January 2013 | UPDATED: 02:56 EST, 10 January 2013
Was there ever a government quango quite so useless as the Met Office?
From its infamous ‘barbecue summer’ washout of 2009 to the snowbound winter it failed to predict in 2010 and the recent forecast-defying floods, our £200 million-a-year official weather forecaster has become a national joke.
But of all its recent embarrassments, none come close to matching the Met Office’s latest one.
Without fanfare — apparently in the desperate hope no one would notice — it has finally conceded what other scientists have known for ages: there is no evidence that ‘global warming’ is happening.
If you want to read the full article, it’s here.
The Daily Mail does not let the facts get in the way of a story! Nothing new there, they’ve been doing that since before the war. What baffles me is why so many people buy this paper.
It would all be a bit of a laugh if it were not for what follows.
Last Friday, Naked Capitalism, the fabulous blog run by Yves Smith published in her set of links this item, “Climate change set to make America hotter, drier and more disaster-prone.” Newly living here in Southern Oregon, that obviously caught my eye!
Climate change set to make America hotter, drier and more disaster-prone
Draft report from NCA makes clear link between climate change and extreme weather as groups urge Obama to take action
Future generations of Americans can expect to spend 25 days a year sweltering in temperatures above 100F (38C), with climate change on course to turn the country into a hotter, drier, and more disaster-prone place.
The National Climate Assessment, released in draft form on Friday , provided the fullest picture to date of the real-time effects of climate change on US life, and the most likely consequences for the future.
The 1,000-page report, the work of the more than 300 government scientists and outside experts, was unequivocal on the human causes of climate change, and on the links between climate change and extreme weather.
“Climate change is already affecting the American people,” the draft report said. “Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense including heat waves, heavy downpours and in some regions floods and drought. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and Arctic sea ice are melting.”
Here’s a pithy question for Mr. James Delingpole of The Daily Mail, “Which part of this sentence are you having trouble with - The 1,000-page report, the work of the more than 300 government scientists and outside experts, was unequivocal on the human causes of climate change, and on the links between climate change and extreme weather.?” [my emphasis]
Suzanne goes on to say:
The report will be open for public comment on Monday.
Environmental groups said they hoped the report would provide Barack Obama with the scientific evidence to push for measures that would slow or halt the rate of climate change – sparing the country some of the worst effects.
The report states clearly that the steps taken by Obama so far to reduce emissions are “not close to sufficient” to prevent the most severe consequences of climate change.
“As climate change and its impacts are becoming more prevalent, Americans face choices,” the report said. “Beyond the next few decades, the amount of climate change will still largely be determined by the choices society makes about emissions. Lower emissions mean less future warming and less severe impacts. Higher emissions would mean more warming and more severe impacts.”
As the report made clear: no place in America had gone untouched by climate change. Nowhere would be entirely immune from the effects of future climate change.
One might argue that it won’t be very long before no sane person on this planet would swallow that crap from The Daily Mail. But when we get to that stage of every person being aware of the forces at work upon our fair planet it will be a tad too late.
That’s why this report is to be encouraged, nay embraced. Of all the nations in the world, the one that should be setting the lead is the United States of America. As the banner on that globalchange.gov website proclaims: Thirteen Agencies, One Vision: Empower the Nation with Global Change Science
So go and read the report. For your sake and all our sakes.
Because the more informed you and I are, the better the chances of real political leadership taking place in this fine nation.
Download Chapters of the NCADAC DraftClimate Assessment Report! Download the Full Report (warning, 147Mb. Very large file)Between chapters, there are some page numbers that are not used. This is intentional and does not reflect missing pages.or download each chapter separately:
A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.
My concluding essay on the subject of wisdom starts off with this quotation by Martin Luther King, Jr. That he was best known for using nonviolent civil disobedience to achieve political aims in the 1950′s and 60′s may not be inappropriate today.
