Archive for September, 2015

Bees’ tongues are getting shorter because climate change

September 28, 2015

Flickr / Mathias Appel

This story was originally published by The Atlantic and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

If you think about iconic symbols of climate change, you’ll probably picture a polar bear, emaciated, and clinging to a precariously small chunk of ice. You’re probably not thinking of a bumblebee, flitting about an alpine meadow with a shorter-than-average tongue. And yet, according to new research from Nicole Miller-Struttmann from SUNY College at Old Westbury, these shrinking tongues speak volumes about how nature’s most intimate partnerships might change in a warming world.

In the central Rockies, there are many species of bumblebee, and some have unusually long tongues for their body size. These are adaptations to the deep tubes of certain flowers like Parry’s clover and alpine skypilot, allowing the bees to lap at nectar that smaller-tongued species can’t reach. The tubes, in turn, are adaptations to the long bee tongues, providing exclusive access to nectar in exchange for exclusive pollination services. Both partners arelocked in a co-evolutionary dance, held together by beautifully fitting tongues and tubes.

Recently, all has not been right with this dance. Miller-Struttmann’s colleagues, who have been studying the local bees and flowers for decades, started to notice weird changes. Long-tongued bees, which have been declining in many parts of the world, had become relatively rarer in the Rockies, too. Meanwhile, foreign species from farther down the mountainsides were encroaching on their terrain.

To work out what was going on, the team measured the tongues of the two most common bumblebee species, caught at three Colorado mountains in recent years. They then compared these lengths to those of specimens collected from the same mountains between 1966 and 1980.

These archived bees (has-bee-ns?) revealed that the tongues of these species have become 0.61 percent shorter every year, and are now just three-quarters of their former glory. “We were really surprised at the strength of the result,” says Miller-Struttmann. “We obviously asked the question but we weren’t expecting such a large response, especially over just 40 to 50 years.”

Why have the long-tongued bees evolved into long-ish-tongued bees? The team ruled out several possibilities. The bees weren’t becoming smaller overall, at least not to a degree that explained their shrinking tongues. Shorter-tubed plants hadn’t taken over the mountainsides; herbarium collections revealed that they are no more common now than they were in the 1960s. And immigrant bees from elsewhere in the mountains weren’t ousting the locals from their usual long-tubed flowers.

The best remaining explanation is that the changing climate of the Rockies has shifted the balance of flowers than the bees depend upon. Jennifer Geib from Appalachian State University, who was involved in the study, says, “Our field sites are part of what ecologists describe as high-altitude desert.” That is: they’re really dry. And they’ve become drier in the last 60 years, as summers have become 2 degrees C warmer.

Water evaporated more quickly from the soil. Winter snowfalls started thawing out earlier, depriving plants of precious meltwater during the growing season. Many wildflowers that were already eking out a living on the brink of drought were pushed over the edge. On Pennsylvania Mountain alone, the team calculated that “millions of flowers were lost.” As such, today’s bees face about 60 percent less food than their predecessors from the 1970s.

The long-tubed flowers weren’t especially affected, but there were fewer of them — and not enough for long-tongued specialists to subsist on. So the long-tongued bees were forced to broaden their diets, drinking nectar from flowers of every length. Since they were now competing for resources that many other species could plunder, their long tongues no longer conferred any special advantages. So evolution, ever-thrifty and economical, selected for individuals with shorter tongues.

“That’s a really neat discovery,” says Jeremy Kerr from the University of Ottawa, who also studies pollinators. “I haven’t seen other research that suggests we’re likely to see rapid evolution in bumblebee [traits] because of climate change.” Kerr’s own research shows that North American and European bumblebees are being crushed out of their normal ranges by warming climates, seemingly unable to expand into more suitable pastures.

Miller-Struttmann’s study suggests that bees might be able to persist within these contracting habitats by changing their foraging habits and evolving accordingly. How they fare in the long term is anyone’s guess. Certainly, the widespread decline of long-tongued bees, and bumblebees more generally, is a poor portent.

This isn’t the only mutualism at risk in a warming world. In warmer oceans, corals eject the algae that they depend on for photosynthesis, depriving them of both the energy they need to construct their mighty reefs, and the source of their color. Starving and alone, they become weak and ghostly versions of themselves.

Meanwhile, carpenter ants, a hugely successful group with around 1,000 species, depend on bacteria inside their cells to supplement their diets with important nutrients. These microbes are also sensitive to temperature, and it’s possible that a warmer world would crush these ants — and the many other insects that depend on supplementary microbes — into ever narrower niches.

And what of the long-tubed flowers, now decoupled from their partners in pollination? “Alpine plants are very long-lived, so any effects of reduced pollination efficiency from the recent past would likely not be seen in their populations for some time,” says Geib. “But if climate-change models are accurate, these plants are likely to face a multitude of synergistic pressures in the future, including drought, and increased competition as the ranges of lowland species shift upward. The combination of these pressures, coupled with decreased pollination, could forecast a troubled future.”

Here are 17 things we need to do to fix the world

September 28, 2015

Shutterstock / rm

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As the United Nations convenes in New York this week for its 70th General Assembly, one of the most prominent items on the schedule is to formally sign off on its brand-new Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs, which have been in the works for a few years, are basically a to-do list for all the world’s governments from now until 2030. They’re also a seemingly impenetrable pile of diplo-jargon.

“If you were to pick up the document, your first reaction could be that it’s a lot of ‘blah blah blah,’” said Peter Hazlewood, director of development at the World Resources Institute.

Still, the SDGs could have a significant impact on the allocation of resources to fight climate change and other environmental issues over the next decade. Here’s what you need to know.

