Archive for August, 2016

What the Earth would look like if all the ice melted

August 31, 2016

We learned last year that many of the effects of climate change are irreversible. Sea levels have been rising at a greater rate year after year, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates they could rise by another meter or more by the end of this century.

As National Geographic showed us in 2013, sea levels would rise by 216 feet if all the land ice on the planet were to melt. This would dramatically reshape the continents and drown many of the world’s major cities.

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The Anthropocene Epoch: Scientists Declare Dawn of Human-Influenced Age

August 31, 2016

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By Damian Carrington, Guardian UK

29 August 16

 

Experts say human impact on Earth so profound that Holocene must give way to epoch defined by nuclear tests, plastic pollution and domesticated chicken

umanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared, according to an official expert group who presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town on Monday.

The new epoch should begin about 1950, the experts said, and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.

The current epoch, the Holocene, is the 12,000 years of stable climate since the last ice age during which all human civilisation developed. But the striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development mark the end of that slice of geological time, the experts argue. The Earth is so profoundly changed that the Holocene must give way to the Anthropocene.

“The significance of the Anthropocene is that it sets a different trajectory for the Earth system, of which we of course are part,” said Prof Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester and chair of the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA), which started work in 2009.

“If our recommendation is accepted, the Anthropocene will have started just a little before I was born,” he said. “We have lived most of our lives in something called the Anthropocene and are just realising the scale and permanence of the change.”

Prof Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and WGA secretary, said: “Being able to pinpoint an interval of time is saying something about how we have had an incredible impact on the environment of our planet. The concept of the Anthropocene manages to pull all these ideas of environmental change together.”

Prof Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London and former director of the Science Museum in London said: “The Anthropocene marks a new period in which our collective activities dominate the planetary machinery.

“Since the planet is our life support system – we are essentially the crew of a largish spaceship – interference with its functioning at this level and on this scale is highly significant. If you or I were crew on a smaller spacecraft, it would be unthinkable to interfere with the systems that provide us with air, water, fodder and climate control. But the shift into the Anthropocene tells us that we are playing with fire, a potentially reckless mode of behaviour which we are likely to come to regret unless we get a grip on the situation.” Rapley is not part of the WGA.

Martin Rees, the astronomer royal and former president of the Royal Society, said that the dawn of the Anthropocene was a significant moment. “The darkest prognosis for the next millennium is that bio, cyber or environmental catastrophes could foreclose humanity’s immense potential, leaving a depleted biosphere,” he said.

But Lord Rees added that there is also cause for optimism. “Human societies could navigate these threats, achieve a sustainable future, and inaugurate eras of post-human evolution even more marvellous than what’s led to us. The dawn of the Anthropocene epoch would then mark a one-off transformation from a natural world to one where humans jumpstart the transition to electronic (and potentially immortal) entities, that transcend our limitations and eventually spread their influence far beyond the Earth.”

The evidence of humanity’s impact on the planet is overwhelming, but the changes are very recent in geological terms, where an epoch usually spans tens of millions of years. “One criticism of the Anthropocene as geology is that it is very short,” said Zalasiewicz. “Our response is that many of the changes are irreversible.”

To define a new geological epoch, a signal must be found that occurs globally and will be incorporated into deposits in the future geological record. For example, the extinction of the dinosaurs 66m years ago at the end of the Cretaceous epoch is defined by a “golden spike” in sediments around the world of the metal iridium, which was dispersed from the meteorite that collided with Earth to end the dinosaur age.

For the Anthropocene, the best candidate for such a golden spike are radioactive elements from nuclear bomb tests, which were blown into the stratosphere before settling down to Earth. “The radionuclides are probably the sharpest – they really come on with a bang,” said Zalasiewicz. “But we are spoiled for choice. There are so many signals.”

Other spikes being considered as evidence of the onset of the Anthropocene include the tough, unburned carbon spheres emitted by power stations. “The Earth has been smoked, with signals very clearly around the world in the mid-20th century,” said Zalasiewicz.

Other candidates include plastic pollution, aluminium and concrete particles, and high levels of nitrogen and phosphate in soils, derived from artificial fertilisers. Although the world is currently seeing only the sixth mass extinction of species in the 700m-year history of complex life on Earth, this is unlikely to provide a useful golden spike as the animals are by definition very rare and rarely dispersed worldwide.

