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The tracks we leave.

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We will be forever known by the tracks we leave.

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The power of the truth.

When I saw that proverb I was deeply affected. Hence me taking the photograph.

It was seen etched onto a glass panel that was part of the otter enclosure at our nearby Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center, just a few miles from where we live in Merlin, OR.

Here’s why I was so affected.

My draft book of the same name as this blog is slowly coming together and I’m at the 30,000-word mark. A while ago, John Hurlburt, a good friend of this blog, was chatting to me and he spoke about the “interconnectedness of all conscious life”. It immediately appealed to me as a chapter in the book.

But while it was obvious to me that all conscious life is connected, for some time I struggled to achieve any clarity about what I wanted to write. Seeing that proverb kicked off the journey towards clarity.

Thus, today, I wanted to share the steps of that journey so far.

Over on the Skeptical Science blogsite there is a post, dated 15th April, 2010, with the title of Earth’s five mass extinction events. The author, John Cook, opens:

As climate changes, a major question is whether nature can adapt to the changing conditions? The answer lies in the past. Throughout Earth’s history, there have been periods where climate changed dramatically. The response was mass extinction events, when many species went extinct followed by a very slow recovery. The history of coral reefs gives us an insight into the nature of these events as reefs are so enduring and the fossil record of corals is relatively well known (Veron 2008). What we find is reefs were particularly impacted in mass extinctions, taking many millions of years to recover. These intervals are known as “reef gaps”.

Figure 1: Timeline of mass extinction events. The five named vertical bars indicate mass extinction events. Black rectangles (drawn to scale) represent global reef gaps and brick-pattern shapes show times of prolific reef growth (Veron 2008).

Figure 1: Timeline of mass extinction events. The five named vertical bars indicate mass extinction events. Black rectangles (drawn to scale) represent global reef gaps and brick-pattern shapes show times of prolific reef growth (Veron 2008).

So what, one might ask?

Well, forget about millions of years ago. Just 12 days ago, there was a news item released by Stanford University. It read in full:

July 24, 2014

Stanford biologist warns of early stages of Earth’s 6th mass extinction event

Stanford Biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo and his colleagues warn that this “defaunation” could have harmful downstream effects on human health.

The planet’s current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But it may be reaching a tipping point.

In a new review of scientific literature and analysis of data published in Science, an international team of scientists cautions that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what

Elephants and other large animals face an increased risk of extinction in what Stanford Biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo terms "defaunation." (Claudia Paulussen/Shutterstock)

Elephants and other large animals face an increased risk of extinction in what Stanford Biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo terms “defaunation.” (Claudia Paulussen/Shutterstock)

appears to be the early days of the planet’s sixth mass biological extinction event.

Since 1500, more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates have become extinct. Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life.

And while previous extinctions have been driven by natural planetary transformations or catastrophic asteroid strikes, the current die-off can be associated to human activity, a situation that the lead author Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of biology at Stanford, designates an era of “Anthropocene defaunation.”

Across vertebrates, 16 to 33 percent of all species are estimated to be globally threatened or endangered. Large animals – described as megafauna and including elephants, rhinoceroses, polar bears and countless other species worldwide – face the highest rate of decline, a trend that matches previous extinction events.

Larger animals tend to have lower population growth rates and produce fewer offspring. They need larger habitat areas to maintain viable populations. Their size and meat mass make them easier and more attractive hunting targets for humans.

Although these species represent a relatively low percentage of the animals at risk, their loss would have trickle-down effects that could shake the stability of other species and, in some cases, even human health.

For instance, previous experiments conducted in Kenya have isolated patches of land from megafauna such as zebras, giraffes and elephants, and observed how an ecosystem reacts to the removal of its largest species. Rather quickly, these areas become overwhelmed with rodents. Grass and shrubs increase and the rate of soil compaction decreases. Seeds and shelter become more easily available, and the risk of predation drops.

Consequently, the number of rodents doubles – and so does the abundance of the disease-carrying ectoparasites that they harbor.

“Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission,” said Dirzo, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “Who would have thought that just defaunation would have all these dramatic consequences? But it can be a vicious circle.”

The scientists also detailed a troubling trend in invertebrate defaunation. Human population has doubled in the past 35 years; in the same period, the number of invertebrate animals – such as beetles, butterflies, spiders and worms – has decreased by 45 percent.

As with larger animals, the loss is driven primarily by loss of habitat and global climate disruption, and could have trickle-up effects in our everyday lives.

For instance, insects pollinate roughly 75 percent of the world’s food crops, an estimated 10 percent of the economic value of the world’s food supply. Insects also play a critical role in nutrient cycling and decomposing organic materials, which helps ensure ecosystem productivity. In the United States alone, the value of pest control by native predators is estimated at $4.5 billion annually.

Dirzo said that the solutions are complicated. Immediately reducing rates of habitat change and overexploitation would help, but these approaches need to be tailored to individual regions and situations. He said he hopes that raising awareness of the ongoing mass extinction – and not just of large, charismatic species – and its associated consequences will help spur change.

“We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that’s very important, but there’s a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well,” Dirzo said. “Ironically, we have long considered that defaunation is a cryptic phenomenon, but I think we will end up with a situation that is non-cryptic because of the increasingly obvious consequences to the planet and to human wellbeing.”

The coauthors on the report include Hillary S. Young, University of California, Santa Barbara; Mauro Galetti, Universidade Estadual Paulista in Brazil; Gerardo Ceballos, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; Nick J.B. Isaac, of the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in England; and Ben Collen, of University College London.

For more Stanford experts on ecology and other topics, visit Stanford Experts.

