Prince William interviews Sir David at Davos 2019
I thought this sufficiently important to share with you.
Tomorrow back to our beloved dogs.
Prince William interviews Sir David at Davos 2019
I thought this sufficiently important to share with you.
Tomorrow back to our beloved dogs.
A difficult post!
I am going to publish a TomDispatch essay. Or rather, I am going to republish a piece written for Tom Engelhardt by Dahr Jamail. It doesn’t make for comfortable reading.
For a few days I agonised whether or not to republish it.
Then Tom wrote in an email to me: “Here’s what I think… or have, at least, thought these last 17 years… It’s better to plug on and do what you know should be done, say what you know should be said, no matter the state of the world, no matter whether anyone’s listening. That’s their problem, not ours. Better to do your best and hope that just one person notices and maybe just once that will be the person who makes all the difference.”
He is right.
Posted by Dahr Jamail, January 15, 2019.
Dahr Jamail, a TomDispatch regular, reported strikingly from Iraq in the years after the 2003 American invasion of that country. Since then, he’s refocused the skills he learned as a war reporter on covering a fossil-fuelized war against the planet (and humanity itself). It goes by the mild name of climate change or global warming and, while a Trump tirade about the border or just about anything else gets staggering attention, the true crisis this planet faces, the one that our children and grandchildren will have to grimly deal with, remains distinctly a secondary matter not just in the news but in American consciousness. Yes, opinions are slowly changing on the subject, but not nearly fast enough. Something about the time scale of this developing crisis — no less that it could, in the end, take out human civilization and so much else — makes it hard to absorb. It’s increasingly evident that we are already living on a climate-changed planet whose weather is grimly intensifying. If you doubt this, just ask the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, Houston, or Paradise (California, that is). Its most devastating consequences will, however, be left to a future that still seems remarkably hard to absorb in an era of the endless Trump Twitch and in a time when we’re becoming ever more oriented to the social media moment.
In 2013, as Dahr Jamail mentions in his piece today, he penned a dispatch for this website on climate change. In my introduction to it, I wrote, “Still, despite ever more powerful weather disruptions — what the news now likes to call ‘extreme weather’ events, including monster typhoons, hurricanes, and winter storms, wildfires, heat waves, drought, and global temperature records — disaster has still seemed far enough off. Despite a drumbeat of news about startling environmental changes — massive ice melts in Arctic waters, glaciers shrinking worldwide, the Greenland ice shield beginning to melt, as well as the growing acidification of ocean waters — none of this, not even Superstorm Sandy smashing into that iconic global capital, New York, and drowning part of its subway system, has broken through as a climate change 9/11. Not in the United States anyway. We’ve gone, that is, from no motion to slow motion to a kind of denial of motion.”
Sadly, with different and more severe examples of every one of the phenomena mentioned above — four of the years since have, for instance, set new heat highs — that paragraph could stand essentially unchanged. In those same years, however, Jamail did anything but stand still. He traveled the planet, producing a remarkable new book, The End of Ice, which is being published today. It holds within its pages the most dramatic (and well-reported) of stories about what both the present and future will mean for us in climate-change terms. If it were up to him, we would all feel the desperate immediacy of our situation as we face the single greatest crisis since that ancestor of ours, Lucy, walked the edge of a lake in Ethiopia so many millions of years ago. I only hope that the passion in his piece today (and in the book it describes) carries a few of us into the new world we now inhabit, whether we care to know about it or not. Tom
The Heat’s On Us
By Dahr Jamail
I’m standing atop Rush Hill on Alaska’s remote St. Paul Island. While only 665 feet high, it provides a 360-degree view of this tundra-covered, 13-mile-long, seven-mile-wide part of the Pribilof Islands. While the hood of my rain jacket flaps in the cold wind, I gaze in wonder at the silvery waters of the Bering Sea. The ever-present wind whips the surface into a chaos of whitecaps, scudding mist, and foam.
The ancient cinder cone I’m perched on reminds me that St. Paul, was, oh so long ago, one of the last places woolly mammoths could be found in North America. I’m here doing research for my book The End of Ice. And that, in turn, brings me back to the new reality in these far northern waters: as cold as they still are, human-caused climate disruption is warming them enough to threaten a possible collapse of the food web that sustains this island’s Unangan, its Aleut inhabitants, also known as “the people of the seal.” Given how deeply their culture is tied to a subsistence lifestyle coupled with the new reality that the numbers of fur seals, seabirds, and other marine life they hunt or fish are dwindling, how could this crisis not be affecting them?
While on St. Paul, I spoke with many tribal elders who told me stories about fewer fish and sea birds, harsher storms and warming temperatures, but what struck me most deeply were their accounts of plummeting fur seal populations. Seal mothers, they said, had to swim so much farther to find food for their pups that the babies were starving to death before they could make it back.
And the plight of those dramatically declining fur seals could well become the plight of the Unangan themselves, which in the decades to come, as climate turbulence increases, could very well become the plight of all of us.
Just before flying to St. Paul, I met with Bruce Wright in Anchorage, Alaska. He’s a senior scientist with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, has worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service, and was a section chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for 11 years. “We’re not going to stop this train wreck,” he assures me grimly. “We are not even trying to slow down the production of CO2 [carbon dioxide], and there is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere.”
While describing the warming, ever more acidic waters around Alaska and the harm being caused to the marine food web, he recalled a moment approximately 250 million years ago when the oceans underwent similar changes and the planet experienced mass extinction events “driven by ocean acidity. The Permian mass extinction where 90% of the species were wiped out, that is what we are looking at now.”
I wrap up the interview with a heavy heart, place my laptop in my satchel, put on my jacket, and shake his hand. Knowing I’m about to fly to St. Paul, Wright has one final thing to tell me as he walks me out: “The Pribilofs were the last place mammoths survived because there weren’t any people out there to hunt them. We’ve never experienced this, where we are headed. Maybe the islands will become a refuge for a population of humans.”
The Loss Upon Us
For at least two decades, I’ve found my solace in the mountains. I lived in Alaska from 1996 to 2006 and more than a year of my life has been spent climbing on the glaciers of Denali and other peaks in the Alaska Range. Yet that was a bittersweet time for me as the dramatic impacts of climate change were quickly becoming apparent, including quickly receding glaciers and warmer winter temperatures.
After years of war and then climate-change reporting, I regularly withdrew to the mountains to catch my breath. As I filled my lungs with alpine air, my heart would settle down and I could feel myself root back into the Earth.
Later, my book research would take me back onto Denali’s fast-shrinking glaciers and also to Glacier National Park in Montana. There I met Dr. Dan Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist and director of the Climate Change in Mountain Ecosystems Project. “This is an explosion,” he assured me, “a nuclear explosion of geologic change. This… exceeds the ability for normal adaptation. We’ve shoved it into overdrive and taken our hands off the wheel.” Despite its name, the park he studies is essentially guaranteed not to have any active glaciers by 2030, only 11 years from now.
My research also took me to the University of Miami, Coral Gables, where I met the chair of the Department of Geological Science, Harold Wanless, an expert in sea-level rise.
I asked him what he would say to people who think we still have time to mitigate the impacts of runaway climate change. “We can’t undo this,” he replied. “How are you going to cool down the ocean? We’re already there.”
As if to underscore the point, Wanless told me that, in the past, carbon dioxide had varied from roughly 180 to 280 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere as the Earth shifted from glacial to interglacial periods. Linked to this 100-ppm fluctuation was about a 100-foot change in sea level. “Every 100-ppm CO2 increase in the atmosphere gives us 100 feet of sea level rise,” he told me. “This happened when we went in and out of the Ice Age.”