In contrast, some species have with human help spread rapidly across the world. The domestic chicken is a serious contender to be a fossil that defines the Anthropocene for future geologists. “Since the mid-20th century, it has become the world’s most common bird. It has been fossilised in thousands of landfill sites and on street corners around the world,” said Zalasiewicz. “It is is also a much bigger bird with a different skeleton than its prewar ancestor.”

The 35 scientists on the WGA – who voted 30 to three in favour of formally designating the Anthropocene, with two abstentions – will now spend the next two to three years determining which signals are the strongest and sharpest. Crucially, they must also decide a location which will define the start of the Anthropocene. Geological divisions are not defined by dates but by a specific boundary between layers of rock or, in the case of the Holocene, a boundary between two ice layers in a core taken from Greenland and now stored in Denmark.

The scientists are focusing on sites where annual layers are formed and are investigating mud sediments off the coast of Santa Barbara in California and the Ernesto cave in northern Italy, where stalactites and stalagmites accrete annual rings. Lake sediments, ice cores from Antarctica, corals, tree rings and even layers of rubbish in landfill sites are also being considered.

Once the data has been assembled, it will be formally submitted to the stratigraphic authorities and the Anthropocene could be officially adopted within a few years. “If we were very lucky and someone came forward with, say, a core from a classic example of laminated sediments in a deep marine environment, I think three years is possibly viable,” said Zalasiewicz.

This would be lightning speed for such a geological decision, which in the past would have taken decades and even centuries to make. The term Anthropocene was coined only in 2000, by the Nobel prize-winning scientist Paul Crutzen, who believes the name change is overdue. He said in 2011: “This name change stresses the enormity of humanity’s responsibility as stewards of the Earth.” Crutzen also identified in 2007 what he called the “great acceleration” of human impacts on the planet from the mid-20th century.

Despite the WGA’s expert recommendation, the declaration of the Anthropocene is not yet a forgone conclusion. “Our stratigraphic colleagues are very protective of the geological time scale. They see it very rightly as the backbone of geology and they do not amend it lightly,” said Zalasiewicz. “But I think we can prepare a pretty good case.”

Rapley also said there was a strong case: “It is highly appropriate that geologists should pay formal attention to a change in the signal within sedimentary rock layers that will be clearly apparent to future generations of geologists for as long as they exist. The ‘great acceleration’ constitutes a strong, detectable and incontrovertible signal.”

Evidence of the Anthropocene

Human activity has:

    • Pushed extinction rates of animals and plants far above the long-term average. The Earth is on course to see 75% of species become extinct in the next few centuries if current trends continue.
    • Put so much plastic in our waterways and oceans that microplastic particles are now virtually ubiquitous, and plastics will likely leave identifiable fossil records for future generations to discover.
    • Doubled the nitrogen and phosphorous in our soils in the past century with fertiliser use. This is likely to be the largest impact on the nitrogen cycle in 2.5bn years.
  • Left a permanent layer of airborne particulates in sediment and glacial ice such as black carbon from fossil fuel burning.

 

NoWar2016

August 31, 2016

David Swanson via WarIsACrime.org

TV: “Astronomical amounts of radiation” found in downtown Tokyo… Directly outside gov’t building

August 23, 2016

ENENews


TV: “Astronomical amounts of radiation” found in downtown Tokyo… Directly outside gov’t building — ‘Horrific’ readings where kids playing in Fukushima, ‘extreme’ levels found where food is grown for elementary school lunches — Nuclear expert shocked, upset by discovery (VIDEO)

Posted: 22 Aug 2016 09:10 AM PDT

Abe’s Super Mario act gets social media buzzing in Japan

August 23, 2016

Abe's Super Mario act gets social media buzzing in JapanJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a surprise appearance dressed as Super Mario during the closing ceremony of the Rio Games on Sunday night.AFP

TOKYO —

Japan on Monday reacted with a mix of surprise, delight and cynicism at the sight of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dressed up as video game icon Super Mario in a comical cameo at the close of the Rio Olympics.

Social media immediately lit up as scenes of Abe wearing a Super Mario costume proved jaw-dropping to Japanese watching the spectacle on television half a world away.