Replacing the Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs are a follow up to the Millennium Development Goals, enacted in 2000. There were eight specific MDGs, all targeted at different aspects of extreme poverty: Reduce the child mortality rate by two-thirds, vastly expand access to clean drinking water, turn the tide against HIV/AIDS, etc. Of course, the goals aren’t legally binding. Instead, the point was to give developed-country governments and international financial institutions such as the World Bank a target to shoot at when they make decisions about how to spend aid dollars or invest in certain projects. It’s a way of saying: “We agree that these are the world’s top priorities right now.”

The “we” in that sentence was pretty controversial, since — according to lore, at least — the goals were drawn up behind closed doors in the U.N. basement by a group of elite diplomats. For that reason, it took years for a critical mass of governments to actually rally behind the MDGs and start to implement them. And even then, the they were sometimes criticized for being too narrow and not sufficiently focused on the root causes of poverty.

As of the end of this year, the MDGs will have reached their expiration date. How well did we do on meeting them? So-so. Global poverty and childhood mortality have been greatly reduced; for example, between 1990 and 2015 the portion of people in developing countries living on less than $1.25 per day fell from 50 percent to 14 percent. Still, obviously, global poverty has not been eradicated. The U.N.’s own recent assessment found many goals were un-met, especially with respect to gender equality and conflict refugee issues.

And even in the best scenario, it’s far from clear how much impact the MDGs actually had on any of the issues they sought to address. During the same time period, for example, China was developing rapidly and opening up to international trade, which had a huge impact on lifting its citizens out of poverty — quite separately from anything the U.N. was doing. But it’s safe to say that the MDGs loomed over budget conversations at agencies like USAID, and in that way had a tangible impact on how the U.S. and other rich governments spent money on aid.

The MDGs “were far from perfect, and you cannot attribute all progress to them,” Hazlewood said. “But you can make a strong case that they had a galvanizing effect.”

So what are the Sustainable Development Goals? This time around, while still including poverty, the focus has swung much more toward environmental issues, including climate change adaptation. Here are the 17 goals:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

If that seems like a lot, well, it is. While the MDGs were too narrow, the SDGs could very well be too broad. As Michael Specter pointed out in the New Yorker, “goals such as ‘End poverty in all its forms everywhere,’ may seem so broad that they will be easy to ignore.” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said as much last year, warning that with so many goals, “there’s a real danger they will end up sitting on a bookshelf, gathering dust.” Even just reading the list seems overwhelming; imagine being a head of state trying to implement it in your sprawling national bureaucracy.

And they’re not cheap: By some estimates, they could cost more than $7 trillion a year to implement, and there’s still no clear consensus on where exactly that money will come from. It would likely be a mix of private-sector investment; aid from the U.N. and developed countries; and increased spending by developing countries.

SustainableDevelopmentGoals_FINAL
Council on Foreign Relations

At the same time, the goals’ breadth could be a strength, as less affluent countries become more involved in implementing them — as opposed to only being on the receiving end of aid dollars. They could provide an impetus for developing countries to get more serious about things under their control, like empowering women, or conserving natural resources, or making urban planning decisions with an eye toward climate impacts. At the very least, the goals provide ammunition for diplomatic peer-pressure: No country wants to look lackadaisical compared to the one next door, or act in direct contravention of the goals, lest they scare off donors or investors. And it could be a way for U.S. agencies to justify increased spending on climate adaptation.

“These are universal goals,” Hazlewood said. “It’s not just about what the U.S. should be doing with countries in Africa; it’s about what every country in the world needs to do.”

What’s next? Of course, the U.N. can’t compel any country to do any of these things. So the goals won’t matter unless individual national governments take them seriously. Unlike the old MDGs, the SDGs were developed over several years with maximum transparency, involving a huge, diverse cast of governments, NGOs, and private companies. The rationale for that strategy was to increase everyone’s stake in the goals, so that when they come into effect, countries will swiftly incorporate them into national policy decisions — in other words, take them off the page and into practice. We’ll have to wait and see if that will really happen.

“With the MDGs it took years to get any kind of traction and for countries to take them seriously,” Hazlewood said. “But this time we can get the process off to a better start.”

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For A Majority Of Americans, US Government Has Lost Legitimacy

September 28, 2015

OpEdNews Op Eds 9/27/2015 at 17:31:22

By Paul Craig Roberts (about the author) Permalink
Related Topic(s): American Hypocrisy; Elections; Government Accountability; Government Insanity; Oligarchy; Propaganda, Add Tags Add to My Group(s)
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Reprinted from Paul Craig Roberts Website

From flickr.com/photos/39096030@N00/3002776434/: I Voted!
From flickr.com/photos/39096030@N00/3002776434/: I Voted!
I Voted!
(image by Vox Efx) License DMCA
Noam Chomsky (33:30 point on the video) tells us that in the November 2014 Congressional elections, US voter participation was at the level of 1830 when only white male property owners had the vote. …
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A September 25 Gallup Poll tells us why. See here.

These are hopeful signs. They mean that the American people are beginning to see through the propaganda that confines them within The Matrix. A majority now understands that the US government represents a small oligarchy and not the citizens of the United States. Change requires awareness and knowledge of reality, and this awareness is now forming.

 

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/

Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan Administration. He was associate editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal, columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service. He is a contributing editor to Gerald Celente’s Trends Journal. He has had numerous university appointments. His book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is available here. His latest book, How America Was Lost, has just been released and can be ordered here.