It hardly requires any imagination to realise that what we humans need in order to live, air, food, and clean water, is utterly dependant on us humans caring for the planet that sustains us.  It’s all too easy just to take for granted that we will always have air, food and clean water. Now go back and read that last sentence from Professor Dirzo. [my emphasis]

We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that’s very important, but there’s a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well. Ironically, we have long considered that defaunation is a cryptic phenomenon, but I think we will end up with a situation that is non-cryptic because of the increasingly obvious consequences to the planet and to human wellbeing.

The tracks we leave! H’mmm.

Let me move on in my journey.

Over on the EarthSky blogsite there was an item about the mysterious giant crater that appeared suddenly in Siberia.

Mystery crater in Yamal peninsula probably caused by methane release

Thawing permafrost likely allowed methane gas to be released, creating the large hole in permafrost found in northern Russia, says the Russian team that investigated it.

UPDATE July 31, 2014.

Stories are popping up fast in various media this afternoon about a likely source of a reported, mysterious hole in permafrost in the Yamal region of northern Russia. This hole was

The first mysterious crater spotted by helicopter in the Yamal region of northern Russia. Image via Nature.

The first mysterious crater spotted by helicopter in the Yamal region of northern Russia. Image via Nature.

spotted by a helicopter pilot in mid-July; reindeer herders reported a second hole some days later. Eric Holthaus of Slate said that there is now:

… new (and definitive) evidence … that the Siberian holes were created via methane released from warming permafrost.

The evidence has come via the journal Nature, which published a story on its website today (July 31) featuring the findings of Andrei Plekhanov, a senior researcher at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia, and his team. This is the team that was sent in to investigate the first hole shortly after it was found. Holthaus said:

That team measured methane concentrations up to 50,000 times standard levels inside the crater.

The story in Nature said:

Air near the bottom of the crater contained unusually high concentrations of methane — up to 9.6% — in tests conducted at the site on 16 July … Plekhanov, who led an expedition to the crater, says that air normally contains just 0.000179% methane …

Plekhanov and his team believe that it is linked to the abnormally hot Yamal summers of 2012 and 2013, which were warmer than usual by an average of about 5°C. As temperatures rose, the researchers suggest, permafrost thawed and collapsed, releasing methane that had been trapped in the icy ground.

Holthaus pointed out:

Last week, the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin interviewed a Russian scientist who had also visited the hole and came to similar conclusions.

This newly reported evidence, just coming to light today, seems particularly scary given the story earlier this week about what the University of Stockholm called “vast methane plumes” found by scientists aboard the icebreaker Oden, which is now exploring and measuring methane release from the floor of the Arctic Ocean.

Build-up and release of gas from thawing permafrost most probable explanation, says Russian team.

My last step in the journey about our interconnectedness involves water.

The Permaculture Research Institute published on the 31st July a Water Resources Fact Sheet. Here’s a taste (sorry!) of what was written:

Water scarcity may be the most underrated resource issue the world is facing today.

Water scarcity may be the most underrated resource issue the world is facing today.

Seventy percent of world water use is for irrigation.

Each day we drink nearly 4 liters of water, but it takes some 2,000 liters of water — 500 times as much — to produce the food we consume.

1,000 tons of water is used to produce 1 ton of grain.

Between 1950 and 2000, the world’s irrigated area tripled to roughly 700 million acres. After several decades of rapid increase, however, the growth has slowed dramatically, expanding only 9 percent from 2000 to 2009. Given that governments are much more likely to report increases than decreases, the recent net growth may be even smaller.

The dramatic loss of momentum in irrigation expansion coupled with the depletion of underground water resources suggests that peak water may now be on our doorstep.

Today some 18 countries, containing half the world’s people, are overpumping their aquifers. Among these are the big three grain producers — China, India, and the United States.

Saudi Arabia is the first country to publicly predict how aquifer depletion will reduce its grain harvest. It will soon be totally dependent on imports from the world market or overseas farming projects for its grain.

While falling water tables are largely hidden, rivers that run dry or are reduced to a trickle before reaching the sea are highly visible. Among this group that has limited outflow during at least part of the year are the Colorado, the major river in the southwestern United States; the Yellow, the largest river in northern China; the Nile, the lifeline of Egypt; the Indus, which supplies most of Pakistan’s irrigation water; and the Ganges in India’s densely populated Gangetic basin.

(The rest of this important article including the many useful links may be read here.)

Now, despite the despondent theme of the contents of this post, I am not beating a ‘doom and gloom’ drum. What I am trying to point out is that we are all interconnected.  Not just all of mankind but all conscious life.  Ergo, the destruction of natural habitats, the loss of every species, even the unwarranted killing of a wild animal is, in a very real and tangible way, the destruction of our habitat, the loss of our species and the unwarranted killing of future generations of homo sapiens.

It seems that whichever way we look the interconnectedness of all conscious life is staring us full in the face.  The utter madness of mankind’s group blindness is beyond comprehension.

It takes an ancient proverb from a people that lived in harmony with the planet to speak the truth. We ignore it at our peril.

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The Goon Show!

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Except this version isn’t funny!

I’m really showing my age and cultural upbringing through the choice of this title to today’s post.

For The Goon Show was an integral part of my ‘education’ during my formative years. Spike Milligan was an outstanding actor in The Goon Show, a comedy legend, along with Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe; not forgetting the narratives from Wallace Greenslade.

The Goon Show ran from 1951 to 1960 (I was born in 1944) broadcast by the BBC Home Service.

Spike Milligan after receiving his Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1992.

Spike Milligan after receiving his Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1992.

What’s this all leading up to?

Simply that a recent speech by George Monbiot reveals such utter madness in the upper echelons of the United Kingdom that only reflecting on The Goon Show offers any meaning to this old Brit. Not that the USA escapes Mr. Monbiot’s analysis.