As I knew, since the industrial revolution began, atmospheric CO2 has already increased from 280 to 410 ppm. “That’s 130 ppm in just the last 200 years,” I pointed out to him. “That’s 130 feet of sea level rise that’s already baked into Earth’s climate system.”
He looked at me and nodded grimly. I couldn’t help thinking of that as a nod goodbye to coastal cities from Miami to Shanghai.
In July 2017, I traveled to Camp 41 in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, part of a project founded four decades ago by Thomas Lovejoy, known to many as the “godfather of biodiversity.” While visiting him, I also met Vitek Jirinec, an ornithologist from the Czech Republic who had held 11 different wildlife positions from Alaska to Jamaica. In the process, he became all too well acquainted with the signs of biological collapse among the birds he was studying. He’d watched as some Amazon populations like that of the black-tailed leaftosser declined by 95%; he’d observed how mosquitoes in Hawaii were killing off native bird populations; he’d explored how saltwater intrusion into Alaska’s permafrost was changing bird habitats there.
His tone turned somber as we discussed his research and a note of anger slowly crept into his voice. “The problem of animal and plant populations left marooned within various fragments [of their habitat] under circumstances that are untenable for the long term has begun showing up all over the land surface of the planet. The familiar questions recur: How many mountain gorillas inhabit the forested slopes of the Virunga volcanoes, along the shared borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda? How many tigers live in the Sariska Tiger Reserve of northwestern India? How many are left? How long can they survive?”
As he continued, the anger in his voice became palpable, especially when he began discussing how “island biogeography” had come to the mainland and what was happening to animal populations marooned by human development on fragments of land in places like the Amazon. “How many grizzly bears occupy the North Cascades ecosystem, a discrete patch of mountain forest along the northern border of the state of Washington? Not enough. How many European brown bears are there in Italy’s Abruzzo National Park? Not enough. How many Florida panthers in Big Cypress Swamp? Not enough. How many Asiatic lions in the Forest of Gir? Not enough… The world is broken in pieces now.”
“A Terrifying 12 Years”
In October 2018, 15 months after Jirinec’s words brought me to tears in the Amazon, the world’s leading climate scientists authored a report for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning us that we have just a dozen years left to limit the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The gist of it is this: we’ve already warmed the planet one degree Celsius. If we fail to limit that warming process to 1.5 degrees, even a half-degree more than that will significantly worsen extreme heat, flooding, widespread droughts, and sea level increases, among other grim phenomena. The report has become a key talking point of political progressives in the U.S., who, likejournalist and activist Naomi Klein, are now speaking of “a terrifying 12 years” left in which to cut fossil fuel emissions.
There is, however, a problem with even this approach. It assumes that the scientific conclusions in the IPCC report are completely sound. It’s well known, however, that there’s been a political element built into the IPCC’s scientific process, based on the urge to get as many countries as possible on board the Paris climate agreement and other attempts to rein in climate change. To do that, such reports tend to use the lowest common denominatorin their projections, which makes their science overly conservative (that is, overly optimistic).
In addition, new data suggest that the possibility of political will coalescing across the planet to shift the global economy completely off fossil fuels in the reasonably near future is essentially a fantasy. And that’s even if we could remove enough of the hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 already in our overburdened atmosphere to make a difference (not to speak of the heat similarly already lodged in the oceans).
“It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5 degree Celsius target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that,” Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and a co-author of the IPCC report, told the Guardian just weeks before it was released. “While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.”
In fact, even best-case scenarios show us heading for at least a three-degree warming and, realistically speaking, we are undoubtedly on track for far worse than that by 2100, if not much sooner. Perhaps that’s why Shindell was so pessimistic.
For example, a study published in Nature magazine, also released in October, showed that over the last quarter-century, the oceans have absorbed 60% more heat annually than estimated in the 2014 IPCC report. The study underscored that the globe’s oceans have, in fact, already absorbed 93% of all the heat humans have added to the atmosphere, that the climate system’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is far higher than thought and that planetary warming is far more advanced than had previously been grasped.
To give you an idea of how much heat the oceans have absorbed: if that heat had instead gone into the atmosphere, the global temperature would be 97 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it is today. For those who think that there are still 12 years left to change things, the question posed by Wanless seems painfully apt: How do we remove all the heat that’s already been absorbed by the oceans?
Two weeks after that Nature article came out, a study in Scientific Reportswarned that the extinction of animal and plant species thanks to climate change could lead to a “domino effect” that might, in the end, annihilate life on the planet. It suggested that organisms will die out at increasingly rapid rates because they depend on other species that are also on their way out. It’s a process the study calls “co-extinction.” According to its authors, a five to six degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures might be enough to annihilate most of Earth’s living creatures.
To put this in perspective: just a two degree rise will leave dozens of the world’s coastal mega-cities flooded, thanks primarily to melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, as well as the thermal expansion of the oceans as they warm. There will be 32 times as many heat waves in India and nearly half a billion more people will suffer water scarcity. At three degrees, southern Europe will be in permanent drought and the area burned annually by wildfires in the U.S. will sextuple. These impacts, it’s worth noting, may already be baked into the system, even if every country that signed the Paris climate accord were to fully honor its commitments, which most of them arenot currently doing.
At four degrees, global grain yields could drop by half, most likely resulting in annual worldwide food crises (along with far more war, general conflict, and migration than at present).
The International Energy Agency has already shown that maintaining our current fossil-fueled economic system would virtually guarantee a six-degreerise in the Earth’s temperature before 2050. To add insult to injury, a 2017 analysis from oil giants BP and Shell indicated that they expected the planet to be five degrees warmer by mid-century.
In late 2013, I wrote a piece for TomDispatch titled “Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice?” Even then, it was already clear enough that we were indeed heading off that cliff. More than five years later, a sober reading of the latest climate change science indicates that we are now genuinely in free fall.
The question is no longer whether or not we are going to fail, but how are we going to comport ourselves in the era of failure?
Listening While Saying Goodbye
It’s been estimated that between 150 and 200 plant, insect, bird, and mammal species are already going extinct every day. In other words, during the two and a half years I worked on my book 136,800 species may have gone extinct.
We have a finite amount of time left to coexist with significant parts of the biosphere, including glaciers, coral, and thousands of species of plants, animals, and insects. We’re going to have to learn how to say goodbye to them, part of which should involve doing everything we humanly can to save whatever is left, even knowing that the odds are stacked against us.
For me, my goodbyes will involve spending as much time as I can on the glaciers in Washington State’s Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park near where I live, or far more modestly taking in the trees around my home on a daily basis. It’s unclear, after all, how much longer such forest areas are likely to remain fully intact. I often visit a small natural altar I’ve created amid a circle of cedar trees growing around a decomposing mother tree. In this magical spot, I grieve and express my gratitude for the life that is still here. I also go to listen.
Where do you go to listen? And what are you hearing?
For me, these days, it all begins and ends with doing my best to listen to the Earth, with trying my hardest to understand how best to serve, how to devote myself to doing everything possible for the planet, no matter the increasingly bleak prognosis for this time in human history.
Perhaps if we listen deeply enough and regularly enough, we ourselves will become the song this planet needs to hear.
Dahr Jamail, a TomDispatch regular, is a recipient of numerous honors, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism for his work in Iraq and the Izzy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Media in 2018. His newest book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (The New Press), has just been published. He is also the author of Beyond the Green Zone and The Will to Resist. He is a staff reporter for Truthout.
[Note: This piece was co-published with Truthout.org.]
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.
Copyright 2019 Dahr Jamail
How do you feel upon reading this?
Sad? Angry? Resigned? Hopeful?