I started with looking at our brain in recognition of the strange ways in which we humans make sense of the world, then yesterday looked at how we confuse what we do with what is best for us, surely the essence of wisdom. Today, I want to conclude with a reflection on the gap between the new wisdom of millions of citizens and the failure of so many leaders to recognise this wisdom. When I use the word wisdom in this context, it’s probably more in the sense of awareness. The growing awareness by millions of us that something isn’t right and that our democratic representatives and leaders are way behind.
I will support my argument by referring to a number of media items that have surfaced in recent days.
Let’s start with this weather forecasting chart from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
Australia’s “dome of heat” has become so intense that the temperatures are rising off the charts – literally.
The air mass over the inland is still heating up – it hasn’t peaked
The Bureau of Meteorology’s interactive weather forecasting chart has added new colours – deep purple and pink – to extend its previous temperature range that had been capped at 50 degrees.
The range now extends to 54 degrees – well above the all-time record temperature of 50.7 degrees reached on January 2, 1960 at Oodnadatta Airport in South Australia – and, perhaps worryingly, the forecast outlook is starting to deploy the new colours.
“The scale has just been increased today and I would anticipate it is because the forecast coming from the bureau’s model is showing temperatures in excess of 50 degrees,” David Jones, head of the bureau’s climate monitoring and prediction unit, said.
Just reflect on that! 54 degrees Centigrade is 129 degrees Fahrenheit!
On January 4th, just 5 days ago, Bill Moyers held an interview with climate change communication expert Anthony Leiserowitz who explained why climate change gets the silent treatment, and what we should do about it. Here’s a trailer to that programme.
I very strongly recommend you put an hour to one side and watch the full programme available here.
Next comes a recent item on Christine’s fantastic blog 350 or bust. I forgot to ask Christine for permission to reproduce her article but am confident that republishing it on Learning from Dogs carries her full support.
New Report Connects Dots Between Political Inaction & Growing Cost Of Climate Change
This is a reposting from The Earth Story’s Facebook page:
“The cost of living is going up and the chance of living is going down. “ –Flip Wilson
A new publication issued by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in the journal “Nature” has reported that the chances of keeping temperatures below a 2 degree rise is now largely in the hands of policy makers.
The challenge of a changing climate can now only be fought with the backing of political agenda – and as most people will agree, this seems bleak.
Of all the uncertainties with regard the effects of climate change, including geophysical and social uncertainties; political uncertainty ranked as the number 1 factor in determining the fate of our species and our planet.
What went wrong? Maybe we have been advertising climate change in an ineffective manner, considering how politically charged the world is?
The burdens of climate change are often communicated in relation to extreme weather events, melting ice caps, lives lost, loss of biodiversity, endangered species etc., but it would appear that to some this doesn’t seem to ring a bell; probably as the bell doesn’t chime as “cha ching cha ching”.
So what happens if we try to communicate climate change in relation to cost?
In 2012, in the United States alone, there were 11 natural disasters that cost over $1 billion – and this does not yet include the almost country wide drought or hurricane sandy, and let’s not forget the multiple other disasters which did not make the 1 billion benchmark. It is predicted that events, like the ones that swept the entire globe in 2012, will increase in frequency and in destructive force if we do not keep temperatures below the 2 degree rise on pre-industrial temperatures.
If we do not change our ways by 2020, the research group have found that the probability of keeping the temperature within the assigned two degree window drops below 50% (best case) or 20% (worst case) – no matter how much money is spent in the effort.
It is predicted that money will not matter; it’s almost bittersweet.
2012 was an eye opening year in terms of our natural environment. From here on out, let’s try change our ways; not our climate. The clock is ticking.
“… the chances of keeping temperatures below a 2 degree rise is now largely in the hands of policy makers.” Further comment by me is pointless – the message is already crystal clear.
The implications of the changes that are being imposed on all of us were picked up in a recent article in the British newspaper The Telegraph: Rising food prices will reap a bitter harvest. Here’s a flavour (sorry!) of the article.
British shoppers should brace themselves for “massive” food price rises in 2013, says the aptly named Mark Price, managing director of Waitrose. Is he correct, or is this just another retailer trying to soften up public opinion before imposing price hikes?