“I was impressed to see a national leader sacrificing his reputation and showing up in cosplay at this world event,” posted a Japanese-language Twitter user.

“He is great.”

Most had apparently never conceived of the normally blue-suited and politically conservative Abe and the moustachioed Mario merging into one.

“I never thought of having Prime Minister Abe play Mario, let alone him emerging from plumbing,” another Twitter user said.

That was a reference to Abe’s entrance before the vast crowd at Rio’s Maracana stadium where plumber Super Mario came out from underground after drilling down from Tokyo into the earth to reach Brazil.

Some voices, however, were sharply critical.

“He popped up from a pipe grossly contaminated by radiation,” said one tweet, apparently referring to the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was crippled by a massive 2011 tsunami.

Abe came under fire in 2013 after he made a global promise to Olympic chiefs just ahead of a decision to award the Games to Tokyo, saying of the plant: “Let me assure you, the situation is under control.”

The facility is being decommissioned and that is expected to take decades to achieve, while some areas around it remain uninhabitable due to high levels of radiation.

The closing ceremony and transfer of the Olympic flag to Tokyo was the top story in Japan’s evening newspapers, with some including short items on Abe’s transformation into Super Mario.

Tamayo Marukawa, the Japanese minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Games, told reporters in Tokyo she was not informed of Abe’s plan to portray the popular Nintendo game character.

“I didn’t know about this at all,” she said. I never imagined he would play Mario.”

She then suggested Abe should start calling himself “Shinzo Mario Abe” to raise his global profile.

Abe himself seemed satisfied.

“I wanted to show Japan’s soft power to the world with the help of Japanese characters,” he told reporters.

“I wasn’t sure how the audience would react,” he added. “But I received so many cheers. I appreciate it.”

© 2016 AFP

___________________________

Comment: Why spending time (when nukes not under control, Takae osprey-pad endangering people and environ, Abenomix failing, …) and money (PM plane, travel cost, …)?

Dress to End War

August 18, 2016

Let’s help army find its $6.5 trillion

August 16, 2016

David Swanson via WarIsACrime.org

I volunteer to help the U.S. Army find its missing $6.5 trillion!


Click here to sign.

To: The U.S. Army

Please allow us to visit your facilities and to conduct unimpeded inspections until we determine exactly where the unaccounted for $6.5 trillion ended up — the $6.5 trillion that you said in the report linked below you just can’t locate. We are willing to do this on a contingency basis, accepting as payment a 0.0001% finder’s fee each.

Sign now.

Why is this important?

$30 billion a year could end starvation and hunger worldwide.

$11 billion a year could provide clean drinking water to everyone who needs it.

All the green energy projects ever envisioned that could preserve life on earth would collectively cost significantly less than this pocket change of yours that has gone missing.

We realize you didn’t drop it in the yard with your keys somewhere, that you SPENT it on things you don’t really want to go into details about with us, even though it was our money to begin with. Nonetheless, we’ll help you identify exactly where it all went. It shouldn’t be hard if you give us proper access.

Here’s your report on the unaccounted for money:
http://www.dodig.mil/pubs/documents/DODIG-2016-113.pdf

How the petition will be delivered

Help support DavidSwanson.org, WarIsACrime.org, and TalkNationRadio.org by clicking here:http://davidswanson.org/donate.

If you were forwarded this email please sign up at https://actionnetwork.org/forms/activism-alerts-from-david-swanson.

HOLLER BACK – [NOT] VOTING IN AN AMERICAN TOWN

August 14, 2016

HACKING THE MACHINES – COVERAGE FINALLY!

August 12, 2016

A recent spate of articles and audio programs is acknowledging that the manipulation of election results using electronic voting equipment is a distinct possibility. NPR, Wired, the Washington Post, Science Friday, and most comprehensively – an almost 9000 word article at Politico, are all reporting on the vulnerabilities of the machines that we vote on. The networks have joined the chorus with coverage at ABC, NBC and CBS. It’s a welcome sight to see this coverage, and it’s also about time. A small army of election integrity activists, computer scientists and journalists like Brad Friedman and Victoria Collier have made the point repeatedly over the last ten years; Collier most emphatically in an eye-opening 2012 article in Harper’s Magazine.