I’m still too close to it to gauge my own reactions. So I will close with this:
TomDispatch author and naturalist William DeBuys has this to say about it: “In a sane world The End of Ice would be the end of lame excuses that climate change is too abstract to get worked up about. From the Arctic to the Amazon, from doomed Miami to the Great Barrier Reef, Dahr Jamail brings every frontier in our ongoing calamity into close focus. The losses are tangible. And so is the grief. This is more than a good book. It is a wise one.”
Dogs eating insects and helping climate change.
I had to look twice at this but it wasn’t April 1st and it appeared to be a serious article. It’s from the BBC website.
Will say no more. You have a read of it.
By Roger Harrabin, BBC environment analyst
10th January, 2019
Do you fret that your pet pooch is blamed by environmentalists for turning rainforests into poo in the park?
Have no fear – you can now fatten Fido on black soldier flies instead of Brazilian beef.
A pet food manufacturer now claims that 40% of its new product is made from soldier flies.
It’s one of many firms hoping to cash in on the backlash against beef by people concerned that the cattle are fed on soya.
These soya plantations are responsible for the release of greenhouse gases in significant quantities.
Is it good for the dog?
The key question is whether a diet of 40% soldier flies meets the nutritional needs of your beloved canine.
We put the question to a pet diet expert at the Royal Veterinary College, Aarti Kathrani. Her conclusion was a cautious “yes”.
“Insects can be a very useful source of protein,” she told us. “More studies are needed to show how much of these nutrients can actually be absorbed by a dog’s body – but some studies suggest that insects can provide nutrients for dogs.”
Does it help the climate if dogs eat flies?
At first sight it seems obvious that feeding your dog meaty food is bad for the environment. The link between humans eating meat and the allied emissions of CO2 and methane is well established – and pets are estimated to eat 20% of global meat.
It’s also true that flies produce protein much more efficiently than cows – using a small percentage of the water and land.
But actually the analysis is more subtle than that – because as societies become more wealthy, people often turn to muscle meat and reject the animal’s offal.
That offal is just as nutritious – and it gets made into pet food. That means that dog food is just as sustainable – or unsustainable – as humans eating meat.
In fact, if dogs were weaned off meat and on to insects, the industry would have to find another purpose for the offal. More sausage, perhaps? Or more humans eating insect protein. Or more going vegan?
Could cat food be made out of insects, too?
Dogs are omnivores – they eat more or less anything. Cats are much more choosy, because they can’t make an essential amino acid, taurine. They find it instead in meat and fish.
But Dr Kathrani says studies show that insects do contain taurine, so it’s possible that insects could also form a useful part of the moggie diet.
The new product is from Yora, a UK start-up. The insect grubs are fed on food waste in the Netherlands.
There are several competitors which also produce pet food incorporating fly protein. They include Insectdog, Entomapetfood, Chippin and Wilderharrier.
Now I have heard of some strange things but in essence this does make very good sense.
Times they are a changing!
I am speaking of the summer months and the risk of animals being burnt. Mind you, as the following article shows, summer is stretching it a bit. This article was published on December 10th!
But whenever it was published it’s a good news story.
By JACQUELINE GULLEDGE December 10, 2018.
Just this past month, California suffered its worst wildfire in the state’s history. Camp Fire in Paradise, California burned 220 acres and claimed the lives of 85 people. The vast majority of residents had little-to-no warning to evacuate, and many pets were left behind and left to fend for themselves along with the wildilfe.
Several dogs and cats burned in the fire ended up at Valley Oak Veterinary Center in Chico. When Dr. Jamie Peyton, chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, heard about the animals, she volunteered to treat them with the innovative method of using tilapia skin on their burns. (This is the first time dogs and cats have been treated with tilapia skin for burns.) The kitten pictured above suffered third degree burns on some of his paws and lost the pads to all his feet.
“Their paws have been badly burned,” said Dusty Spencer, a veterinary surgeon at VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center. “Their whiskers are singed or gone. Some of them have had really bad burns on their eyelids and nose.”
An 8-year-old Boston terrier mix named Olivia was one of the first dogs to receive treatment.
Olivia’s owners, Curtis and Mindy Stark, were out of town when the blaze began. Fortunately, Olivia has a microchip and was reunited with her owners. She suffered second-degree burns to her paws, legs and side, but it wasn’t long till she was feeling better thanks to the tilapia skin.
“It was a day and night difference,” said Curtis Stark. “She got up on the bed and did a back flip. That is the first time we saw her acting like she was before.”
Treatment also works for the most severe burns
Pets weren’t the only animals to suffer during the wildfire. Many wild animals desperately tried to flee but couldn’t.
A bobcat was also brought in for treatment. Peyton tells MNN the bobcat suffered third- to fifth-degree burns on his paws. A fifth-degree burn means the burn goes down to the bone. The animal was very thin due to his inability to hunt for food and lack of food sources after the fire. In the week since the bobcat received his first treatment, he has had three tilapia bandage changes. “Each one seems to be showing marked improvement and he is moving well and showing a lot of spunk at his rehabilitation home,” said Peyton.
It will be several months before the bobcat can be released back in the wild, but Peyton’s goal is to “help him heal as soon as possible to allow him to get back to his home.”
Previously, Peyton treated a bear cub injured in California’s Carr Fire back in August and before that two bears and a mountain lion from the Thomas Fire earlier this year.
Previous success for other injured wildlife
This summer, the Carr Fire near Redding, California burned for more than a month and scorched more than 229,000 acres — also forcing many wild animals to try and escape.
On Aug. 2, a Pacific Gas & Electric Company contractor spotted an injured black bear cub lying in the ash, unable to walk on her paws. She was the latest victim of the Carr Fire — and luckily, one the contractor knew he could help. The contractor called Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, a certified wildlife rehabilitation facility.
A team was quickly mobilized to rescue the cub. Officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) cleared a safe path and tranquilized the cub to carry her to safety. The cub was brought to a lab to be treated by a team of veterinarians from CDFW and the University of California, Davis.
“Generally speaking, an animal that has survived a fire and is walking around on its own should be left alone, but that wasn’t the case here,” CDFW’s Environmental Program Manager Jeff Stoddard said. “In addition to her inability to stand or walk, there were active fires burning nearby, and with the burn area exceeding 125 square miles and growing, we weren’t sure there was any suitable habitat nearby to take her to.”
How does tilapia skin work for treating burns?
“The tilapia skins provide direct, steady pressure to the wounds, keep bacteria out and stay on better and longer than any kind of regular, synthetic bandage would,” Peyton said. “The complete treatment also includes application of antibiotics and pain salve, laser treatments and acupuncture for pain management.”
The cub is the third bear in the state to be treated for burns with tilapia skin. Earlier this year after the Thomas fire, two bears and a mountain lion also received similar treatment. With each animal being treated, Peyton and her team grow more optimistic that tilapia skin is an effective treatment for burns that can be used in veterinary hospitals around the world.
“Just like we’ve seen in other species, we’re seeing increased pain relief. We’re seeing wound healing and an overall increased comfort,” said Peyton. “One of the most important things about being at UC Davis VMTH is that we are learning new techniques, but they don’t make much of a difference unless we can use them in the community.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in August 2018.
Reading this article leaves me with the impression that there are a great number of good people out there!
Good people, this is mid-Winter.
(Northern Hemisphere only.)
OK, not in the sense of weather because the worse is yet to come I’m sure. But in terms of the movement of the Planet Earth in its orbit around the Sun. And that’s what matters!
This is a really ancient moment as the following article published in The Conversation explains in much more detail.
December 13th, 2018.
On the day of winter solstice, many Native American communities will hold religious ceremonies or community events.
The winter solstice is the day of the year when the Northern Hemisphere has the fewest hours of sunlight and the Southern Hemisphere has the most. For indigenous peoples, it has been a time to honor their ancient sun deity. They passed their knowledge down to successive generations through complex stories and ritual practices.