Here’s how the speech opens:

The Pricing of Everything

Ladies and gentlemen, we are witnessing the death of both the theory and the practice of neoliberal capitalism. This is the doctrine which holds that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. It holds that people are best served, and their prosperity is best advanced, by the minimum of intervention and spending by the state. It contends that we can maximise the general social interest through the pursuit of self-interest.

To illustrate the spectacular crashing and burning of that doctrine, let me tell you the sad tale of a man called Matt Ridley. He was a columnist on the Daily Telegraph until he became – and I think this tells us something about the meritocratic pretensions of neoliberalism – the hereditary Chair of Northern Rock: a building society that became a bank. His father had been Chair of Northern Rock before him, which appears to have been his sole qualification.

While he was a columnist on the Telegraph he wrote the following:

The government “is a self-seeking flea on the backs of the more productive people of this world. … governments do not run countries, they parasitize them.”(1) He argued that taxes, bail-outs, regulations, subsidies, interventions of any kind are an unwarranted restraint on market freedom. When he became Chairman of Northern Rock, Mr Ridley was able to put some of these ideas into practice. You can see the results today on your bank statements.

In 2007 Matt Ridley had to go cap in hand to the self-seeking flea and beg it for what became £27 billion. This was rapidly followed by the first run on a British bank since 1878. The government had to guarantee all the deposits of the investors in the bank. Eventually it had to nationalise the bank, being the kind of parasitic self-seeking flea that it is, in order to prevent more or less the complete collapse of the banking system. (2)

You can read the full transcript and look up the references over on the George Monbiot website.

However, a real bonus is that his speech (delivered without notes!), his SPERI Annual Lecture, hosted by the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Sheffield, was recorded on video.

Please set aside a quiet hour (and a tad) to listen to George Monbiot and wonder at the goon show that we are all acting out!  In fact, watching his speech and his answers to a number of questions from the audience will give you something that the transcript just can’t convey.  Watch it!  You will be inspired!

(SPERI Annual Lecture by George Monbiot: “The Pricing of Everything” at the Octagon in Sheffield, UK, on 29th April 2014.)

Back to dear old Spike Milligan and to close with what seems like a very apt quote of his.

All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.

Integrity and democracy.

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“Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.”

Thus said Aristotle.

Here’s another quote from more recent times.

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

So said President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

oooo

Today’s post started as an ill-defined idea in my head following me reading a recent essay over on Patrice Ayme’s blog.  It was his (her?) post of the 17th July in which was written, “Representative democracy has to be destroyed as an ideal.” and later,

Meanwhile the French People would be well advised to search for a new form of government more appropriate to the modern world, and the increasing democracy we all dearly need.

One does not have to look very far for inspiration: the Confoederatio Helvetica next door, an independent, and central part of the Franks’ Francia, is enjoying a much more direct form of democracy.

that caused me to leave a comment,

I read a deeper malaise in your essay, Patrice, and that is the failure of ‘representative’ democracy in country after country around the world. In fact, it’s inspiring me to write a post over on LfD about the possibilities for truly democratic government.

that, in turn, was replied to by Patrice:

Please go ahead, Paul, and keep me informed! ;-)! And you are completely right. Representative democracy is actually oligarchic representation. Athenians had 80,000 citizens, and 80,000 legislators. France has about 1,000 times more citizens, and one half of a thousandth (1/2,000) fewer legislators. That makes the French democratic index half of a million times less than the Athenians!

Let me step back for a moment.

Over the life of this blog, I have touched on the vulnerability of human life on this planet more than once.  It’s not being at all smart to say that mankind is crapping on its own doorstep and our future is in severe doubt.  The reason I say it’s not smart is simply because millions of people almost certainly think that or something pretty damn close.

Maybe the huge divide between what ‘the man in the street’ knows makes common sense and the terrible lack of common sense shown by so many of our governments is at the root of the problem.  In other words, our representative democratic system isn’t working.

Here’s a letter from the pages of the Tampa Bay Times from just last Tuesday.

Tuesday’s letters: Our democratic system is at risk

There are thoughtful, informed people who are worried that our democratic system of government is not working and the whole enterprise is at risk. I think there is only one solution to the problem: to elect people who have demonstrated the ability to work cooperatively with others and solve problems.

It is foolish to think that the personalities of members of Congress change when they arrive in Washington. A worrisome number were fools, buffoons and rigidly ideological before they were elected, and there is no realistic possibility that anyone or anything can change their personalities after they are elected and while they are in office.

It is a crisis long in the making. Most students finish high school with little or no understanding of American history or the way their government works. There is no understanding of the idea of citizenship and the heavy responsibility imposed on citizens who live in a democratic republic. There has never been so much information so easily available that could allow people to make wise use of their votes. But without the perspective of education and a deep understanding that voting is everything in our system of government, it all may slip away.

Roger C. Benson, St. Petersburg

to elect people who have demonstrated the ability to work cooperatively with others and solve problems.

I wouldn’t argue at all with the wisdom in those words.  But I would add to it.

It’s my sense that many citizens in many countries feel that the whole business of government has got to large, too complicated, too remote and, frankly, has less to do with working “cooperatively with others and solve problems” than with feeding its own mouth.  Take voter turnout.

Graph of voter turnout percentage from 1824 to 2008.

Voter turnout in the USA; 1824 – 2008

Why such high levels of absenteeism; for want of a better description?

Let’s go back to the Athenians as Patrice mentioned.  Plenty on the web to read but this article caught my eye.

Athenian Democracy: a brief overview

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of February 28, 2003

· Summary ·

This article was originally written for the online discussion series “Athenian Law in its Democratic Context,” organized by Adriaan Lanni and sponsored by Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies. Its purpose is to introduce, very briefly, the institutions of the Athenian democracy during the late 5th century BCE through the end of the radical democracy in the late 4th century. This is a companion-piece to “The Development of Athenian Democracy,” also written for the CHS’s discussion series.