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The UN: Pretending to Oppose War for 70 Years

September 28, 2015

OpEdNews Op Eds 9/28/2015 at 06:17:16

By David Swanson (about the author) Permalink (Page 1 of 1 pages)
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From flickr.com/photos/85903370@N00/3680427729/: United Nations logo
From flickr.com/photos/85903370@N00/3680427729/: United Nations logo
United Nations logo
(image by Harshil.Shah) License DMCA
The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals don’t just ignore the fact that development isn’t sustainable; they revel in it. One of the goals is spreading energy use. Another is economic growth. Another is preparation for climate chaos (not preventing it, but dealing with it). And how does the United Nations deal with problems? Generally through wars and sanctions.

This institution was set up 70 years ago to keep nations, rather than a global body, in charge, and to keep the victors of World War II in a permanent position of dominating the rest of the globe. The UN legalized “defensive” wars and any wars it “authorizes” for whatever reason. It now says drones have made war “the norm,” but addressing that problem is not among the 17 goals now being considered. Ending war is not among the goals. Disarmament isn’t mentioned. The Arms Trade Treaty put through last year still lacks the United States, China, and Russia, but that’s not among the 17 concerns of “sustainable development.”

Saudi Arabia’s “responsibility to protect” Yemen by murdering its people with U.S. weapons isn’t at issue. Saudi Arabia is busy crucifying children and heading up the UN’s Human Rights Council. Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Foreign Minister of Turkey have declared that they will start addressing the full “lifecycle” of young people who become “terrorists.” Of course, they’ll do so without mentioning the U.S.-led wars that have traumatized the region or the by now long established record of the global war on terrorism producing terrorism.

I’m happy to have signed this letter, which you, too, can sign below:

To: U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon

– Advertisement -The U.N. Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945. Its potential is still unfulfilled. It has been used to advance and misused to impede the cause of peace. We urge a rededication to its original goal of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

Whereas the Kellogg-Briand Pact forbids all war, the U.N. Charter opens up the possibility of a “legal war.” While most wars do not meet the narrow qualifications of being defensive or U.N.-authorized, many wars are marketed as if they meet those qualifications, and many people are fooled. After 70 years isn’t it time for the United Nations to cease authorizing wars and to make clear to the world that attacks on distant nations are not defensive?

The danger lurking in the “responsibility to protect” doctrine must be addressed. Acceptance of murder by armed drone as either non-war or legal war must be decisively rejected. To fulfill its promise, the United Nations must rededicate itself to these words from the U.N. Charter: “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”

To advance, the United Nations must be democratized so that all people of the world have an equal voice, and no single or small number of wealthy, war-oriented nations dominate the UN’s decisions. We urge you to pursue this path.

World Beyond War has outlined specific reforms that would democratize the United Nations, and make nonviolent actions the primary activity engaged in. Please read them here.

INITIAL SIGNERS:
David Swanson
Coleen Rowley
David Hartsough
Patrick Hiller
Alice Slater
Kevin Zeese
Heinrich Buecker
Norman Solomon
Sandra Osei Twumasi
Jeff Cohen
Leah Bolger

Add your name.

http://davidswanson.org

David Swanson is the author of “When the World Outlawed War,” “War Is A Lie” and “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.” He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more…)

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TV: Experts conclude no nuclear fuel left inside Fukushima reactor — Total meltdown “highly likely”

September 28, 2015

ENENews


TV: Experts conclude no nuclear fuel left inside Fukushima reactor — Total meltdown “highly likely” — Conducting more tests to determine how far down corium has penetrated (PHOTOS & VIDEO)

Posted: 26 Sep 2015 04:38 PM PDT

Shaming Warmongers

September 27, 2015

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Environmentalist Writer Claims Military Saves Lives

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Redemption Remains

David Swanson on Julian Bond, pipeline protests, and politics

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Noam Chomsky: History Doesn’t Go in a Straight Line

September 27, 2015

Noam Chomsky. (photo: Va Shiva)
Noam Chomsky. (photo: Va Shiva)

By Noam Chomsky, Jacobin

24 September 15

 

hroughout his illustrious career, one of Noam Chomsky’s chief preoccupations has been questioning — and urging us to question — the assumptions and norms that govern our society.

Following a talk on power, ideology, and US foreign policy last weekend at the New School in New York City, freelance Italian journalist Tommaso Segantini sat down with the eighty-six-year-old to discuss some of the same themes, including how they relate to processes of social change.

For radicals, progress requires puncturing the bubble of inevitability: austerity, for instance, “is a policy decision undertaken by the designers for their own purposes.” It is not implemented, Chomsky says, “because of any economic laws.” American capitalism also benefits from ideological obfuscation: despite its association with free markets, capitalism is shot through with subsidies for some of the most powerful private actors. This bubble needs popping too.

In addition to discussing the prospects for radical change, Chomsky comments on the eurozone crisis, whether Syriza could’ve avoided submitting to Greece’s creditors, and the significance of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

And he remains soberly optimistic. “Over time there’s a kind of a general trajectory towards a more just society, with regressions and reversals of course.”

In an interview a couple of years ago, you said that the Occupy Wall Street movement had created a rare sentiment of solidarity in the US. September 17 was the fourth anniversary of the OWS movement. What is your evaluation of social movements such as OWS over the last twenty years? Have they been effective in bringing about change? How could they improve?

They’ve had an impact; they have not coalesced into persistent and ongoing movements. It’s a very atomized society. There are very few continuing organizations which have institutional memory, that know how to move to the next step and so on.

This is partly due to the destruction of the labor movement, which used to offer a kind of fixed basis for many activities; by now, practically the only persistent institutions are the churches. So many things are church-based.