As a scholar of the environmental and Native American religion, I believe, there is much to learn from ancient religious practices.
One such place was at Cahokia, near the Mississippi River in what is now Illinois across from St. Louis.
In Cahokia, indigenous people built numerous temple pyramids or mounds, similar to the structures built by the Aztecs in Mexico, over a thousand years ago. Among their constructions, what most stands out is an intriguing structure made up of wooden posts arranged in a circle, known today as “Woodhenge.”
To understand the purpose of Woodhenge, scientists watched the sun rise from this structure on winter solstice. What they found was telling: The sun aligned with both Woodhenge and the top of a temple mound – a temple built on top of a pyramid with a flat top – in the distance. They also found that the sun aligns with a different temple mound on summer solstice.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the people of Cahokia venerated the sun as a deity. Scholars believe that ancient indigenous societies observed the solar system carefully and wove that knowledge into their architecture.
Scientists have speculated that the Cahokia held rituals to honor the sun as a giver of life and for the new agricultural year.
Zuni Pueblo is a contemporary example of indigenous people with an agricultural society in western New Mexico. They grow corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and more. Each year they hold annual harvest festivals and numerous religious ceremonies, including at the winter solstice.
At the time of the winter solstice they hold a multiday celebration, known as the Shalako festival. The days for the celebration are selected by the religious leaders. The Zuni are intensely private, and most events are not for public viewing.
But what is shared with the public is near the end of the ceremony, when six Zuni men dress up and embody the spirit of giant bird deities. These men carry the Zuni prayers for rain “to all the corners of the earth.” The Zuni deities are believed to provide “blessings” and “balance” for the coming seasons and agricultural year.
As religion scholar Tisa Wenger writes, “The Zuni believe their ceremonies are necessary not just for the well-being of the tribe but for “the entire world.”
Not all indigenous peoples ritualized the winter solstice with a ceremony. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t find other ways to celebrate.
The Blackfeet tribe in Montana, where I am a member, historically kept a calendar of astronomical events. They marked the time of the winter solstice and the “return” of the sun or “Naatosi” on its annual journey. They also faced their tipis – or portable conical tents – east toward the rising sun.
They rarely held large religious gatherings in the winter. Instead the Blackfeet viewed the time of the winter solstice as a time for games and community dances. As a child, my grandmother enjoyed attending community dances at the time of the winter solstice. She remembered that each community held their own gatherings, with unique drumming, singing and dance styles.
Later, in my own research, I learned that the Blackfeet moved their dances and ceremonies during the early reservation years from times on their religious calendar to times acceptable to the U.S. government. The dances held at the time of the solstice were moved to Christmas Day or to New Year’s Eve.
The solstice. Divad, from Wikimedia Commons
Today, my family still spends the darkest days of winter playing card games and attending the local community dances, much like my grandmother did.
Although some winter solstice traditions have changed over time, they are still a reminder of indigenous peoples understanding of the intricate workings of the solar system. Or as the Zuni Pueblo’s rituals for all peoples of the earth demonstrate – of an ancient understanding of the interconnectedness of the world.
Let me pick up on the last sentence: “Or as the Zuni Pueblo’s rituals for all peoples of the earth demonstrate – of an ancient understanding of the interconnectedness of the world.”
We are all of us interconnected across the world. We have been for a very long time.
The importance of understanding this, truly understanding this, is critical to our future.
Back to dogs!
After yesterday’s giant essay I return to something to do with dogs. Albeit, a subject that is in the range of controversial – seasonal affective disorder. As published by Mother Nature Network.
Winter can be as hard on pets as it is on people.
SIDNEY STEVENS, November 12, 2018
During the shorter, darker days of winter many of us turn lethargic and gloomy. But seasonal affective disorder (SAD) isn’t just a human affliction. The animals we share our lives with may also suffer from something akin to the “winter blues.”
Here’s what experts know about SAD in pets and what you can do to alleviate it. (Hint: Some of the same things that counteract seasonal depression in people also work for our four-legged companions.)
Starting in fall as the days get shorter and sunlight levels decline, many people notice their mood begins to dip. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD isn’t just a weather-related funk, but a type of depression that fluctuates with the seasons and causes unpleasant symptoms like sluggishness, increased appetite, depression, social withdrawal and even suicidal thoughts in the most severe cases. It’s believed that lower light levels prompt a decline in the feel-good brain hormone serotonin and boost the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
No surprise then that pets, with their similar brain chemistry, may also suffer from the same kind of seasonal hormonal havoc.
Not a lot of research has been done on pets, but a survey by a veterinary charity in the U.K. called the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) found that one in three dog owners noticed their pooch seemed down during the winter months. Symptoms ranged from aggressive behavior, inappropriate soiling and less interest in going for walks to lethargy, demand for more attention and increased sleep.
Cats also apparently get the winter blues. One-third of cat owners in the same survey said their felines seemed glum in the winter and about one-quarter said their pet ate more.
Is it real?
There’s plenty of evidence that animals suffer from physical afflictions related to seasonal sun deprivation. One is called light responsive alopecia (fur loss that occurs in certain dog breeds during the winter months). But there’s not yet any hard science on whether pets actually experience SAD. Remember, the U.K. study was subjective, based on pet owners’ perceptions rather than rigorous research.
One alternate explanation for SAD-like symptoms in cats and dogs is that they’re picking up on the blue moods of their owners. Studies show that dogs, in particular, recognize human emotions and respond to them.
Or perhaps pets are merely bored during the winter months when they can’t get outside as much. Lack of physical and mental stimulation may push them into listlessness.
Remedies for winter doldrums
Whether pets are prone to SAD like humans are or they slip into a seasonal slump for other reasons, there are ways to keep their spirits high during the chilly season. In fact, the same fixes that help people beat winter depression might also help their animal companions maintain a brighter mood. Here are some simple things you and your pet can try together.
More indoor light. Open your curtains and shades during the day to let in natural light. Position your pet’s bed near a sunny window and be sure to hang out there, too. Also consider light therapy that mimics sunlight. Buy a full-spectrum light box that covers the electromagnetic spectrum from infrared to near-ultraviolet and plant yourself and your pet in front of it for 30 to 60 minutes a day.
Spend quality indoor time together. Engage your pet more when you’re inside during the winter months with new toys, extra play and increased cuddle time. Multitask by enjoying these activities in front of the light box.
Enjoy the outdoors. Take advantage of mood-boosting sunny days by letting your pet go outside during peak daylight hours. Better yet, join in for a romp in the yard or a walk in the park (cats can be leash trained). Outdoor time has the added advantage of allowing pets (and you) to exercise, take in stimulating neighborhood sights and socialize with other people and animals. All are known blues busters.
Whether or not pets suffer from this disorder isn’t really known, “Whether pets are prone to SAD like humans are or they slip into a seasonal slump for other reasons, ” the fact remains that the winter months for some dogs do have the cause to provide a slump. Whether you have one pets or quite a few, keep a close watch of them and love them through and through.
The view of Alfred McCoy
Despite Tom Engelhardt giving me permission years ago to republish his essays I rarely go down that path. Not because many of his essays aren’t deeply interesting but because he doesn’t to the best of my knowledge write about dogs!
However, a recent TomDispatch was sufficiently concerning that I am republishing it for you.
It’s quite a long article.