· Introduction ·

The city of Athens lived under a radically democratic government from 508 until 322 BCE. Before the earlier date there was democracy to be found here and there in the government of Athens, and democratic institutions survived long after the latter date, but for those 186 years the city of Athens was self-consciously and decidedly democratic, autonomous, aggressive, and prosperous. Democracy in Athens was not limited to giving citizens the right to vote. Athens was not a republic, nor were the People governed by a representative body of legislators. In a very real sense, the People governed themselves, debating and voting individually on issues great and small, from matters of war and peace to the proper qualifications for ferry-boat captains (for the latter, see Aeschin. 3.157).1 The Athenian democracy was not, of course, a free-for-all of mob rule. The Athenians understood the value of checks and balances and of enforcing time for reflection before acting. They understood that professionalism is necessary in certain jobs, that accountability was necessary of most jobs, and that some jobs required absolute job-security. The system evolved over time, suffered two complete breakdowns in the 5th century, and is certainly open to criticism at many points during its history. Nevertheless, it was coherent enough during those two centuries that we can describe it, in general terms, without being too far wrong on any point. And despite its moments of imprudence, injustice, and indecision, it was an experiment remarkable enough to deserve our attention.

The early history of Athenian Democracy and its development is the subject of another article in this series. This general description of how the Athenians governed themselves will focus on the 4th century BCE, both because the democracy was most fully developed during that time and because the majority of our evidence either comes from that period, or describes the the Athenian government during that period.

Now there’s much more to read here for those so interested but I want to highlight a section from the above.  This section:

In a very real sense, the People governed themselves, debating and voting individually on issues great and small, from matters of war and peace to the proper qualifications for ferry-boat captains. The Athenian democracy was not, of course, a free-for-all of mob rule. The Athenians understood the value of checks and balances and of enforcing time for reflection before acting. They understood that professionalism is necessary in certain jobs, that accountability was necessary of most jobs, and that some jobs required absolute job-security.

So from 322 BCE to 2014 AD!

A few days ago, Jeannie needed to change some details regarding her US Social Security payment.  We saw that it could be done online.  As one would expect, setting up online access for Jean meant jumping through a number of security hoops.  All more or less sorted in 20 minutes.

It was clear that it would be incredibly difficult for someone to fraudulently break into her online SSA account. Think of the millions who perfectly happily manage their bank accounts online.

Ergo, there are no technical issues why every single eligible voter in the USA (and many other countries) couldn’t move towards governing themselves in a direct manner just like the Athenians. Indeed, voting in the USA at times of Presidential elections is permitted. But all that is doing is participating in a system that isn’t delivering real democracy.

We need to govern ourselves: “debating and voting individually on issues great and small, from matters of war and peace to the proper qualifications for ferry-boat captains.” Because humanity is facing some issues that are very great indeed!

Or have I missed something bloody obvious?

oooo

I opened today’s post with two quotations.  I shall close by offering another two.

“If we don’t hang together, we most assuredly will hang separately.”

Benjamin Franklin advising the original continental congress of what became the United States of America.

“A key political question today is: Do you support the well-being of the Earth and the life that the Earth supports?

From a good friend and supporter of this blog who chooses to remain anonymous.  Who then added: “This question has spiritual, natural and rational implications which frame the debate in terms of human values greater than money.”

And another postscript!

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Further reflections on Tom’s essay Is Climate Change a Crime Against Humanity?

If you are new to this thread then drop in here to read the essay and here to read my postscript from last Monday.

This further postscript is founded on a recent email from Dan Gomez that included two stories that seemed relevant to the theme.  I’m going to reproduce the email as Dan sent it to me.

Idealism, Pragmatism, Irony and Hypocrisy

Two short stories attempting to explain why everyone should think twice about their leaders, their promises and their intent regarding climate change and money:

Story One

The guy who just made the big global warming/climate change announcement, President Obama, today [Dan's email was dated 7th July] flew into Los Angeles at around 5PM, rush hour. At a cost of $6M and unbelievable amounts of expended carbon matter, one B747 and two C-141 four-engined jets landed at LAX. LAX TCA [Terminal Control Area] was tied up for hours. And this is to say nothing of the traffic disruption caused by multiple street shut-downs as everyone headed home.

The C-141 delivered Marine One, Obama’s helicopter; a Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King. After assembly, Obama flew 12 miles to a hotel in Beverly Hills. This only cost several thousand dollars and just a bit more hydrocarbons.

Why did Obama come to LA? To raise Money. Really? Millions to raise a million?

At a Beverly Hills hotel, and after several SUVs, also flown in, dropped off the support team, Obama and his entourage delivered a dinner speech to many wealthy Hollywood types to raise money for the Democratic Party. Most expensive “donation” – $38,500 per plate. Just think, all this public money spent for a partisan political campaign revenue event.

This is the guy who the day before claimed that “climate change” and CO2 contributions were causing the destruction of the planet. In one event, over a couple of hours, he wasted millions of tax payer dollars and injected a shit load of carbon into the atmosphere to wine and dine a few very wealthy party donors.

Why the press does not point out this obvious hypocrisy, I’ll never know.

Why the public and climate idealists who live the dream cannot understand that their leaders are as greedy, corrupt and egocentric as any Wall Street Hedge Fund Manager, I’ll never know.

Anyway, this is the guy who everyone loves and ostensibly believes has the best interests of his constituency and the future of the world at heart. Right.