It’s hard for a movement to take hold. There are often movements of young people, which tend to be transitory; on the other hand there’s a cumulative effect, and you never know when something will spark into a major movement. It’s happened time and again: civil rights movement, women’s movement. So keep trying until something takes off.

The 2008 crisis clearly demonstrated the flaws of the neoliberal economic doctrine. Nevertheless, neoliberalism still seems to persist and its principles are still applied in many countries. Why, even with the tragic effects of the 2008 crisis, does the neoliberal doctrine appear to be so resilient? Why hasn’t there yet been a strong response like after the Great Depression?

First of all, the European responses have been much worse than the US responses, which is quite surprising. In the US there were mild efforts at stimulus, quantitative easing and so on, which slowly allowed the economy to recover.

In fact, recovery from the Great Depression was actually faster in many countries than it is today, for a lot of reasons. In the case of Europe, one of the main reasons is that the establishment of a single currency was a built-in disaster, like many people pointed out. Mechanisms to respond to the crisis are not available in the EU: Greece, for example, can’t devalue its currency.

The integration of Europe had very positive developments in some respects and was harmful in others, especially when it is under the control of extremely reactionary economic powers, imposing policies which are economically destructive and that are basically a form of class war.

Why is there no reaction? Well, the weak countries are not getting support from others. If Greece had had support from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and other countries they might have been able to resist the eurocrat forces. These are kind of special cases having to do with contemporary developments. In the 1930s, remember the responses were not particularly attractive: one of them was Nazism.

Several months ago Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza, was elected as Greece’s prime minister. In the end, however, he had to make many compromises due to the pressure imposed on him by financial powers, and was forced to implement harsh austerity measures.

Do you think that, in general, genuine change can come when a radical leftist leader like Tsipras comes to power, or have nation states lost too much sovereignty and are they too dependent on financial institutions that can discipline them if they don’t follow the rules of the free market?

As I said, in the case of Greece, if there had been popular support for Greece from other parts of Europe, Greece might have been able to withstand the assault of the eurocrat bank alliance. But Greece was alone — it did not have many options.

There are very good economists such as Joseph Stiglitz who think Greece should have just pulled out of the eurozone. It’s a very risky step. Greece is a very small economy, it’s not much of an export economy, and it would be too weak to withstand external pressures.

There are people who criticize the Syriza tactics and the stand that they took, but I think it’s hard to see what options they had with the lack of external support.

Let’s imagine for example that Bernie Sanders won the 2016 presidential elections. What do you think would happen? Could he bring radical change in the structures of power of the capitalist system?

Suppose that Sanders won, which is pretty unlikely in a system of bought elections. He would be alone: he doesn’t have congressional representatives, he doesn’t have governors, he doesn’t have support in the bureaucracy, he doesn’t have state legislators; and standing alone in this system, he couldn’t do very much. A real political alternative would be across the board, not just a figure in the White House.

It would have to be a broad political movement. In fact, the Sanders campaign I think is valuable — it’s opening up issues, it’s maybe pressing the mainstream Democrats a little bit in a progressive direction, and it is mobilizing a lot of popular forces, and the most positive outcome would be if they remain after the election.

It’s a serious mistake to just to be geared to the quadrennial electoral extravaganza and then go home. That’s not the way changes take place. The mobilization could lead to a continuing popular organization which could maybe have an effect in the long run.

What is your opinion on the emergence of figures such as Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Pablo Iglesias in Spain, or Bernie Sanders in the US? Is a new left movement on the rise, or are these just sporadic responses to the economic crisis?

It depends what the popular reaction is. Take Corbyn in England: he’s under fierce attack, and not only from the Conservative establishment, but even from the Labour establishment. Hopefully Corbyn will be able to withstand that kind of attack; that depends on popular support. If the public is willing to back him in the face of the defamation and destructive tactics, then it can have an impact. Same with Podemos in Spain.

How can one mobilize a large number of people on such complex issues?

It’s not that complex. The task of organizers and activists is to help people understand and to make them recognize that they have power, that they’re not powerless. People feel impotent, but that has to be overcome. That’s what organizing and activism is all about.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails, but there aren’t any secrets. It’s a long-term process — it has always been the case. And it’s had successes. Over time there’s a kind of a general trajectory towards a more just society, with regressions and reversals of course.

So would you say that, during your lifetime, humanity has progressed in the construction of a somewhat more just society?

There have been enormous changes. Just look here at MIT. Take a walk down the hall and take a look at the nature of the student body: it’s about half women, a third minorities, informally dressed, casual relations among people and so on. When I got here in 1955, if you’d walk down the same hall it would have been white males, jackets and ties, very polite, obedient, not posing many questions. That’s a huge change.

And it’s not just here — it’s all over the place. You and I wouldn’t have looked like this, and in fact you probably wouldn’t be here. Those are some of the cultural and social changes that have taken place thanks to committed and dedicated activism.

Other things have not, like the labor movement, which has been under severe attack all throughout American history and particularly since the early 1950s. It has been seriously weakened: in the private sector it’s marginal, and it’s now being attacked in the public sector. That’s a regression.

The neoliberal policies are certainly a regression. For the majority of the population in the US, there’s been pretty much stagnation and decline in the last generation. And not because of any economic laws. These are policies. Just as austerity in Europe is not an economic necessity — in fact, it’s economic nonsense. But it’s a policy decision undertaken by the designers for their own purposes. I think basically it’s a kind of class war, and it can be resisted, but it’s not easy. History doesn’t go in a straight line.

How do you think that the capitalist system will survive, considering its dependence on fossil fuels and its impact on the environment?