Liam Halligan goes on to write (my emphasis):
It strikes me that Price most certainly is right and his statement deserves more comment and consideration. For it is almost inevitable that many crucial foodstuffs will become considerably more expensive during 2013, not least due to recent weather patterns. More fundamentally, the food price rises we’ll see over the coming year will also reflect longer-term non-cyclical trends, not least the burgeoning world population.
During 2013, in fact, rising food prices are likely not only to have a serious impact on the global economy, but could well spark violence and political upheaval, not least in the Middle East.
The importance of the trend Price has highlighted, then, goes way beyond the tills of upmarket British supermarkets. It’s certainly the case, though, that UK food production looks weak, as heavy rainfall in 2012 meant many crops were ruined and farmers couldn’t plant as much as they wanted for 2013. Despite a very dry first quarter, 2012 was this country’s second-wettest year since records began in 1910.
I don’t want to quote any more from the article but read it and realise how the world in 2013 may be unrecognisable beyond our wildest imaginations.
OK, going to round this off.
Firstly, by asking you to read a recent item in Democracy Journal. This is how the article starts.
Everyone’s Fight: The New Plan to Defeat Big Money
The 2012 campaign is by now mercifully out of our systems, but it remains worth reflecting on some of the dubious firsts that occurred during this election. This was the first presidential campaign to cost more than $2 billion. It was also the first time neither candidate accepted any public financing or the limits that come with it. Finally, it was the first presidential election after Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that allowed around $600 million in super PAC donations this cycle, and many millions more to nonprofit “social welfare” groups that aren’t required to disclose their donors.
But even these bleak facts don’t do justice to the problem of Big Money. Campaign spending isn’t even our most dire money-in-politics problem. That would be the thousands of lobbyists and many millions of their dollars that are devoted to the warping of our public policy. These powerful lobbies control most outcomes on Capitol Hill, and the problem is far worse than it was 20 years ago.
Read the rest here.
Lastly, by returning to another recent item from Bill Moyers.
Citizens, Not Consumers, Are Key to Solving Climate Crisis
January 4, 2013
Annie Leonard spent 20 years working for environmental organizations, studying where our stuff comes from and where it goes. She followed waste from industrialized countries to apartheid-era South Africa, where it was dumped in black townships, to Haiti, where it was disguised as fertilizer and dumped on a beach, to Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines where we sent everything from e-waste to used car batteries for recycling in a process too dirty for our own backyard.
Then, in 2007, she made a short animated film about our consumer culture and the damage it does to the environment. The Story of Stuff went viral (chances are you’ve seen it — more than 15 million people have) and spawned a whole series of videos that explain complicated environmental and political concepts in an irresistibly simple and engaging way. We reached Annie via email to talk about the latest installment, The Story of Change. This one’s a bit of a departure — instead of looking at the problem, it proposes a solution.
It included this video:
Can shopping save the world? The Story of Change urges viewers to put down their credit cards and start exercising their citizen muscles to build a more sustainable, just and fulfilling world.
I shall close with another quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Of the matters of man for the coming year.
Like countless others, when we look back 12 months and recall what we thought 2012 had in store, we now realise that we didn’t have a clue! As the silly expression goes, “I can predict anything except those things that involve the future!“
So repeating the process is stupid; I have no doubt that 2013 will be brim full of surprises. At all levels: personal, local, national and global. But ….. (You knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you!)
But a conversation that I had with Peter McCarthy on the 27th December resonated with me to such a degree that I felt the urge to pen some thoughts. I worked with Peter some years ago at Clevedon Hall, we shared an interest in flying a TB20 and both of us studied for our CAA Instrument Rating. We became good friends.
So come with me today for a stroll around the grounds of change, possibly an epochal period of change.
Let’s start with what may be the biggest catalyst of change heading our way – our broken political system.
Christine of 350orbust fame published this yesterday.
The view that many western societies are a very long way from being fair is growing. If you want to dig a little deeper into the appalling statistics of the USA, for example, dip into a recent essay written by Charles Hugh Smith that appeared on Chris Martenson’s Peak Prosperity blog.