Story Two

Last week, Toyota announced it was vacating California for Texas after more than 50 years running its USA business from Torrance, CA. Taxes and local EPA regulations finally drove them out. Over the years, all of Toyota’s production lines were developed in other business friendly states. With HQ finally debouching, 3,000 good paying jobs are gone, mostly due to strict environmental regulatory laws harder and harder to comply with.

Now, Tesla, the new, tax-payer supported, alternative car company, who has declined to build any manufacturing plants in California is being aggressively wooed by Governor Brown. Brown wants Tesla’s battery technology to be manufactured here. Fits with his idealistic view of California’s future. Only thing is, Tesla wants no part of this due to the same issues that Toyota, a conventional auto builder, has stated. It’s too expensive in California with too many regulations and unknown future regulations. California’s predatory regulatory agencies are now “bending” all the rules to try to get them to come into California. Irony and hypocrisy, all rolled up in one.

Crazy world.

Dan.

Reminds me of the old saying, “There are lies, damn lies, and politicians!”

Irishman

It also reminds me of that wonderful Irish response to a young Englishman who was asking an elderly local how to get to Tipperary in Southern Ireland.  The old Irishman pulled at his grey beard for a while, looked the young man full in the face and said, “I’ve been thinkin’ about it and have to tell ‘ee, me young man, that if I were going to Tipperary, I wouldn’t been startin’  out from here!

So whatever the rights and wrongs of Dan’s two stories, core issues, as in deeper, more fundamental concerns, override them both.

More on the theme tomorrow.

Written by Paul Handover

July 9, 2014 at 00:00

Climate Change and Humanity: Postscript.

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A personal viewpoint after reading Tom’s essay Is Climate Change a Crime Against Humanity?

Last Thursday, July 3rd, I republished a post, what Tom calls a Tomgram, from TomDispatch comparing the USA’s attitude to the very small risk of a country exploding a weapon of mass destruction, WMD, over American soil to the 95% risk of the USA being harmed from the effects of climate change.  Here’s an extract from the central part of Tom’s essay:

So here’s a question I’d like any of you living in or visiting Wyoming to ask the former vice president, should you run into him in a state that’s notoriously thin on population: How would he feel about acting preventively, if instead of a 1% chance that some country with weapons of mass destruction might use them against us, there was at least a 95% — and likely as not a 100% — chance of them being set off on our soil? Let’s be conservative, since the question is being posed to a well-known neoconservative. Ask him whether he would be in favor of pursuing the 95% doctrine the way he was the 1% version.

After all, thanks to a grim report in 2013 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we know that there is now a 95% -100% likelihood that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming [of the planet] since the mid-20th century.” We know as well that the warming of the planet — thanks to the fossil fuel system we live by and the greenhouse gases it deposits in the atmosphere — is already doing real damage to our world and specifically to the United States, as a recent scientific report released by the White House made clear. We also know, with grimly reasonable certainty, what kinds of damage those 95% -100% odds are likely to translate into in the decades, and even centuries, to come if nothing changes radically: a temperature rise by century’s end that could exceed 10 degrees Fahrenheit, cascading species extinctions, staggeringly severe droughts across larger parts of the planet (as in the present long-term drought in the American West and Southwest), far more severe rainfall across other areas, more intense storms causing far greater damage, devastating heat waves on a scale no one in human history has ever experienced, masses of refugees, rising global food prices, and among other catastrophes on the human agenda, rising sea levels that will drown coastal areas of the planet.

Tom’s essays had many great links to background research papers and other supporting material.  The penultimate link was embedded (my italics) in this sentence: “In the case of a major exchange of such weapons, we would be talking about “the sixth extinction” of planetary history.”  That linked to the Amazon page describing the book, released earlier this year, of the same name written by Elizabeth Kolbert, as follows:

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Here’s an interview of Elizabeth Kolbert taken from the Democracy Now programme. It’s a tad under 20 minutes so easy to put aside a little of your time to watch it.

PLEASE DO!

Published on Feb 11, 2014
February 2014 on Democracy Now!

In the history of the planet, there have been five known mass extinction events. The last came 65 million years ago, when an asteroid about half the size of Manhattan collided with the Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs and bringing the Cretaceous period to an end. Scientists say we are now experiencing the sixth extinction, with up to 50 percent of all living species in danger of disappearing by the end of the century. But unlike previous extinctions, the direct cause this time is us — human-driven climate change. In “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” journalist Elizabeth Kolbert visits four continents to document the massive “die-offs” that came millions of years ago and those now unfolding before our eyes. Kolbert explores how human activity — fossil fuel consumption, ocean acidification, pollution, deforestation, forced migration — threatens life forms of all kinds. “It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion,” Kolbert writes. “The losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific and in the North Atlantic, in the Arctic and the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys.”

Elizabeth Kolbert, is well known for her reporting on global warming as a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, which led her to investigate climate species extinction. Her new book is The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. In 2006, she wrote Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.

Make no mistake, that short video interview doesn’t pull any punches.  Just as Kolbert’s book.  It is very tempting to want to hide, to close one’s ears and eyes and pretend it’s all a bad dream and, soon, we will awaken to a bright, new dawn.

(Now for something really lovely! It’s 1:40pm on Sunday, 6th)

I took a quick break to think about my next sentence.  I was looking for some words that would encourage us all to do something!  Because as John Hurlburt recently wrote: “Failure to act condemns us to death as a species of fools.

In that short break I saw that someone else had signed up to follow Learning from Dogs.  That person describes herself as Elsie Bowen-Dodoo.  Her blog is called BowenDiaries. On her About page, Elsie writes:

Elsie Bowen-Dodoo. Living life with a purpose. Persevering to inspire all races.

I write to inspire people hoping that they reading my articles and stuff will be touched to do something positive in their lives.

We really can all make this world a better place to live in.