What’s called the capitalist system is very far from any model of capitalism or market. Take the fossil fuels industries: there was a recent study by the IMF which tried to estimate the subsidy that energy corporations get from governments. The total was colossal. I think it was around $5 trillion annually. That’s got nothing to do with markets and capitalism.

And the same is true of other components of the so-called capitalist system. By now, in the US and other Western countries, there’s been, during the neoliberal period, a sharp increase in the financialization of the economy. Financial institutions in the US had about 40 percent of corporate profits on the eve of the 2008 collapse, for which they had a large share of responsibility.

There’s another IMF study that investigated the profits of American banks, and it found that they were almost entirely dependent on implicit public subsidies. There’s a kind of a guarantee — it’s not on paper, but it’s an implicit guarantee — that if they get into trouble they will be bailed out. That’s called too-big-to-fail.

And the credit rating agencies of course know that, they take that into account, and with high credit ratings financial institutions get privileged access to cheaper credit, they get subsidies if things go wrong and many other incentives, which effectively amounts to perhaps their total profit. The business press tried to make an estimate of this number and guessed about $80 billion a year. That’s got nothing to do with capitalism.

It’s the same in many other sectors of the economy. So the real question is, will this system of state capitalism, which is what it is, survive the continued use of fossil fuels? And the answer to that is, of course, no.

By now, there’s a pretty strong consensus among scientists who say that a large majority of the remaining fossil fuels, maybe 80 percent, have to be left in the ground if we hope to avoid a temperature rise which would be pretty lethal. And it is not happening. Humans may be destroying their chances for decent survival. It won’t kill everybody, but it would changethe world dramatically.

 

Obama and Xi Must Do More Than Agree to Disagree

September 27, 2015

Former president Jimmy Carter. (photo: AP)
Former president Jimmy Carter. (photo: AP)

By Jimmy Carter, Reader Supported News

25 September 15

 

have been fascinated with China since my first visit to Qingdao in 1949, just a short time before the Peoples’ Republic was founded on October 1, my 25th birthday.

I was governor of Georgia when President Nixon made his historic visit to China in 1972, and was disappointed when no additional moves were made to establish diplomatic relations between our two countries. I set this as a high priority when I became president, and initiated high-level negotiations with Chinese leaders. These efforts became successful when Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping and I announced on December 15, 1978 that full mutual recognition would take place at the beginning of the next year. He announced three days later that dramatic reforms would take place in his country, and that it would be “opened up.” Few people anticipated how these two decisions would so drastically affect the global community.

Since leaving office, I have made regular visits to China, and have been welcomed by its top political leaders, those in the private sector, and by private citizens in many communities. The Carter Center has been asked by the government to perform important duties, including the implementation and assessment of fully democratic elections in China’s 600,000 villages, which has included almost two-thirds of the population. We now concentrate on working to reduce misperceptions held by one nation about the other by convening annual forums on improving relations and finding ways for the U.S. and China to wage peace and sustain development in other countries, especially in Africa.

During my four visits with President Xi Jinping in recent years, he has stressed, like Deng Xiaoping before him, the need for our political leaders to respect each other and to cooperate when possible, in spite of the dramatic differences in our history, culture, and political systems. It has always been clear that in both countries there are potential political leaders who, for their own benefit, have blamed the other country for domestic problems and tried to exacerbate the inherent differences that always exist.

Like the United States, China is facing many serious domestic challenges. China is struggling to improve the quality of life for the citizens who live further from its East coast, and to shift from a relatively burgeoning economy based on exports to one that is accommodating increasing dependence on domestic consumers. Unlike in the past, its political and economic impact is felt in almost every corner of the globe.

China has remained at peace with its neighbors and others for the past 35 years, but its expansion of influence has brought it into contention, especially relative to its southern and eastern seas.

Although many of my successors as president have made negative comments about relations with China during their campaigns, almost all of these have been moderated when they were elected to our nation’s top office. I am sure the same situation has existed in China.

The first official state visit for President Xi Jinping to the United States will offer him and President Obama a chance to explore how our two great nations can deal with each other peacefully, as equals, and with mutual respect.

The Chinese must understand that America would like to see a peaceful, prosperous, and free China and that we do not wish to undermine the rise of China. Similarly, Americans need to understand that China differs from the Soviet Union that we faced in the Cold War. China needs to be encouraged to participate in and defend the international order governed by international laws and norms.

While the current challenges that threaten to derail the U.S.-China relationship are great, I am sure that Deng Xiaoping would agree with me that none of these challenges are more daunting than the ones we worked together to conquer.

Finding ways toward peace and sustained development at home and abroad are at the core of the missions of both President Obama and President Xi. With many conflicts raging and the global economy still fragile, now is the time for each nation to defend a global order conducive to peace and development.

The two presidents must use their meeting later this month to do more than simply agree to disagree on many issues. They can forge a consensus on how to build trust through U.S.-China collaboration that acts to solve our common global challenges. Our joint commitment to take the lead on pressing environmental challenges would set an example that few other nations could not follow.


Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (1977-81) is founder of the nonprofit Carter Center, which works to advance peace and health worldwide.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

 

Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions Won’t Slow Global Economic Growth – Report

September 27, 2015

Increased use of low-carbon energy sources instead of fossil energy sources is making it easier for countries to decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report. (photo: Mick Tsikas/Reuters)
Increased use of low-carbon energy sources instead of fossil energy sources is making it easier for countries to decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report. (photo: Mick Tsikas/Reuters)

By Bruce Watson, Guardian UK

26 September 15

 

New report from green think tank Heinrich Boll shows OECD countries grew their economies 16% in last decade – and cut greenhouse gas emissions 6.4%

s the world works out how to avoid catastrophic climate change, one of the biggest questions remaining is whether we can continue to grow economically without also increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

New research released this week at Climate Week NYC offers more hope that the answer might be yes. Prepared for green thinktank Heinrich Böll by DIW Econ, a German institute for economic research, the study found that, as a whole, countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have already decoupled their economic growth from emissions.