It’s a long essay packed full of powerful facts and statistics. Try this one:
6. The assets that generate unearned income are highly concentrated, and as a result so is the unearned income. The top 1% owns twice as much stock-market wealth as the bottom 90%. This income-producing wealth enables the top 1% to act as a financial aristocracy, buying influence and favors from equivalently concentrated political Elites.
Let me go to Charles’ conclusion:
What few dare admit, much less state publicly, is that the Constitutional limits on the financial Aristocracy and the Tyranny of the Majority have failed. This guarantees a future Constitutional crisis as each political class – the financial Aristocracy, the top 24% who pay most of the taxes, the dwindling middle class and the bottom 50% who depend on Federal transfers – will battle for control as the Status Quo collapses under the weight of its unsustainable promises.
Back to the conversation with Peter. He felt that there was a massive failure of the democratic process in the UK, and by implication in the USA.
Peter continued by saying that many elected politicians, especially at the level of local politics, weren’t smart people. Smart, innovative, entrepreneurial people chose not to go into politics. Those that were elected had too much power and too many vested interests for the good of the societies that they were meant to represent. In the USA the involvement of private money in politics is nothing short of corruption of the highest order; my personal opinion, no less and no more.
In moderation, Churchill’s saying comes to mind. “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.“
Let’s move on.
No-one can deny that in so many areas of our lives, the degree of change seems unprecedented. Whether we are speaking of the huge social changes at work, enormous technological changes, such as the way that we communicate with each other, medical practises, and on and on. Then add in the consequences of the change in the Earth’s climate, whether or not one sees this as the outcome of man’s activities and …. well, you get the idea!
As hard and gloomy as some of my blog posts on the future of humanity have been, I thought it time to offer good news as to where we are heading. I shall call this the global realignment. Few will disagree that the current activities and ideas of humanity in relation to the environment are unsustainable and point to our self-destruction. History also shows that whenever a crisis occurs traumatic events and the ideas of new thinkers causes a paradigm shift in attitudes and thinking.
Contrary to the fantasy of many people, there will be no celestial champion on a white horse riding forward to save humanity from itself. The change will come from a series of traumatic events and individual thinkers which will plant the seeds of change, which will ripple forward as a tsunami of changes of ideas and attitudes on a global scale.
So much change. So much uncertainty. Such a feeling of being lost in unfamiliar lands.
Or have we been here before?
Have you heard of the Kondratieff Wave?
The Kondratieff Wave (Kondratiev Wave or K-wave) theory is proposing the existence of the extra-long, 50+ years long cycles of growth in the modern market (capitalist) economy. The theory was proposed in 1920s by Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev.
Wikipedia has a good summary available here. A Google search will find much more material, such as this chart:
The Wikipedia entry has a simpler diagram, see below, that shows the four stages of each cycle.
So how to draw this to a close?
In a sense, in a very real sense, there isn’t a close. The future has always been uncertain and as history shows change is the only constant.
Peter concluded that a better society was ahead and hoped that he would live sufficiently long to witness it. That gets my vote!
Happy New Year to you.
Thank you for taking an interest in Learning from Dogs.
2013 may be the year that ends any uncertainty about what we are doing to our planet.
Regular readers of Learning from Dogs will be familiar with the occasional posts that are presented here, courtesy of Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch. I am so grateful to Tom’s blanket permission to republish essays from a Tom Dispatch author. So it is that today sees the republishing of a recent essay on Tom Dispatch by Rebecca Solnit. It articulates beautifully what 2013 might represent. So without further ado, here’s Rebecca’s essay prefaced by Tom’s introduction.
Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, 2013 as Year Zero for Us — and Our Planet
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: It’s that time again. Another year-ending moment for this website, which began as a no-name listserv in October 2001 and went online as TomDispatch in December 2002, thanks to Ham Fish of the Nation Institute. It's been plugging away ever since as a “regular antidote to the mainstream media,” doing its best to connect the unconnected dots in our world. (Click here to check out a little piece I wrote for the Moyers & Company website this week about what I call “isolation journalism” in the mainstream media where connections are seldom made.)