I have been one of those voices. In 2008, I released a documentary Holler Back – [not] Voting in an American Town. As part of the filming, I recorded the hack of the AccuVote-TS voting machine that is described in the Politico article. The hack is by then-graduate students Alex J.Halderman and Ari Feldman, working with Professor Ed Felten at Princeton. The documentary clip is 5 minutes long and well worth watching. It contains back and forth cuts between Halderman and a Lehigh County Pennsylvania election official, where Halderman explains how they overcame every single one of Lehigh County’s security measures.

Lehigh County Former Chief of Staff Levi Price, “We changed the passwords for each election.”

Halderman, “The password didn’t stop us for more than a few seconds.”

Lehigh County, “You have to have the technological capability of altering the software.”

Halderman,“The memory card is just a standard off-the-shelf memory card that you use in your digital camera.  The smart cards you can buy over the internet.”

Lehigh County: “We have 700 separate machines. Each of those 700 separate machines is locked with a different key.”

Halderman, “You don’t need to break all 700 locks. Because a viral attack is possible, all you need to do is infect one or a small number of machines. And then the virus and your malicious vote-stealing software will spread from machine to machine during normal election procedures.

My narration: But what if we had a paper trail for the touch-screen machines. Would that make them more reliable?

Brad Friedman, (of Bradblog.com) “There is no reason to trust a touchscreen or DRE system with or without a paper trail. Period. You can hack the paper trails as easily as you can the internal numbers.”

That was in 2008.

HACKING IS NOT THEORETICAL

Which brings me to my next point: while the coverage is welcome, there are still some problems with the current narrative.

One problem with these stories is that they all take the position that this is a theoretical issue that they are concerned could happen. From the Politico article, “’You would be hard pressed to find an example of our voting systems ever being hacked in a real election environment, as opposed to that of a hack attempt inside of a laboratory environment in which zero real world physical election processes are utilized,’ writes Kathy Rogers, a spokesperson with ES&S, in an email, and correctly so—it’s never been proven that an election was deliberately hacked.”

This is actually not true. As early as 1994, the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa was successfully attacked through the computers. According to Peter Harris, the head of the official election monitors, “The electronic count was compromised by a hacker who went in and multiplied the vote. The electronic count was then closed down. It stopped. That’s when the results stopped going to South Africa and the rest of the world.” The BBC reports that, “The secret manual system saved the day.”

If hacking the voting equipment is as easy as buying a memory card and a mini-bar key on the internet, and allows one control of local, state, and federal budgets it is not hard to imagine that it is already happening. The media may suffer from a lack of imagination, but hackers do not.

Our research does not prove that elections are being hacked. But the reported totals do not look accurate when analyzed statistically, and after extensively looking for other causes, we conclude that the manipulation of the count is the most likely explanation. The data indicates this is already occurring, and has in all likelihood been happening for years in both Democrat and Republican primaries, as well as general elections.

OPTICAL SCAN MACHINES ARE VULNERABLE

One concern about the current narrative is that some security experts are recommending optical scan machines as the solution to our election security woes. Our research indicates that computerized elections with a paper trail are as vulnerable as those without.

We performed a detailed statistical analysis of New York, a state that votes on paper, and then runs the ballots through optical scan machines. According to those familiar with the process, the results of the optical scan machines are all centrally tabulated by computer. In an interview Professor Halderman confirmed that central tabulation is a vulnerable security opening, where results could be assigned new percentages. “If you’re manipulating the central counting systems, then you can make an overall adjustment.” Asked whether it’s possible to get access to the central counting software, he replied, “Probably. It’s been our experience in the last decade with the Diebold systems, for instance, that it was certainly possible in the machines and counting systems we examined.”

Voting on paper is necessary, but if we want to be confident the results are accurate, it is also necessary to count the votes by hand. This is a conclusion that most of the European democracies have come to. As Ben Wofford points out in the Politico article, “Eight countries in Europe that once flirted with digital voting have seen six go back to paper; Britain counted its Brexit votes by hand.”

Below is the segment of our report showing how problematic the New York Democratic 2016 primary results are. For those who have not read the full report we found that a significant difference in the percentages that the candidates receive in small and large precincts is a cause for concern. There is no demographic explanation that is large enough to account for these variations. Furthermore, the variations are consistently helping or hurting certain candidates, ruling our random error as the problem.