Whether you realize it or not, we are in a new age of imperial geopolitics on a grand — and potentially disastrous — scale. TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy, author of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, lays out devastatingly just what that is likely to mean in the age of Donald Trump. And once you’ve read his piece on a century-plus of geopolitical thinkers who helped reorganize this planet in genuinely discordant ways, perhaps you’ll feel it’s time for us to imagine a new kind of geopolitics, one that finally addresses the disaster of empire and the ways in which such geopolitical thinking now intersects with another kind of disaster: climate change. For catastrophic as the previous versions of geopolitics may have been, just wait until such imperial and national follies, including the drive of China and India to build new coal plants galore, meet global warming. By this century’s end, that phenomenon may leave significant parts of the planet facing six nightmarish crises at once, ranging from mega-droughts and mega-fires to rising sea levels and catastrophic flooding. Or what about the possibility that intense heat waves (sparked in part by the massive burning of coal) will, later in this century, make the north China plain, now the most heavily populated part of that country, uninhabitable and do the same for parts of northern India and South Asia? Or what about the recent estimate in a congressionally mandated report on climate change (carefully released by the Trump administration on Black Friday in an attempt to bury it) that this country will also be deeply affected, as, for instance, wildfires of the kind that just devastated parts of California will triple, and the U.S. economy will be downsized by 10% or more by 2100?
We are now on a planet guaranteed, barring a miracle of coordinated human action, to find itself in a set of geo-ruins of an unprecedented sort by 2100, ruins that will remain so on a time scale anything but historical or in any way human. With that in mind, consider McCoy’s account of the “architects of imperial disaster” who got us to just this spot and to an American president whose goal in life is to do everything humanly possible to pump more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Tom
Trump’s Trade Czar, The Latest Architect of Imperial Disaster
Five Academics Who Unleashed the “Demon” of Geopolitical Power
By Alfred W. McCoy
As Washington’s leadership fades more quickly than anyone could have imagined and a new global order struggles to take shape, a generation of leaders has crowded onto the world stage with their own bold geopolitical visions for winning international influence. Xi Xinping has launched his trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative” to dominate Eurasia and thereby the world beyond. To recover the Soviet Union’s lost influence, Vladimir Putin seeks to shatter the Western alliance with cyberwar, while threatening to dominate a nationalizing, fragmenting Eastern Europe through raw military power. The Trump White House, in turn, is wielding tariffs as weapons to try to beat recalcitrant allies back into line and cripple the planet’s rising power, China. However bizarrely different these approaches may seem, they all share one strikingly similar feature: a reliance on the concept of “geopolitics” to guide their bids for global power.
Over the past century, countless scholars, columnists, and commentators have employed the term “geopolitics” (or the study of global control) to lend gravitas to their arguments. Few, though, have grasped the true significance of this elusive concept. However else the term might be used, geopolitics is essentially a methodology for the management (or mismanagement) of empire. Unlike conventional nations whose peoples are, in normal times, readily and efficiently mobilized for self-defense, empires, thanks to their global reach, are a surprisingly fragile form of government. They seem to yearn for strategic visionaries who can merge land, peoples, and resources into a sustainable global system.
The practice of geopolitics, even if once conducted from horseback, is as old as empire itself, dating back some 4,000 years. Until the dawn of the twentieth century, it was the conquerors themselves — from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte — whose geopolitical visions guided the relentless expansion of their imperial domains. The ancient Greek historian Plutarch tried to capture (or perhaps exaggerate) the enormity of Caesar’s conquest of Gaul — a territory that comprises all of modern France and Belgium — by enumerating the nine years of war that “took by storm more than eight hundred cities, subdued three hundred tribes, and fought pitched battles… with three million men, of whom he slew one million… and took as many more prisoners.”
In his own account, however, Caesar reduced all of this to its geopolitical essentials. “All Gaul is divided into three parts,” he wrote in that famous first sentence of his Gallic Wars. “Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because… they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war; for which reason the Helvetii also surpass the rest of the Gauls in valor, as they contend with the Germans in almost daily battles.” When those formidable Helvetii marched out of their Alpine cantons to occupy Gallic lowlands in 58 BC, Caesar deployed geopolitics to defeat them — seizing strategic terrain, controlling their grain supplies, and manipulating rival tribes. Instead of enslaving the vanquished Helvetii as other Roman generals might have, Caesar, mindful of the empire’s geopolitical balance, returned them to their homelands with generous provisions, lest the German “barbarians” cross the Rhine and destabilize Gaul’s natural frontier.
In more modern times, imperial expansion has been guided by professional scholars who have made the formal study of geopolitics a hybrid field of some significance. Its intellectual lineage is actually remarkably straightforward. At the end of the nineteenth century, an American naval historian argued that seapower was the key to national security and international influence. A decade later, a British geographer observed that railroads had shifted the locus of global power landward into the interior of the vast Eurasian continent. In the succeeding century, a succession of scholars would draw on these two basic ideas to inspire bold geopolitical gambits by Nazi Germany, Cold War Washington, post-Soviet Russia, and even Donald Trump’s White House.
There is, in fact, a common thread in those disparate scholarly lives: in each case, the study of geopolitics seemed to change the trajectory of their careers, lifting them from the margins of society to the right hand of power. There, at moments when the empire they lived in was experiencing a crisis, their unconventional, even eccentric, ideas won influence — often in what would prove in the long term a nightmarish fashion.
Over the last century or so, while the actual application of such thinking regularly proved problematic at best and genuinely horrific at worst, geopolitics would remain a seductive concept with a persistent power to entice would-be practitioners. It would also prove an enormously elusive style of thinking, making it difficult to distinguish between the banal and the brilliant, between the imperially helpful and the imperially devastating.
Charting the interplay of land, people, and resources inside any empire, much less in a clash between such behemoths, is impossibly difficult. Admittedly, geopolitics in the hands of a grandmaster has, in the past, led to the crushing of armies and the conquest of continents. But seemingly similar strategies have also produced searing defeat and disaster. Caesar’s deft geopolitical balancing of Gaul and Germany on the fulcrum of the Rhine survived for some four centuries; Napoleon’s similar attempt lasted all of seven years.
Telling the difference, in the historical moment, is a daunting task and one that hasn’t turned out well in the last century. With that in mind, let’s now approach the careers of five modern “grandmasters” of geopolitics with an appropriate skepticism.
America’s Strategic Visionary
In 1890, as the industrial boom of the Gilded Age prepared the nation for a debut on the world stage, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, arguably America’s only original strategic thinker, published his famed Influence of Seapower Upon History. In it, he argued that naval power was the determining factor in the fate of nations. Born at West Point, where his father taught military tactics to Army cadets, Mahan came to the study of strategy almost by birthright. After graduating from the Naval Academy and having an indifferent career at sea, he became the head of the Naval War College in 1886. There, he developed novel geopolitical ideas that would revive a stalled career.
By analyzing sea power through a wide range of factors, including the defensibility of ports, national technological prowess, and the nature of good government, Mahan would produce the first serious study of geopolitics in the guise of a guide to naval strategy. In the process, he became an international celebrity, influencing admirals from London to Tokyo and inspiring leaders worldwide to join a naval arms race that would drain their treasuries to build costly battleships. The admiral who headed Germany’s navy, for instance, distributed 8,000 copies of Mahan’s history in translation and in the process won passage of the country’s first naval bill in 1898, funding his fateful challenge to British sea power.
As Europe’s empires continued to spread globally in the 1890s, Mahan’s prolific prose persuaded Washington that national defense required the creation of a genuine blue-water navy and bases in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. So important were such bases for the nation’s defense that, as Mahan gravely concluded, “No European state should henceforth acquire a coaling position within three thousand miles of San Francisco” — a distance that encompassed the Hawaiian Islands, soon to become U.S. possessions.
Like many advocates of geopolitics to come, Mahan would use seemingly precise strategic concepts to project his country’s current position into a murky future. As his geopolitical principles took physical form after 1898, they would produce an indefensible string of bases stretching across the Pacific from Panama to the Philippines.