With today’s post, we’re closing down for 2012, but expect us back on January 3rd renewed and ready for a new year full of surprises. In the meantime, profuse thanks are due to the stalwart crew who keep TD going: Managing Editor Nick Turse, who will continue to follow the U.S. military as it garrisons the planet in 2013 and will have a remarkable new book on the Vietnam War published as well; Associate Editor Andy Kroll, who will again be on the economic beat for us; Dimitri Siavelis and Joe Duax, who keep the site miraculously shipshape and ready to roll; Christopher Holmes, proofer-extraordinaire who holds error eternally at bay (or at least to a surprising minimum) in our dispatches; and Erika Eichelberger, our maestro of social media, who has brought TD Facebook page and Twitter feed alive this year. (Check us out there if you haven’t yet!) Special thanks are due as well to Andy Breslau, Taya Kitman, and the rest of the staff of the Nation Institute, who continue to stick with us through thick and thin, and finally to Lannan Foundation, which may be last in this list but is certainly first in what it’s done for TomDispatch. Surrounded by such a crowd, life couldn’t be better.
Finally, of course, my deepest thanks to TomDispatch readers all over this country and around the world, whose readership and support make all the difference. Your emails to this site offer tips, catch errors, offer criticism, and reveal unknown worlds to me. They are always read (even when, hard as I try, I’m too busy to answer). What more could I ask? Have a good holiday. See you all in 2013! Tom]
In weather terms, 2012 in New York City began for me with crocuses. On an early February day in a week in which the temperature hit 60 degrees, I spotted their green shoots pushing up through the bare ground of a local park on a morning walk — just as if it were spring. The year was ending last weekend as I wandered with a friend past a communal garden in the same park and noticed that, in a December week in which the temperatures were in the mid-50s, the last few roses were still in bloom.
In between, in that park on a dark night in late October I watched a white-capped Hudson River roiling like some enraged beast, preparing for a storm surge that would flood lower Manhattan, plunging it into darkness and so turning it into “little North Korea,” briefly making true islanders out of New Yorkers and flooding out whole communities. That, of course, was Hurricane Sandy, the Frankenstorm surprise of New York’s year (though anything but a worst case scenario). And then, there was the American 2012 in which heat eternally set records and we experienced something close to an “endless summer.”
If climate change had a personality in this year of so many grim records – wildfires, drought, heat, carbon dioxide emissions – it would definitely be saying: “I’m not the thing your grandchildren will have to deal with, I’m yours!”
In such a new world of upheaval, tradition matters. And there is one inviolable tradition at TomDispatch: Rebecca Solnit has the last word — as she has for years, peering into the future, sizing up the past, weighing alternatives to what is, and last year considering a season of being Occupied. Now, for the first time in a long while, weather and climate change are a growing American preoccupation. Of course, climate change is an area long occupied by the giant energy companies whose compassion extends no further than their bottom lines (which, like the heat, continue to set historical records). Solnit in her year-ending, TomDispatch-closing piece suggests that it’s time for us to occupy the topic ourselves, and do our best to ensure that this planet, 2013 and beyond, remains a habitable place for us, our children, and our grandchildren. There could be no more powerful New Year’s wish. Tom
The Sky’s the Limit
The Demanding Gifts of 2012
By Rebecca Solnit
As this wild year comes to an end, we return to the season of gifts. Here’s the gift you’re not going to get soon: any conventional version of Paradise. You know, the place where nothing much happens and nothing is demanded of you. The gifts you’ve already been given in 2012 include a struggle over the fate of the Earth. This is probably not exactly what you asked for, and I wish it were otherwise — but to do good work, to be necessary, to have something to give: these are the true gifts. And at least there’s still a struggle ahead of us, not just doom and despair.
Think of 2013 as the Year Zero in the battle over climate change, one in which we are going to have to win big, or lose bigger. This is a terrible thing to say, but not as terrible as the reality that you can see in footage of glaciers vanishing, images of the entire surface of the Greenland Ice Shield melting this summer, maps of Europe’s future in which just being in southern Europe when the heat hits will be catastrophic, let alone in more equatorial realms.