Talent should not be wasted.

This is the picture on Elsie’s home page.

Positive inspiration!

Positive inspiration!

So here’s my take on where we, as in all mankind, are at.

  • We have to turn our backs on growth, greed and materialism.
  • Each of us must place caring for our planet our highest priority in life.
  • Each of us must be alive to making a positive difference.
  • Being true to what we know is right will set us free.
  • This will also create ripples of positive energy that will set others free.
  • That is the only sustainable way to go.

Let me close by returning to dogs.  After all this blog is called Learning from Dogs! By recognising, of course, that these are challenging times. As we are incessantly reminded by the drumbeat of the doom-and-gloom news industry every hour, frequently every half-hour, throughout the day. A symphony of negative energy.

Yet right next to us is a world of positive energy. The world of dogs. A canine world full of love and trust, playfulness and relaxation. A way of living that is both clear and straightforward; albeit far from being simple. As anyone will know who has seen the way dogs interact with each other and with us humans.

In other words, dogs offer endless examples of positive behaviours. The wonderful power of compassion for self, and others, and of loving joy. The way to live that we humans crave for. A life full of hope and positive energy that keeps the power of negativity at bay.

That is the only way forward!

Oliver, Cleo and Hazel playing together.

Oliver, Cleo and Hazel joyfully playing together.

Birds, castles and time immemorial.

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A wonderful reminder of a very ancient custom.

We recently watched a programme about Britain’s Castles and Palaces.  Part of the programme focussed on the long (and I mean ‘long’!) history of the Tower of London and the black ravens who watch over it.

The Tower of London is old! Very old.

An aerial view of the Tower of London

An aerial view of the Tower of London

As the website Britain Express explains:

Founded nearly a millennium ago, the Tower of London has been expanded upon over the centuries by many a king and queen. The first foundations were laid in 1078 and the castle has been constantly improved and extended.

The Tower of London is the oldest palace, fortress and prison in Europe. History has it that King Edward of England backed down on his promise to give the throne to William, Duke of Normandy and ended up giving the throne to Harold Godwinson, his English brother-in-law.

Foundations laid in 1078! 936 years ago!

Almost beyond imagination is the story, according to this BBC programme, that the ravens were known to be inhabiting this part of London even before those foundations were laid!

Defenders of the Realm!

Defenders of the Realm!

I’m delighted to see that a segment of that programme has found its way onto YouTube.

Legend says that the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress…

There are nine ravens at the Tower today (the required six plus a few spare!). Their lodgings are to be found next to the Wakefield Tower. These magnificent birds, large members of the genus Corvus, the crow family, respond only to the Ravenmaster and should not be approached too closely by anyone else!

Rather puts all the craziness of present times into perspective!

Climate Change and Humanity

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A powerful essay by Tom Engelhardt from his blogsite TomDispatch.

Regular readers of Learning from Dogs know that essays from TomDispatch often find their way onto these pages.  They are republished with the generous permission of Tom and I endeavour to select those essays that shine a new light on a current issue.   No less so than with today’s essay, first published over on TomDispatch on May 22nd, 2014.

Just a note before you start reading Tom’s very important essay.  That there are many links to papers, articles and other references throughout the essay.  (I know, they took me a couple of hours to set up!)  Could I recommend strongly that you ‘click’ on each link and make a note of the references you wish to read at a later time.  I shall be referring to some of them next week when I comment more generally on this fabulous essay.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt, Is Climate Change a Crime Against Humanity?

The 95% Doctrine

Climate Change as a Weapon of Mass Destruction 

By Tom Engelhardt

Who could forget? At the time, in the fall of 2002, there was such a drumbeat of “information” from top figures in the Bush administration about the secret Iraqi program to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and so endanger the United States. And who — other than a few suckers — could have doubted that Saddam Hussein was eventually going to get a nuclear weapon? The only question, as our vice president suggested on “Meet the Press,” was: Would it take one year or five? And he wasn’t alone in his fears, since there was plenty of proof of what was going on. For starters, there were those “specially designed aluminum tubes” that the Iraqi autocrat had ordered as components for centrifuges to enrich uranium in his thriving nuclear weapons program. Reporters Judith Miller and Michael Gordon hit the front page of the New York Times with that story on September 8, 2002.

Then there were those “mushroom clouds” that Condoleezza Rice, our national security advisor, was so publicly worried about — the ones destined to rise over American cities if we didn’t do something to stop Saddam. As she fretted in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer on that same September 8th, “[W]e don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” No, indeed, and nor, it turned out, did Congress!

And just in case you weren’t anxious enough about the looming Iraqi threat, there were those unmanned aerial vehicles — Saddam’s drones! — that could be armed with chemical or biological WMD from his arsenal and flown over America’s East Coast cities with unimaginable results. President George W. Bush went on TV to talk about them and congressional votes were changed in favor of war thanks to hair-raising secret administration briefings about them on Capitol Hill.

In the end, it turned out that Saddam had no weapons program, no nuclear bomb in the offing, no centrifuges for those aluminum pipes, no biological or chemical weapons caches, and no drone aircraft to deliver his nonexistent weapons of mass destruction (nor any ships capable of putting those nonexistent robotic planes in the vicinity of the U.S. coast). But what if he had? Who wanted to take that chance? Not Vice President Dick Cheney, certainly. Inside the Bush administration he propounded something that journalist Ron Suskind later dubbed the “one percent doctrine.” Its essence was this: if there was even a 1% chance of an attack on the United States, especially involving weapons of mass destruction, it must be dealt with as if it were a 95%-100% certainty.