Following his doctrine, the Navy ordered Admiral George Dewey’s squadron to seize Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War of 1898, which he did by sinking the Spanish fleet. Within five years, however, Japan’s stunning victory over the Russian fleet in the Sea of Japan forced Washington to withdraw much of its navy from the Western Pacific. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt began building a new Pacific bastion at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, not in Manila Bay, saying that the Philippines, by then an American colony, is “our heel of Achilles.” Making matters worse, the Versailles peace settlement at the end of World War I conceded the Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific to Japan, allowing its navy to block the sea-lanes from Pearl Harbor to Manila Bay — a geopolitical reality that would doom General Douglas MacArthur’s Philippine command to a searing defeat at the start of World War II.
At that war’s end, however, Washington finally resolved this geopolitical conundrum by conquering Japan and building a chain of more than 100 bases from that country to the Philippines, making the Pacific littoral the strategic fulcrum for the defense of one continent (North America) and dominion over another (Eurasia).
Sir Halford Propagates Geopolitics
Little more than a decade after Mahan wrote his influential studies of seapower, Sir Halford Mackinder, head of the London School of Economics (LSE), published a seminal article that shifted the focus of geopolitics from sea to land. Writing in 1904, as the 5,700 miles of the Trans-Siberian Railway was still being built from Moscow to Vladivostok, Mackinder argued that future rail lines would knit Eurasia into a unitary landmass that he dubbed “the world island.” When that day came, Russia, perhaps in alliance with another land power like Germany, could control Eurasia’s sprawling “heartland,” allowing “the use of vast continental resources for fleet-building, and the empire of the world would be in sight.”
This path-breaking analysis came at a fortuitous time in Mackinder’s academic career. After teaching geography at Oxford for 10 years, he had failed to win a professorship and his marriage collapsed. At this low ebb in his life, he tried to establish himself as an exploratory geographer by making the first recorded ascent of Mount Kenya. Using the “moral suasion of my Mauser” rifle to force his 170 African bearers to “obey like the faithful dogs they are,” Mackinder moved through the famine-stricken foothills leading to that mountain by extracting food from hungry villages at gunpoint. Then, in September 1899, at the cost of 10 porters shot and many more whipped for “malingering,” he traversed glaciers to reach the summit at 17,000 feet. His triumph before a cheering crowd at the Royal Geographical Society in London was, however, marred not by his treatment of those bearers but by his failure to bring back significant findings or scientific specimens.
So, in yet another career change, Mackinder joined the LSE where he produced that influential article on geopolitics. At the end of World War I, he turned it into a book that contained his most memorable maxim: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; Who rules the World-Island commands the World.”
Mackinder’s expertise in imperial geopolitics helped launch his political career, including gaining him a seat in Parliament. In 1919, amid the turmoil of the Russian revolution, Britain was shipping arms to anti-Bolshevik forces there under General Anton Denikin. At Winston Churchill’s behest, the cabinet then appointed Mackinder as a special high commissioner for southern Russia. In a unique test of his “heartland” theory, Mackinder made an abortive attempt to rally the Czarist forces by meeting General Denikin inside his railcar in the Caucasus to propose an alliance with Poland and promise a mass evacuation in the event of defeat. Upon return to London, ignoring the general’s role in slaughtering some 100,000 Jews, Mackinder recommended recognizing his government and providing aid — advice the cabinet quickly dismissed.
From that brief moment at the apex of power, Mackinder soon fell into obscurity — losing his seat in Parliament, retiring from the LSE, and settling into a sinecure as chairman of the Imperial Shipping Committee. Were it not for the surprising later appeal of his ideas in Nazi Germany and Vladimir Putin’s Russia, his name would have been largely forgotten.
The Sorcerer’s Nazi Apprentice
As the Versailles peace conference of 1919 stripped Germany of its colonial empire and placed its Rhineland frontier under foreign occupation, Karl Haushofer exchanged his general’s baton for a geography professorship at Munich University. There, he would apply Mackinder’s concepts in an attempt to assure that his fatherland would never again engage in the sort of strategic blunders that, in World War I, had led to such a humiliating defeat.
While Mackinder himself was courting the powerful in postwar London, Haushofer was teaching geopolitics to future top Nazis in Munich — first to his graduate assistant Rudolf Hess (later to become the deputy Führer), and then to Adolf Hitler himself while he was writing Mein Kampf during his incarceration at Munich’s Landsberg Prison in 1924. Both Haushofer and his son Albrecht, who would train Nazi diplomats in the geopolitics of European conquest, were later rewarded with influential positions in the Third Reich. By dressing the British don’s idea of the Eurasian heartland as the pivot of world power in the local garb of Lebensraum (or “the Greater German Reich’s dazzling ascent by war… for extension of its living space”), Haushofer helped propagate an enticing logic of expansion that would send Hitler’s army on the road to defeat.
In 1942, Hitler dispatched a million men, 10,000 artillery pieces, and 500 tanks to breach the Volga River at Stalingrad and capture Russia’s heartland for lebensraum. In the end, the Reich’s forces would suffer 850,000 casualties — killed, wounded, and captured — in a vain attempt to break through the East European rimland into the world island’s heartland.
Appalled by the attack on Russia, Haushofer’s son joined the underground’s attempt to assassinate Hitler and was imprisoned. Before he was finally shot by the SS (on the day the Allies captured Berlin), he would compose mournful sonnets about geopolitical power, which he saw metaphorically as buried deep under the sea until “my father broke the seal” and “set the demon free to roam throughout the world.” A few months later, Karl Haushofer and his Jewish wife committed suicide together when confronted with the possibility that the victorious allies might prosecute him as a senior Nazi war criminal.
The Liberator of Eastern Europe
As the United States recoiled from its searing defeat in Vietnam, Zbigniew Brzezinski, an émigré Polish aristocrat and autodidact when it came to geopolitics, went from teaching international relations in New York to being President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor in Washington. There, his risky geopolitical gambits gained an attentive audience after the Soviet Red Army invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
As an intellectual acolyte of Mackinder, Brzezinski embraced his concept of the Eurasian heartland as the “pivot” of global power. But in marked contrast to Mackinder’s failure in southern Russia in 1920, Brzezinski would prove adept at applying that geopolitician’s famous dictum on the dynamic that tied Eastern Europe to Eurasia’s heartland. (In the end, however, his Afghan moves would help give rise to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, and the never-ending war on terror of this century.)
Wielding a multi-billion-dollar CIA covert operation in Afghanistan like a sharpened wedge, Brzezinski drove radical Islam deep into the heart of Soviet Central Asia. In the process, he drew Moscow into a debilitating decade-long Afghan war, so weakening it that Eastern Europe would finally break free from the Soviet empire in 1989. Asked about the enormous human suffering his strategy inflicted on Afghanistan and his role in creating a militant Islam hostile to the United States, he would remain coolly unapologetic. “What is most important to the history of the world?” he responded in 1998. “The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”
In retirement, Brzezinski resumed his study of Mackinder’s theory, doing a better job as an armchair analyst than he had as a presidential adviser. In a 1998 book, he warned that dominance over Eurasia remained “the central basis for global primacy.” To control that vast region, Washington, he insisted, would have to preserve its “perch on the Western periphery” of Europe and hold its string of “offshore bases” along the Pacific littoral. Should these conditions change, he predicted with some prescience, “a potential rival to America might at some point arise.”
Putin’s Geopolitical Visionary
In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, a Russian rightist ideologue, Alexander Dugin, would revive Mackinder’s ideas yet again to promote expansion into Eurasia. In the process, he would become “a major influence” on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the 1980s, as the Soviet Union was beginning to unravel, Dugin was still moving in Moscow’s bohemian circles as a dabbler in the occult and a fringe member of the “ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic organization Pamiat.” After the Soviet collapse, he became chief ideologue for an eclectic alliance of patriotic and punk-rock groups called the New Bolshevik Party, serving as its candidate for a seat in the 1995 Duma legislative elections and winning just 1% of the vote.