For millions of years, this world has been a great gift to nearly everything living on it, a planet whose atmosphere, temperature, air, water, seasons, and weather were precisely calibrated to allow us — the big us, including forests and oceans, species large and small — to flourish. (Or rather, it was we who were calibrated to its generous, even bounteous, terms.) And that gift is now being destroyed for the benefit of a few members of a single species.
The Earth we evolved to inhabit is turning into something more turbulent and unreliable at a pace too fast for most living things to adapt to. This means we are losing crucial aspects of our most irreplaceable, sublime gift, and some of us are suffering the loss now — from sea snails whose shells are dissolving in acidified oceans to Hurricane Sandy survivors facing black mold and bad bureaucracy to horses starving nationwide because a devastating drought has pushed the cost of hay so high to Bolivian farmers failing because the glaciers that watered their valleys have largely melted.
This is not just an issue for environmentalists who love rare species and remote places: if you care about children, health, poverty, farmers, food, hunger, or the economy, you really have no choice but to care about climate change.
The reasons for acting may be somber, but the fight is a gift and an honor. What it will give you in return is meaning, purpose, hope, your best self, some really good company, and the satisfaction of being part of victories also to come. But what victory means needs to be imagined on a whole new scale as the news worsens.
Unwrapping the Victories
“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero,” Galileo famously says in Bertold Brecht’s play about that renegade scientist, but at least, the hero has the possibility of doing something about that unhappiness, as, for instance, the Sierra Club has. It’s led the fight against big coal, helping prevent 168 coal-powered plants from opening and retiring 125 dirty coal plants. The aim of its Beyond Coal campaign is to retire all 522 such plants in the United States, which would be a colossal triumph.
Its’ victories also capture what a lot of our greenest gifts look like: nothing. The regions that weren’t fracked, the coal plants that didn’t open, the mountaintops that weren’t blasted by mining corporations, the children who didn’t get asthma or mercury poisoning from coal emissions, the carbon that stayed in the Earth and never made it into the atmosphere. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline bringing the dirtiest of dirty energy from Canada to the Gulf Coast might have already opened without the activists who ringed the White House and committed themselves across the continent.
In eastern Texas, for instance, extraordinary acts of civil disobedience have been going on continuously since August, including three blockaders who this month crawled inside a length of the three-foot-in-diameter pipeline and refused to leave. People have been using their bodies, getting in the way of heavy equipment, and going to jail in an effort to prevent the pipeline from being built. A lot of them are the same kind of robust young people who kept the Occupy encampments going earlier in 2012, but great-grandmothers, old men, and middle-aged people like me have been crucial players, too.
Meanwhile in British Columbia, where pipeline profiteers were looking into alternate routes to transport their climate-destroying products abroad, members of the Wet’suwet’en nation evicted surveyors and politely declared war on them. In Ohio and New York, the fight against fracking is going strong. Across the Atlantic, France has banned fracking, while Germany has made astounding progress toward using carbon-neutral energy sources. If solar works there, we have no excuse. And as Ellen Cantarow wrote at TomDispatch of the anti-fracking movement in New York State, “Caroline, a small hamlet in Tompkins County (population 3,282), is the second town in the state to get 100% of its electricity through wind power and one of the most recent to pass a fracking ban.”
Everywhere people are at work to build a better world in which we — and some of the beauty of this world — will be guaranteed to survive. Everywhere they are at war with the forces threatening us and the planet. I usually avoid war metaphors, but this time it’s barely a metaphor. Our side isn’t violent, but it is engaged in a battle, and people are putting their bodies on the line and their lives behind the cause. The other side is intent on maximizing its profit at the cost of nearly everything.
My father, a high-school student during the Second World War, followed the campaigns closely with pins on a wall map to represent troops and battles. You could map North America that way now and see, when you added up the struggles against drilling in the Arctic, fracking, mountaintop removal, and the various other depredations of big coal and big oil, that remarkable things are already being done. In this war, resistance has been going on for a long time, so overlooked by the mainstream media it might as well be as underground as the French Resistance back then.