From 2004 to 2014, OECD countries grew their economies by 16% all together, while cutting fossil fuel consumption by 6% and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6.4%, according to the report. The findings echo the results of an International Energy Association study earlier this year, which found that global emissions remained flat in 2014 while global GDP rose, marking a historical milestone.

Four major factors have contributed to this decoupling, according to the Heinrich Böll study: increased use of low-carbon energy sources instead of fossil energy sources; increased efficiency in energy generation; increased energy efficiency on the consumer side; and a move away from energy-intensive manufacturing towards less energy-intensive service sector work.

The biggest driver has been the reduced cost of renewable energy, particularly solar power, says Bastian Hermisson, executive director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s North America office.

“Renewables are the only source of energy that is continually getting cheaper,” Hermisson says. “In many parts of the world, solar and wind power have become cost competitive with coal. Renewables are, increasingly, offering the best return for your money, in terms of new investments.”

In Germany, for example, which has been a world leader in renewable energy policy, renewable energy costs have dropped 74% since 2006. Since 2004, Germany’s GDP has grown by 13% and its emissions have dropped by 11%. Conventional energy usage, including nuclear power, has dropped by 15% over the same period, while renewable energy usage has grown by 185%, and now represents 12% of the country’s total energy consumption.

In the US, GDP grew 17% between 2004 and 2007, while energy consumption dropped 2%; conventional energy usage dropped 4% and emissions related to fossil fuel combustion dropped 7.4%.

But the question of whether the world can continue to decouple economic growth and emissions depends largely on developing countries, which have taken on an increasing share of manufacturing. For the most part, developing countries’ economies are more dependent on fossil fuels, and they are growing to make up an increasing proportion of the total world economy.

Here, again, the Heinrich Böll study offers a glimmer of hope: it found that China, a major manufacturing economy, has also used renewables to begin decoupling its economy and emissions. The report stated that a stronger decoupling “seems possible in the near future”.

In 2004, China accounted for 9% of world GDP and 13% of energy consumption. Ten years later, those numbers had risen to 16% of GDP and 23% of energy consumption. This growth was, to a great extent, fueled by coal: in the same 10 years, China’s coal consumption grew by 74%.

But in the last two years, a major shift has occurred, according to the report: China has increased its use of renewables by 27%, and its use of natural gas by 22%, while its coal usage has remained flat. In other words, China’s rapid industrial growth, which previously depended mainly on fossil fuels, now appears to be taking a more renewable path.

This contrasts starkly with the energy picture in India, which is developing rapidly with a focus on coal. Since 2004, India’s coal consumption has more than doubled to account for over 57% of the country’s energy generation, according to the study. This has steeply raised emissions and has more than canceled out the benefits of its renewable energy growth.

Hermisson emphasizes the importance of helping developing countries to move toward more sustainable models. “If we do not find a way to combine sustainability with the developmental ambitions of billions of people in the world, the future looks bleak,” he says.

The secret may lie in exporting energy efficiency, along with manufacturing.

“The goal is to make sure that, when heavy manufacturing moves to developing countries, the old way of doing things doesn’t follow it,” Hermisson says. “We don’t want to repeat the developmental model of the OECD countries.”

 

In Record Breaking Year, US Special Ops Forces Deployed in 135 Nations

September 27, 2015

A US Special Forces trainer supervises a military assault drill in Sudan in November 2013. (photo: Andreea Campeanu/Reuters)
A US Special Forces trainer supervises a military assault drill in Sudan in November 2013. (photo: Andreea Campeanu/Reuters)

By Nick Turse, TomDispatch

26 September 15

 

ou can find them in dusty, sunbaked badlands, moist tropical forests, and the salty spray of third-world littorals. Standing in judgement, buffeted by the rotor wash of a helicopter orsweltering beneath the relentless desert sun, they instruct, yell, and cajole as skinnier menplayact under their watchful eyes. In many places, more than their particular brand of camouflage, better boots, and designer gear sets them apart. Their days are scented by stale sweat and gunpowder; their nights are spent in rustic locales or third-world bars.

These men — and they are mostly men — belong to an exclusive military fraternity that traces its heritage back to the birth of the nation. Typically, they’ve spent the better part of a decade as more conventional soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen before making the cut. They’ve probably been deployed overseas four to 10 times. The officers are generally approaching their mid-thirties; the enlisted men, their late twenties. They’ve had more schooling than most in the military. They’re likely to be married with a couple of kids. And day after day, they carry out shadowy missions over much of the planet: sometimes covert raids, more often hush-hush training exercises from Chad to Uganda, Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, Albania to Romania, Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, Belize to Uruguay. They belong to the Special Operations forces (SOF), America’s most elite troops — Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, among others — and odds are, if you throw a dart at a world map or stop a spinning globe with your index finger and don’t hit water, they’ve been there sometime in 2015.