At this political nadir for both him and his country, Dugin recycled Mackinder’s long-forgotten writings in a 1997 bestseller, The Foundation of Geopolitics: Russia’s Geopolitical Future. As his book moved into its fourth printing and he “became a pole star for a broad section of Russian hardliners,” he began teaching geopolitics to military officers at the General Staff Academy, later lecturing on it to elite students at Moscow State University, and anchoring Landmarks, a weekly television show on the subject. In those years, Moscow bookstores even opened special sections for geopolitics, the legislature formed a geopolitics committee, and the Russian leadership began to embrace Dugin’s vision of expansionist nationalism.
Drawing on Haushofer’s German writings, he argued that Russia should become a Eurasian bastion against “the conspiracy of ‘Atlanticism’ led by the United States and NATO… aimed at containing Russia within successive geographic rings” of the former Soviet republics. To achieve the destiny envisioned by Mackinder, Russia needed, in Dugin’s view, to dominate Eurasia — annexing Ukraine, conquering Georgia, incorporating Finland, and bringing the Balkan states (Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria) under its rule as an Orthodox “Third Rome.” To advance such ideas, Dugin founded the Eurasia Youth Union of Russia in 2005, first to serve as “human shields” to fight against the Orange revolution in Ukraine and later to counter the “degeneration” caused by American cultural influence.
For the past decade, he has been a forceful advocate for Russian expansionism. During that country’s war with Georgia in 2008, he was photographed with a rocket launcher in South Ossetia and quoted in the national press calling for its annexation. After serving as “the brains behind Vladimir Putin’s wildly popular annexation of Crimea” in March 2014, Dugin embraced the Russian minority in eastern Ukraine, prodding the Russian president to openly support their separatist militia.
While advocacy of aggressive geopolitics has given Dugin significant political influence and Putin unprecedented popularity in Russia, it is still unclear whether in the long run such expansionism, in defiance of international norms, will prove a geopolitical masterstroke or a diplomatic debacle.
The Geopolitics of Trump’s Trade War
Most recently, a dissident economist and failed California politician named Peter Navarro has parlayed his hostility toward China into the role of key architect of Donald Trump’s “trade war” against Beijing. Like his Russian counterpart Alexander Dugin, Navarro is another in a long line of intellectuals whose embrace of geopolitics changed the trajectory of his career.
Raised by a single mom who worked secretarial jobs to rent one-bedroom apartments where he slept on the couch, Navarro went to college at Tufts on a scholarship and earned a doctorate in economics from Harvard. Despite that Ivy League degree, he remained an angry outsider, denouncing the special interests “stealing America” in his first book and later, as a business professor at the University of California-Irvine, branding San Diego developers “punks in pinstripes.” A passionate environmentalist, in 1992 Navarro plunged into politics as a Democratic candidate for the mayor of San Diego, denouncing his opponent’s husband as a convicted drug-money launderer and losing when he smirked as she wept during their televised debate.
For the next 10 years, Navarro fought losing campaigns for everything from city council to Congress. He detailed his crushing defeat for a seat in the House of Representatives in a tell-all book, San Diego Confidential, that dished out disdain for that duplicitous “sell out” Bill Clinton, dumb “blue-collar detritus” voters, and just about everybody else as well.
Following his last losing campaign for city council, Navarro spent a decade churning out books attacking a new enemy: China. His first “shock and awe” jeremiad in 2006 told horror stories about that country’s foreign trade; five years later, Death By China was filled with torrid tales of “bone-crushing, cancer-causing, flammable, poisonous, and otherwise lethal products” from that land. In 2015, a third book turned to geopolitics, complete with carefully drawn maps and respectful references to Captain Mahan, to offer an analysis of how China’s military was pursuing a relentless strategy of “anti-access, area denial” to challenge the U.S. Navy’s control over the Western Pacific.
To check China, the Pentagon then had two competing strategies — “Air-Sea Battle,” in which China’s satellites were to be blinded, knocking out its missiles, and “Offshore Control,” in which China’s entire coastline was to be blockaded by mining six maritime choke points from Japan to Singapore. Both, Navarro claimed, were fatally flawed. Given that, Navarro’s third book and a companion film (endorsed by one Donald Trump) asked: What should the United States do to check Beijing’s aggression and its rise as a global power? Since all U.S. imports from China, Navarro suggested, were “helping to finance a Chinese military buildup,” the only realistic solution was “the imposition of countervailing tariffs to offset China’s unfair trade practices.”
Just a year after reaching that controversial conclusion, Navarro joined the Trump election campaign as a policy adviser and then, after the November victory, became a junior member of the White House economic team. As a protectionist in an administration initially dominated by globalists, he would be excluded from high-level meetings and, according to Time Magazine, “required to copy chief economic adviser Gary Cohn on all his emails.” By February 2018, however, Cohn was on his way out and Navarro had become assistant to the president, with his new trade office now the co-equal of the National Economic Council.
As the chief defender of Trump’s belief that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” Navarro has finally realized his own geopolitical dream of attempting to check China with tariffs. In March, the president slapped heavy ones on Chinese steel imports and, just a few weeks later, promised to impose more of them on $50 billion of imports. When those started in July, China’s leaders retaliated against what they called “typical trade bullying,” imposing similar duties on American goods. Despite a warning from the Federal Reserve chairman that “trade tensions… could pose serious risks to the U.S. and global economy,” with Navarro at his elbow, Trump escalated in September, adding tariffs on an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods and threatening another $267 billion worth if China dared retaliate. Nonetheless, Beijing hit back, this time on just $60 billion in goods since 95% of all U.S. imports had already been covered.
Then something truly surprising happened. In September, the U.S. trade deficit with China ballooned to $305 billion for the year, driven by an 8% surge in Chinese imports — a clear sign that Navarro’s bold geopolitical vision of beating Beijing into submission with tariffs had collided big time with the complexities of world trade. Whether this tariff dispute will fizzle out inconsequentially or escalate into a full-blown trade war, wreaking havoc on global supply chains and the world economy, none of us can yet know, particularly that would-be geopolitical grandmaster Peter Navarro.
The Desire to be Grandmaster of the Universe
Though such experts usually dazzle the public and the powerful alike with erudition and boldness of vision, their geopolitical moves often have troubling long-term consequences. Mahan’s plans for Pacific dominion through offshore bases created a strategic conundrum that plagued American defense policy for a half-century. Brzezinski’s geopolitical lunge at the Soviet Union’s soft Central Asian underbelly helped unleash radical Islam. Today, Alexander Dugin’s use of geopolitics to revive Russia’s dominion over Eurasia has placed Moscow on a volatile collision course with Europe and the United States. Simultaneously, Peter Navarro’s bold gambit to contain China’s military and economic push into the Pacific with a trade war could, if it persists, produce untold complications for our globalized economy.
No matter how deeply flawed such geopolitical visions may ultimately prove to be, their brief moments as official policy have regularly shaped the destiny of nations and of empires in unpredictable, unplanned, and often dangerous ways. And no matter how this current round of geopolitical gambits plays out, we can be reasonably certain that, in the not-too-distant future, another would-be grandmaster will embrace this seductive concept to guide his bold bid for global power.
Alfred W. McCoy, a TomDispatch regular, is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, the now-classic book which probed the conjuncture of illicit narcotics and covert operations over 50 years, and the recently published In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power (Dispatch Books).
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.
Copyright 2018 Alfred W. McCoy
“We are now on a planet guaranteed, barring a miracle of coordinated human action, to find itself in a set of geo-ruins of an unprecedented sort by 2100, ruins that will remain so on a time scale anything but historical or in any way human.”