A lot of it is on a small scale, but if you connect the pieces you get a big picture of the possible, the hopeful, and the powerful. Think of each of those small acts of defending the Earth as a gift to you. And think of your own power, a gift always latent within you that demands you give back.
If you’re reading this, you’re already in the conversation. No matter who you are, or where, there is something for you to do: educate yourself and others, write letters, organize or join local groups, participate in blockades and demonstrations, work on divestment from oil corporations (if you’re connected to a university), and make this issue central to the conversations and politics of our time.
I’ve started working directly on various projects with 350.org, whose global impact and reinvention of activist tactics I’ve long admired. Its creator Bill McKibben has evolved from a merely great writer to a pivotal climate organizer and a gift to all of us.
The world you live in is not a given; much of what is best in it has been built through the struggles of passionate activists over the last centuries. They won us many freedoms and protected many beauties. Count those gifts among your growing heap.
Drawing the Line
Here’s another gift you’ve already received: the lines in the battle to come are being ever more clearly drawn. Clarity is a huge asset. It helps when you know where you stand, who stands with you — and who against you.
We have returned to class war in conflicts around the world — including the Chicago Teacher’s Strike of 2012 and the Walmart protests in this country (which led to 1,197 actions nationwide in support of that company’s underpaid workers on Black Friday), as well as the great student uprisings in Quebec and Mexico City.
There has, of course, been a war against working people and the poor for decades, only we didn’t call it “class war” when just the rich were fighting hard. We called it corporate globalization, the race to the bottom, tax cuts and social-service cuts, privatization, neoliberalism, and a hundred other things. Now that the poor are fighting back, we can call it by its old name. Perhaps what the conservatives have forgotten is that if you return us to the grim divides and dire poverty of the nineteenth century, you might also be returning us to the revolutionary spirit of that century.
This time, though, it’s not only about work and money. The twenty-first century class war is engulfing the natural world on which everything rests. We can see how clearly the great environmental battle of our time is about money, about who benefits from climate destruction (the very few) and who loses (everyone else for all time to come and nearly every living thing). This year, Hurricane Sandy and a crop-destroying, Mississippi-River-withering drought that had more than 60% of the nation in its grip made it clear that climate change is here and it’s now and it hurts.
In 2012, many have come to see that climate change is an economic issue, and that economics is a moral and ecological issue. Why so little has been done about the state of the climate in the past three decades has everything to do with who profits. Not long ago, too many Americans were on the fence, swayed by the oil company propaganda war about whether climate change even exists.
However, this month, according to the Associated Press, “Four out of every five Americans said climate change will be a serious problem for the United States if nothing is done about it.” That widespread belief suggests that potentially broad support now exists and may be growing for a movement that makes climate change — the broiling of the Earth — central, urgent, and everybody’s business.
Ten years ago too, many people thought the issue could be addressed, if at all, through renunciatory personal virtue in private life: buying Priuses, compact fluorescents, and the like. Now most people who care at all know that the necessary changes won’t happen through consumer choice alone. What’s required are pitched battles against the most powerful (and profitable) entities on Earth, the oil and energy companies and the politicians who serve them instead of us.
That clarity matters and those conflicts are already underway but need to grow. That’s our world right now, clear as a cold winter day, sharp as broken glass.
Putting Aside Paradise
When I remember the world I grew up in, I see the parts of it that were Paradise — and I also see all the little hells. I was a kid in California when it had the best public education system in the world and universities were nearly free and the economy was not so hard on people and the rich paid a lot of taxes. The weather was predictable and we weren’t thinking about it changing any time before the next ice age.
That was, however, the same California where domestic violence was not something the law took an interest in, where gays and lesbians were openly discriminated against, where almost all elected officials were white men, where people hadn’t even learned to ask questions about exclusion and racism.
Which is to say, paradises are always partial and, when you look backward, it’s worth trying to see the whole picture. The rights gained over the past 35 years were fought for, hard, while so much of what was neglected — including public education, tuition, wages, banking regulation, corporate power, and working hours — slid into hell.