The Wide World of Special Ops

This year, U.S. Special Operations forces have already deployed to 135 nations, according to Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command (SOCOM).  That’s roughly 70% of the countries on the planet.  Every day, in fact, America’s most elite troops are carrying out missions in 80 to 90 nations, practicing night raids or sometimes conductingthem for real, engaging in sniper training or sometimes actually gunning down enemies from afar. As part of a global engagement strategy of endless hush-hush operations conducted on every continent but Antarctica, they have now eclipsed the number and range of special ops missions undertaken at the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the waning days of the Bush administration, Special Operations forces (SOF) were reportedly deployed in only about 60 nations around the world.  By 2010, according to theWashington Post, that number had swelled to 75.  Three years later, it had jumped to 134 nations, “slipping” to 133 last year, before reaching a new record of 135 this summer.  This 80% increase over the last five years is indicative of SOCOM’s exponential expansion which first shifted into high gear following the 9/11 attacks.

Special Operations Command’s funding, for example, has more than tripled from about $3 billion in 2001 to nearly $10 billion in 2014 “constant dollars,” according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  And this doesn’t include funding from the various service branches, which SOCOM estimates at around another $8 billion annually, or other undisclosed sums that the GAO was unable to track.  The average number of Special Operations forces deployed overseas has nearly tripled during these same years, while SOCOM more than doubled its personnel from about 33,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 now.

Each day, according to SOCOM commander General Joseph Votel, approximately 11,000 special operators are deployed or stationed outside the United States with many more on standby, ready to respond in the event of an overseas crisis. “I think a lot of our resources are focused in Iraq and in the Middle East, in Syria for right now. That’s really where our head has been,” Votel told the Aspen Security Forum in July.  Still, he insisted his troops were not “doing anything on the ground in Syria” — even if they had carried out a night raid there a couple of months before and it was later revealed that they are involved in a covert campaign of drone strikes in that country.

“I think we are increasing our focus on Eastern Europe at this time,” he added. “At the same time we continue to provide some level of support on South America for Colombia and the other interests that we have down there. And then of course we’re engaged out in the Pacific with a lot of our partners, reassuring them and working those relationships and maintaining our presence out there.”

In reality, the average percentage of Special Operations forces deployed to the Greater Middle East has decreased in recent years.  Back in 2006, 85% of special operators were deployed in support of Central Command or CENTCOM, the geographic combatant command (GCC) that oversees operations in the region.  By last year, that number haddropped to 69%, according to GAO figures.  Over that same span, Northern Command — devoted to homeland defense — held steady at 1%, European Command (EUCOM) doubled its percentage, from 3% to 6%, Pacific Command (PACOM) increased from 7% to 10%, and Southern Command, which overseas Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, inched up from 3% to 4%. The largest increase, however, was in a region conspicuously absent from Votel’s rundown of special ops deployments.  In 2006, just 1% of the special operators deployed abroad were sent to Africa Command’s area of operations.  Last year, it was 10%.

Globetrotting is SOCOM’s stock in trade and, not coincidentally, it’s divided into a collection of planet-girding “sub-unified commands”: the self-explanatory SOCAFRICA; SOCEUR, the European contingent; SOCCENT, the sub-unified command of CENTCOM; SOCKOR, which is devoted strictly to Korea; SOCPAC, which covers the rest of the Asia-Pacific region; SOCSOUTH, which conducts missions in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean; SOCNORTH, which is devoted to “homeland defense”; and the ever-itinerant Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC, a clandestine sub-command (formerly headed by Votel) made up of personnel from each service branch, including SEALs, Air Force special tactics airmen, and the Army’s Delta Force that specializes in tracking and killing suspected terrorists.

The elite of the elite in the special ops community, JSOC takes on covert, clandestine, and low-visibility operations in the hottest of hot spots.  Some covert ops that have come to light in recent years include a host of Delta Force missions: among them, an operation in May in which members of the elite force killed an Islamic State commander known as Abu Sayyaf during a night raid in Syria; the 2014 release of long-time Taliban prisoner Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl; the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspect in 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya; and the 2013 abduction of Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaeda militant, off a street in that same country.  Similarly, Navy SEALs have, among other operations, carried out successful hostage rescue missions in Afghanistan and Somalia in 2012; a disastrous one in Yemen in 2014; a 2013 kidnap raid in Somalia that went awry; and — that same year — a failed evacuation mission in South Sudan in which three SEALs were wounded when their aircraft was hit by small arms fire.

SOCOM’s SOF Alphabet Soup

Most deployments have, however, been training missions designed to tutor proxies and forge stronger ties with allies. “Special Operations forces provide individual-level training, unit-level training, and formal classroom training,” explains SOCOM’s Ken McGraw.  “Individual training can be in subjects like basic rifle marksmanship, land navigation, airborne operations, and first aid.  They provide unit-level training in subjects like small unit tactics, counterterrorism operations and maritime operations. SOF can also provide formal classroom training in subjects like the military decision-making process or staff planning.”

From 2012 to 2014, for instance, Special Operations forces carried out 500 Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) missions in as many as 67 countries each year.  JCETs are officially devoted to training U.S. forces, but they nonetheless serve as a key facet of SOCOM’s global engagement strategy. The missions “foster key military partnerships with foreign militaries, enhance partner-nations’ capability to provide for their own defense, and build interoperability between U.S. SOF and partner-nation forces,” according to SOCOM’s McGraw.

And JCETs are just a fraction of the story.  SOCOM carries out many other multinational overseas training operations.   According to data from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), for example, Special Operations forces conducted 75 training exercises in 30 countries in 2014.  The numbers were projected to jump to 98 exercises in 34 countries by the end of this year.