Back to dogs tomorrow!
A few of my own.
All taken over the last ten days.
A visual reminder of the topsy-turvy weather of late.
A very sombre read from George Monbiot.
I read this essay first thing in the morning last Wednesday while still in bed. It struck me with a whole range of feelings and emotions; not positive ones I should add. Then I read it aloud to Jeannie with the feeling that this speaks of what it is, what it’s going to be, and how little time we have to make the sorts of gigantic changes that we all need.
Sorry to be down-in-the-dumps about the following; published with George Monbiot’s kind permission.
No effective means of stopping climate breakdown is deemed “politically realistic”. So we must change political realities.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 14th November 2018.
It was a moment of the kind that changes lives. At a press conference held by Extinction Rebellion last week, two of us journalists pressed the activists on whether their aims were realistic. They have called, for example, for carbon emissions in the UK to be reduced to net zero by 2025. Wouldn’t it be better, we asked, to pursue some intermediate aims?
A young woman called Lizia Woolf stepped forward. She hadn’t spoken before, and I hadn’t really noticed her, but the passion, grief and fury of her response was utterly compelling. “What is it that you are asking me as a 20-year-old to face and to accept about my future and my life? … this is an emergency – we are facing extinction. When you ask questions like that, what is it you want me to feel?”. We had no answer.
Softer aims might be politically realistic, but they are physically unrealistic. Only shifts commensurate with the scale of our existential crises have any prospect of averting them. Hopeless realism, tinkering at the edges of the problem, got us into this mess. It will not get us out.
Public figures talk and act as if environmental change will be linear and gradual. But the Earth’s systems are highly complex, and complex systems do not respond to pressure in linear ways. When these systems interact (because the world’s atmosphere, oceans, land surface and lifeforms do not sit placidly within the boxes that make study more convenient) their reactions to change become highly unpredictable. Small perturbations can ramify wildly. Tipping points are likely to remain invisible until we have passed them. We could see changes of state so abrupt and profound that no continuity can be safely assumed.
Only one of the many life support systems on which we depend – soils, aquifers, rainfall, ice, the pattern of winds and currents, pollinators, biological abundance and diversity – need fail for everything to slide. For example, when Arctic sea ice melts beyond a certain point, the positive feedbacks this triggers (such as darker water absorbing more heat, melting permafrost releasing methane, shifts in the polar vortex) could render runaway climate breakdown unstoppable. When the Younger Dryas period ended 11,600 years ago, Greenland ice cores reveal temperatures rising 10°C within a decade.
I don’t believe that such a collapse is yet inevitable, or that a commensurate response is either technically or economically impossible. When the US joined the Second World War in 1941, it replaced a civilian economy with a military economy within months. As Jack Doyle records in his book Taken for a Ride, “In one year, General Motors developed, tooled, and completely built from scratch 1000 Avenger and 1000 Wildcat aircraft … Barely a year after Pontiac received a Navy contract to build antishipping missiles, the company began delivering the completed product to carrier squadrons around the world.” And this was before advanced information technology made everything faster.
The problem is political. A fascinating analysis by the social science professor Kevin Mackay contends that oligarchy has been a more fundamental cause of the collapse of civilisations than social complexity or energy demand. Oligarchic control, he argues, thwarts rational decision-making, because the short-term interests of the elite are radically different to the long-term interests of society. This explains why past civilizations have collapsed “despite possessing the cultural and technological know-how needed to resolve their crises.” Economic elites, that benefit from social dysfunction, block the necessary solutions.
The oligarchic control of wealth, politics, media and public discourse explains the comprehensive institutional failure now pushing us towards disaster. Think of Trump and his cabinet of multi-millionaires, the influence of the Koch brothers, the Murdoch empire and its massive contribution to climate science denial, the oil and motor companies whose lobbying prevents a faster shift to new technologies.
It is not just governments that have failed to respond, though they have failed spectacularly. Public sector broadcasters have deliberately and systematically shut down environmental coverage, while allowing the opaquely-funded lobbyists that masquerade as thinktanksto shape public discourse and deny what we face. Academics, afraid to upset their funders and colleagues, have bitten their lips. Even the bodies that claim to be addressing our predicament remain locked within destructive frameworks.
For example, last Wednesday I attended a meeting about environmental breakdown at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Many of the people in the room seemed to understand that continued economic growth is incompatible with sustaining the Earth’s systems. As the author Jason Hickel points out, a decoupling of rising GDP from global resource use has not happened and will not happen. While 50 billion tonnes of resources used per year is roughly the limit the Earth’s systems can tolerate, the world is already consuming 70 billion tonnes. Business as usual, at current rates of economic growth, will ensure that this rises to 180 billion tonnes by 2050. Maximum resource efficiency, coupled with massive carbon taxes and some pretty optimistic assumptions, would reduce this to 95 billion tonnes: still way beyond environmental limits. A study taking account of the rebound effect (efficiency leads to further resource use) raises the estimate to 132 billion tonnes. Green growth, as members of the Institute appear to accept, is physically impossible.
On the same day, the same Institute announced a major new economics prize for “ambitious proposals to achieve a step-change improvement in the growth rate.” It wants ideas that will enable economic growth rates in the UK at least to double. The announcement was accompanied by the usual blah about sustainability, but none of the judges of the prize has a discernible record of environmental interest.
Those to whom we look for solutions trundle on as if nothing has changed. They continue to behave as if the accumulating evidence has no purchase on their minds. Decades of institutional failure ensures that only “unrealistic” proposals – the repurposing of economic life, with immediate effect – now have a realistic chance of stopping the planetary death spiral. And only those who stand outside the failed institutions can lead this effort.
Two tasks need to be performed simultaneously: throwing ourselves at the possibility of averting collapse, as Extinction Rebellion is doing, slight though this possibility may appear. And preparing ourselves for the likely failure of these efforts, terrifying as this prospect is. Both tasks require a complete revision of our relationship with the living planet. Because we cannot save ourselves without contesting oligarchic control, the fight for democracy and justice and the fight against environmental breakdown are one and the same. Do not allow those who have caused this crisis to define the limits of political action. Do not allow those whose magical thinking got us into this mess to tell us what can and cannot be done.
I have a son and daughter who live in England. My daughter and her husband have a seven-year-old boy, my grandson, and I hope that I live long enough to have some decent conversations with him. Now whether or not those conversations will turn to his future and what fears he has only time will tell.
But that doesn’t stop me from worrying, worrying big time, just what world we are leaving for him and the thousands of others of his age as they grow up. I truly fear that it is going to be a very different planet than the one we have at present.
I hope with all my heart that I am wrong!
Just had to share this with you!
This is a remarkable photograph. Something I have never seen.
Anyway, here’s the story behind it!
MICHAEL D’ESTRIES, November 2, 2018
At first glance, the mesmerizing light display that occurred on Oct. 16 over Whitefish Bay, Michigan, had all the hallmarks of a visual effect from a science-fiction film. Instead of “first contact,” however, this beautiful shimmer is actually a fairly common optical phenomenon called a light pillar.
Light pillars form when sources of light from the ground, sun or even the moon interact with horizontal concentrations of ice crystals in the atmosphere. When viewed from a distance, these crystals align in such a way as to create the optical illusion of a dazzling pillar of light.
Photographer Vincent Brady, who specializes in capturing nocturnal scenes, said in a Facebook post that he was “pleasantly surprised” to come across the phenomenon.
“This is a shot north of Paradise, MI looking east over Whitefish Bay,” he wrote. “The red lights are around the Canadian island Ile Parisienne. I’m not entirely sure of the artificial light source of the pillars.”
Anyone else seen these?