Here’s the curious thing: if you look back on America’s apocalyptic fears of destruction during the first 14 years of this century, they largely involved three city-busting weapons that were fantasies of Washington’s fertile imperial imagination. There was that “bomb” of Saddam’s, which provided part of the pretext for a much-desired invasion of Iraq. There was the “bomb” of the mullahs, the Iranian fundamentalist regime that we’ve just loved to hate ever since they repaid us, in 1979, for the CIA’s overthrow of an elected government in 1953 and the installation of the Shah by taking the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tehran hostage. If you believed the news from Washington and Tel Aviv, the Iranians, too, were perilously close to producing a nuclear weapon or at least repeatedly on the verge of the verge of doing so. The production of that “Iranian bomb” has, for years, been a focus of American policy in the Middle East, the “brink” beyond which war has endlessly loomed. And yet there was and is no Iranian bomb, nor evidence that the Iranians were or are on the verge of producing one.

Finally, of course, there was al-Qaeda’s bomb, the “dirty bomb” that organization might somehow assemble, transport to the U.S., and set off in an American city, or the “loose nuke,” maybe from the Pakistani arsenal, with which it might do the same. This is the third fantasy bomb that has riveted American attention in these last years, even though there is less evidence for or likelihood of its imminent existence than of the Iraqi and Iranian ones.

To sum up, the strange thing about end-of-the-world-as-we’ve-known-it scenarios from Washington, post-9/11, is this: with a single exception, they involved only non-existent weapons of mass destruction. A fourth weapon — one that existed but played a more modest role in Washington’s fantasies — was North Korea’s perfectly real bomb, which in these years the North Koreans were incapable of delivering to American shores.

The “Good News” About Climate Change

In a world in which nuclear weapons remain a crucial coin of the realm when it comes to global power, none of these examples could quite be classified as 0% dangers. Saddam had once had a nuclear program, just not in 2002-2003, and also chemical weapons, which he used against Iranian troops in his 1980s war with their country (with the help of targeting information from the U.S. military) and against his own Kurdish population. The Iranians might (or might not) have been preparing their nuclear program for a possible weapons breakout capability, and al-Qaeda certainly would not have rejected a loose nuke, if one were available (though that organization’s ability to use it would still have been questionable).

In the meantime, the giant arsenals of WMD in existence, the American, Russian, Chinese, Israeli, Pakistani, and Indian ones that might actually have left a crippled or devastated planet behind, remained largely off the American radar screen. In the case of the Indian arsenal, the Bush administration actually lent an indirect hand to its expansion. So it was twenty-first-century typical when President Obama, trying to put Russia’s recent actions in the Ukraine in perspective, said, “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”

Once again, an American president was focused on a bomb that would raise a mushroom cloud over Manhattan. And which bomb, exactly, was that, Mr. President?

Of course, there was a weapon of mass destruction that could indeed do staggering damage to or someday simply drown New York City, Washington D.C., Miami, and other East coast cities. It had its own efficient delivery systems — no nonexistent drones or Islamic fanatics needed. And unlike the Iraqi, Iranian, or al-Qaeda bombs, it was guaranteed to be delivered to our shores unless preventive action was taken soon. No one needed to hunt for its secret facilities. It was a weapons system whose production plants sat in full view right here in the United States, as well as in Europe, China, and India, as well as in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, and other energy states.

So here’s a question I’d like any of you living in or visiting Wyoming to ask the former vice president, should you run into him in a state that’s notoriously thin on population: How would he feel about acting preventively, if instead of a 1% chance that some country with weapons of mass destruction might use them against us, there was at least a 95% — and likely as not a 100% — chance of them being set off on our soil? Let’s be conservative, since the question is being posed to a well-known neoconservative. Ask him whether he would be in favor of pursuing the 95% doctrine the way he was the 1% version.

After all, thanks to a grim report in 2013 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we know that there is now a 95%-100% likelihood that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming [of the planet] since the mid-20th century.” We know as well that the warming of the planet — thanks to the fossil fuel system we live by and the greenhouse gases it deposits in the atmosphere — is already doing real damage to our world and specifically to the United States, as a recent scientific report released by the White House made clear. We also know, with grimly reasonable certainty, what kinds of damage those 95%-100% odds are likely to translate into in the decades, and even centuries, to come if nothing changes radically: a temperature rise by century’s end that could exceed 10 degrees Fahrenheit, cascading species extinctions, staggeringly severe droughts across larger parts of the planet (as in the present long-term drought in the American West and Southwest), far more severe rainfall across other areas, more intense storms causing far greater damage, devastating heat waves on a scale no one in human history has ever experienced, masses of refugees, rising global food prices, and among other catastrophes on the human agenda, rising sea levels that will drown coastal areas of the planet.

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From two scientific studies just released, for example, comes the news that the West Antarctic ice sheet, one of the great ice accumulations on the planet, has now begun a process of melting and collapse that could, centuries from now, raise world sea levels by a nightmarish 10 to 13 feet. That mass of ice is, according to the lead authors of one of the studies, already in “irreversible retreat,” which means — no matter what acts are taken from now on — a future death sentence for some of the world’s great cities. (And that’s without even the melting of the Greenland ice shield, not to speak of the rest of the ice in Antarctica.)

All of this, of course, will happen mainly because we humans continue to burn fossil fuels at an unprecedented rate and so annually deposit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at record levels. In other words, we’re talking about weapons of mass destruction of a new kind. While some of their effects are already in play, the planetary destruction that nuclear weapons could cause almost instantaneously, or at least (given “nuclear winter” scenarios) within months, will, with climate change, take decades, if not centuries, to deliver its full, devastating planetary impact.