“SOCOM places a premium on international partnerships and building their capacity.  Today, SOCOM has persistent partnerships with about 60 countries through our Special Operations Forces Liaison Elements and Joint Planning and Advisory Teams,” saidSOCOM’s Votel at a conference earlier this year, drawing attention to two of the many types of shadowy Special Ops entities that operate overseas.  These SOFLEs and JPATs belong to a mind-bending alphabet soup of special ops entities operating around the globe, a jumble of opaque acronyms and stilted abbreviations masking a secret world of clandestine efforts oftenconducted in the shadows in impoverished lands ruled by problematic regimes.  The proliferation of this bewildering SOCOM shorthand — SOJTFs and CJSOTFs, SOCCEs and SOLEs — mirrors the relentless expansion of the command, with its signature brand of military speak or milspeak proving as indecipherable to most Americans as its missions are secret from them.

Around the world, you can find Special Operations Joint Task Forces (SOJTFs), Combined Joint Special Operations Task Forces (CJSOTFs), and Joint Special Operations Task Forces (JSOTFs), Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs), as well as Special Operations Command and Control Elements (SOCCEs) and Special Operations Liaison Elements (SOLEs).  And that list doesn’t even include Special Operations Command Forward (SOC FWD) elements — small teams which, according to the military, “shape and coordinate special operations forces security cooperation and engagement in support of theater special operations command, geographic combatant command, and country team goals and objectives.”

Special Operations Command will not divulge the locations or even a simple count of its SOC FWDs for “security reasons.”  When asked how releasing only the number could imperil security, SOCOM’s Ken McGraw was typically opaque.  “The information is classified,” he responded.  “I am not the classification authority for that information so I do not know the specifics of why the information is classified.”  Open source data suggests, however, that they are clustered in favored black ops stomping grounds, including SOC FWD Pakistan, SOC FWD Yemen, and SOC FWD Lebanon, as well as SOC FWD East Africa, SOC FWD Central Africa, and SOC FWD West Africa.

What’s clear is that SOCOM prefers to operate in the shadows while its personnel and missions expand globally to little notice or attention.  “The key thing that SOCOM brings to the table is that we are — we think of ourselves — as a global force. We support the geographic combatant commanders, but we are not bound by the artificial boundaries that normally define the regional areas in which they operate. So what we try to do is we try to operate across those boundaries,” SOCOM’s Votel told the Aspen Security Forum.

In one particular blurring of boundaries, Special Operations liaison officers (SOLOs) are embedded in at least 14 key U.S. embassies to assist in advising the special forces of various allied nations.  Already operating in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Poland, Peru, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, the SOLO program is poised, according to Votel, to expand to 40 countries by 2019.  The command, and especially JSOC, has also forged close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency, among other outfits, through the use of liaison officers and Special Operations Support Teams (SOSTs).

“In today’s environment, our effectiveness is directly tied to our ability to operate with domestic and international partners. We, as a joint force, must continue to institutionalize interoperability, integration, and interdependence between conventional forces and special operations forces through doctrine, training, and operational deployments,” Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee this spring.  “From working with indigenous forces and local governments to improve local security, to high-risk counterterrorism operations — SOF are in vital roles performing essential tasks.”

SOCOM will not name the 135 countries in which America’s most elite forces were deployed this year, let alone disclose the nature of those operations.  Most were, undoubtedly, training efforts.  Documents obtained from the Pentagon via the Freedom of Information Act outlining Joint Combined Exchange Training in 2013 offer an indication of what Special Operations forces do on a daily basis and also what skills are deemed necessary for their real-world missions: combat marksmanship, patrolling, weapons training, small unit tactics, special operations in urban terrain, close quarters combat, advanced marksmanship, sniper employment, long-range shooting, deliberate attack, and heavy weapons employment, in addition to combat casualty care, human rights awareness, land navigation, and mission planning, among others.

From Joint Special Operations Task Force-Juniper Shield, which operates in Africa’s Trans-Sahara region, and Special Operations Command and Control Element-Horn of Africa, to Army Special Operations Forces Liaison Element-Korea and Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula, the global growth of SOF missions has been breathtaking.  SEALs or Green Berets, Delta Force operators or Air Commandos, they are constantly taking on what Votel likes to call the “nation’s most complex, demanding, and high-risk challenges.”

These forces carry out operations almost entirely unknown to the American taxpayers who fund them, operations conducted far from the scrutiny of the media or meaningful outside oversight of any kind.  Everyday, in around 80 or more countries that Special Operations Command will not name, they undertake missions the command refuses to talk about.  They exist in a secret world of obtuse acronyms and shadowy efforts, of mystery missions kept secret from the American public, not to mention most of the citizens of the 135 nations where they’ve been deployed this year.

This summer, when Votel commented that more special ops troops are deployed to more locations and are conducting more operations than at the height of the Afghan and Iraq wars, he drew attention to two conflicts in which those forces played major roles that have notturned out well for the United States.  Consider that symbolic of what the bulking up of his command has meant in these years.

“Ultimately, the best indicator of our success will be the success of the [geographic combatant commands],” says the special ops chief, but with U.S. setbacks in Africa Command’s area of operations from Mali and Nigeria to Burkina Faso and Cameroon; in Central Command’s bailiwick from Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen and Syria; in the PACOMregion vis-à-vis China; and perhaps even in the EUCOM area of operations due to Russia, it’s far from clear what successes can be attributed to the ever-expanding secret operations of America’s secret military.  The special ops commander seems resigned to the very real limitations of what his secretive but much-ballyhooed, highly-trained, well-funded, heavily-armed operators can do.

“We can buy space, we can buy time,” says Votel, stressing that SOCOM can “play a very, very key role” in countering “violent extremism,” but only up to a point — and that point seems to fall strikingly short of anything resembling victory or even significant foreign policy success.  “Ultimately, you know, problems like we see in Iraq and Syria,” he says, “aren’t going to be resolved by us.”