When you fight, you sometimes win; when you don’t, you always lose.
Here’s another gift we have right now: the young. There are quite a lot of heroes among them, including the Dreamers or Dream Act activists standing up for immigrants; the occupiers who challenged Wall Street in its home and elsewhere around the country, became the unofficial first responders who aided the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and have camped out on the doorstep of Goldman Sachs’s CEO these last few months; the young who blockaded that tar-sands pipeline, supplied the tremendous vitality of 350.org globally, and have just begun to organize to pressure universities to divest from fossil fuel companies on 192 campuses across the country.
In 2012, they rose up from Egypt and Russia to Canada and Chile. They are fighting for themselves and their future, but for us, too. They have remarkably few delusions about how little our world is prepared to offer most of them. They know that the only gifts they’ll get are the ones they can wrestle free from the powers that be.
Paradise is overrated. We dream of the cessation of misery, but who really wants a world without difficulty? We learn through mistakes and suffering. These are the minerals that harden our bones and the milestones on the roads we travel. And we are made to travel, not to sit still.
Take pleasure in the route. There is terrible suffering of many kinds in many places, but solidarity consists of doing something about it, not being miserable. In this heroic age, survival is also going to require seeing what fragments of paradise are still around us, what still blooms, what’s still unimaginably beautiful about rivers, oceans, and evening skies, what exhilaration there is in witnessing the stubbornness of small children and their discovery of a world we think we know. All these are gifts as well.
Ice Breaking Up
As you gear up for 2013, don’t forget that 2012 has been an extraordinary year. Who ever thought we’d see Aung San Suu Kyi elected to office in her native Burma and free to travel after so many years of house arrest? Who expected that the United Nations would suddenly vote to give Palestine observer state status? Who foresaw that the silly misinterpretations of Mayan prophesy would be overtaken by the Mayan Zapatistas, who rose once again last Friday? (Meanwhile, Canada’s Native people started a dynamic movement around indigenous rights and the environment that has led to everything from flash-mob dances in an Edmonton Mall to demonstrations in Ottawa.)
Who thought that Occupy Wall Street, roundly dismissed by the mainstream on its one-year anniversary, would spawn two superhero projects, Occupy Sandy and Strike Debt? (Who among the police officers clubbing and tear-gassing the young Occupiers in 2011 thought that a year later these would be the people with the power and the generosity to come to their aid when a climate-fed storm wrecked their homes?) Keep it in mind: the future is not predictable. Sometimes, the world changes suddenly and in profound ways. Sometimes we make it do so.
Steven Spielberg’s new film Lincoln is a reminder about what it means to fight for what matters most. Permanently freeing five million slaves and abolishing slavery forever meant renouncing a cheap power source in use for more than 200 years. Doing so was initially inconceivable and then a matter of indifference except to the slaves themselves and small groups of abolitionists. Next, it was daringly radical, then partisan, with the whole nation taking sides, the fuel for a terrible war. Finally, it was the law of the land. Today, we need to give up on, or at least radically reduce our reliance on, another set of power sources: oil, coal, and natural gas.
This is, among other things, a war of the imagination: the carbon profiteers and their politicians are hoping you don’t connect the dots, or imagine the various futures we could make or they could destroy, or grasp the remarkably beautiful and complex ways the natural world has worked to our benefit and is now being sabotaged, or discover your conscience and voice, or ever picture how different it could all be, how different it will need to be.
They are already at war against the wellbeing of our Earth. Their greed has no limits, their imagination nothing but limits. Fight back. You have the power. It’s one of your gifts.
Rebecca Solnit has seen salmon migrate and polar bears nap, and she’s seen blockaders defend foreclosed homes and shut down oil refineries: all of it was beautiful. She is the author of A Paradise Built in Hell, among many other works. She has been writing TomDispatch’s year-end essays since 2004 and she hopes to see you in the streets in 2013 and at the White House on February 17th.
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Copyright 2012 Rebecca Solnit
A fascinating look at the coming New Year. What interesting times we live in.