When we speak of WMD, we usually think of weapons — nuclear, biological, or chemical — that are delivered in a measurable moment in time. Consider climate change, then, a WMD on a particularly long fuse, already lit and there for any of us to see. Unlike the feared Iranian bomb or the Pakistani arsenal, you don’t need the CIA or the NSA to ferret such “weaponry” out. From oil wells to fracking structures, deep sea drilling rigs to platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, the machinery that produces this kind of WMD and ensures that it is continuously delivered to its planetary targets is in plain sight. Powerful as it may be, destructive as it will be, those who control it have faith that, being so long developing, it can remain in the open without panicking populations or calling any kind of destruction down on them.

The companies and energy states that produce such WMD remain remarkably open about what they’re doing. Generally speaking, they don’t hesitate to make public, or even boast about, their plans for the wholesale destruction of the planet, though of course they are never described that way. Nonetheless, if an Iraqi autocrat or Iranian mullahs spoke in similar fashion about producing nuclear weapons and how they were to be used, they would be toast.

Take ExxonMobil, one of the most profitable corporations in history. In early April, it released two reports that focused on how the company, as Bill McKibben has written, “planned to deal with the fact that [it] and other oil giants have many times more carbon in their collective reserves than scientists say we can safely burn.” He went on:

The company said that government restrictions that would force it to keep its [fossil fuel] reserves in the ground were ‘highly unlikely,’ and that they would not only dig them all up and burn them, but would continue to search for more gas and oil — a search that currently consumes about $100 million of its investors’ money every single day. ‘Based on this analysis, we are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become “stranded.”‘

In other words, Exxon plans to exploit whatever fossil fuel reserves it possesses to their fullest extent. Government leaders involved in supporting the production of such weapons of mass destruction and their use are often similarly open about it, even while also discussing steps to mitigate their destructive effects. Take the White House, for instance. Here was a statement President Obama proudly made in Oklahoma in March 2012 on his energy policy:

Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75% of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.

Similarly, on May 5th, just before the White House was to reveal that grim report on climate change in America, and with a Congress incapable of passing even the most rudimentary climate legislation aimed at making the country modestly more energy efficient, senior Obama adviser John Podesta appeared in the White House briefing room to brag about the administration’s “green” energy policy. “The United States,” he said, “is now the largest producer of natural gas in the world and the largest producer of gas and oil in the world. It’s projected that the United States will continue to be the largest producer of natural gas through 2030. For six straight months now, we’ve produced more oil here at home than we’ve imported from overseas. So that’s all a good-news story.”

Good news indeed, and from Vladmir Putin’s Russia, which just expanded its vast oil and gas holdings by a Maine-sized chunk of the Black Sea off Crimea, to Chinese “carbon bombs,” to Saudi Arabian production guarantees, similar “good-news stories” are similarly promoted. In essence, the creation of ever more greenhouse gases — of, that is, the engine of our future destruction — remains a “good news” story for ruling elites on planet Earth.

Weapons of Planetary Destruction

We know exactly what Dick Cheney — ready to go to war on a 1% possibility that some country might mean us harm — would answer, if asked about acting on the 95% doctrine. Who can doubt that his response would be similar to those of the giant energy companies, which have funded so much climate-change denialism and false science over the years? He would claim that the science simply isn’t “certain” enough (though “uncertainty” can, in fact, cut two ways), that before we commit vast sums to taking on the phenomenon, we need to know far more, and that, in any case, climate-change science is driven by a political agenda.

For Cheney & Co., it seemed obvious that acting on a 1% possibility was a sensible way to go in America’s “defense” and it’s no less gospel for them that acting on at least a 95% possibility isn’t. For the Republican Party as a whole, climate-change denial is by now nothing less than a litmus test of loyalty, and so even a 101% doctrine wouldn’t do when it comes to fossil fuels and this planet.

No point, of course, in blaming this on fossil fuels or even the carbon dioxide they give off when burned. These are no more weapons of mass destruction than are uranium-235 and plutonium-239. In this case, the weaponry is the production system that’s been set up to find, extract, sell at staggering profits, and burn those fossil fuels, and so create a greenhouse-gas planet. With climate change, there is no “Little Boy” or “Fat Man” equivalent, no simple weapon to focus on. In this sense, fracking is the weapons system, as is deep-sea drilling, as are those pipelines, and the gas stations, and the coal-fueled power plants, and the millions of cars filling global roads, and the accountants of the most profitable corporations in history.

All of it — everything that brings endless fossil fuels to market, makes those fuels eminently burnable, and helps suppress the development of non-fossil fuel alternatives — is the WMD. The CEOs of the planet’s giant energy corporations are the dangerous mullahs, the true fundamentalists, of planet Earth, since they are promoting a faith in fossil fuels which is guaranteed to lead us to some version of End Times.

Perhaps we need a new category of weapons with a new acronym to focus us on the nature of our present 95%-100% circumstances. Call them weapons of planetary destruction (WPD) or weapons of planetary harm (WPH). Only two weapons systems would clearly fit such categories. One would be nuclear weapons which, even in a localized war between Pakistan and India, could create some version of “nuclear winter” in which the planet was cut off from the sun by so much smoke and soot that it would grow colder fast, experience a massive loss of crops, of growing seasons, and of life. In the case of a major exchange of such weapons, we would be talking about “the sixth extinction” of planetary history.

Though on a different and harder to grasp time-scale, the burning of fossil fuels could end in a similar fashion — with a series of “irreversible” disasters that could essentially burn us and much other life off the Earth. This system of destruction on a planetary scale, facilitated by most of the ruling and corporate elites on the planet, is becoming (to bring into play another category not usually used in connection with climate change) the ultimate “crime against humanity” and, in fact, against most living things. It is becoming a “terracide.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (from which some of this essay has been adapted). He runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

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There are so many strong and fundamental points raised in this essay from Tom that I am going to return to them next week.  (Will give it a rest for July 4th!)

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