New York State — Multiple Issues Raise Serious Concerns

In the 2016 New York Democratic presidential primary, the statistical patterns of certain counties are irregular (Figure 1). Both Richmond County (Staten Island) and Kings County (Brooklyn) reveal a strong correlation between precinct size and candidates’ percentages.

Fig. 1 — 2016 NY Dem pres primary. Richmond and Kings Co., show irregular statistical patterns

 

Columbia County, New York — a hand-counted county — offers a good point of comparison to the above graphs (Figure 2).

Fig. 2 — 2016 NY Dem pres primary

Columbia Co. – this hand-counted county has an expected statistical pattern

In this graph, there is a large degree of fluctuation both up and down on the left side of the graph. Then, by about 1,300 votes, the graph settles into a fairly even straight line, with small, random fluctuations. It maintains a basically flat line through all of the largest precincts. This is a very normal-looking CVT (cumulative vote tally) graph. Unlike the Richmond County, Kings County and Bronx County graphs, Clinton and Sanders have approximately the same percentages in the small and large precincts.

Earlier in the paper we demonstrated that hand-counted and machine-counted ballots in Kings County give different percentages for the candidates (Figure 3).

Fig. 3 — Hand-counted ballots show

a consistently higher return for Sanders in the 2016 New York presidential primary

Graph by Anselmo Sampietro

 

The suspect CVT graph in Kings County reinforces the findings of irregular election results presented earlier, and paints an increasingly troubled portrait of potentially compromised vote totals. But there is another odd factor in this state’s results.

Precise Percentages

We are showing the New York City graphs (Figure 1) to illustrate a very specific point. The data supports the idea that the overall state vote totals are being massaged to achieve a predetermined percentage.

The final reported totals in New York state were almost exactly 58% Clinton to 42% Sanders. It is necessary to go to the third decimal digit to see a difference: 57.995 versus 42.005.

Doug Johnson Hatlem reported on this issue, pointing out that, “The overall results in New York, as announced on election night, deviated from a perfect 58–42 split by 0.005345. That’s 97 votes out of over 1.8 million.”

In Kings County, the reported totals were almost exactly 60% Clinton, to 40% Sanders: (59.72% Clinton, 40.27% Sanders.) The .27 difference is caused by about 800 votes out of 300,000. In the Bronx, the percentages were almost precisely 70% to 30% (69.59% Clinton to 30.41% Sanders), the difference being just 616 out of 151,908 total votes. The Bronx County CVT graph is also irregular (Figure 4).

Fig. 4 — 2016 New York Democratic presidential primary

The Bronx County graph shows a strong correlation between precinct size and candidate percentage

New York City already had two unusual pieces of data giving cause for concern:

  • The difference between hand-counted and machine-counted results
  • Irregular statstical graphs in multiple counties

Add to that:

  • Precise percentages in the total election results could be an indication that the results have been manipulated to achieve a specific percentage for the candidates.

These are three separate but reinforcing facts, illustrating why the totals for this state are suspect.

 

COUNTING BY HAND – THE BEST SOLUTION

Our recommendation is

  • Paper ballots marked by the voter, counted by hand in the precinct with secure chain of custody and transparent processing that is open to scrutiny by the public and the media.

In this age of speed and automation many people cringe at the thought of sitting down at a publicly-monitored table and counting the votes one by one. But there are well-developed protocols for counting votes by hand publicly at each precinct, immediately following the close of polls, with good chain of command security, that make this a feasible enterprise. The process would be open to the media and could make for some very dramatic television – especially in a close race. People counting the votes by hand could give the networks hours and hours of dramatic air time to speculate about the possible outcomes.

Yes, it’s true, most of us use a calculator to add 17 + 24, but there are still a few things we would never want a machine to do. Would you want a machine to read a bedtime story to your child? Would you want a machine to make the final confirmation that a loved one was dead? Would you want a machine to determine whether or not we engage in nuclear warfare? After all, that is the ultimate decision we are deciding at the ballot box. Collectively we are determining who will make crucial decisions for us at the moment of crisis. It’s worth the extra time and effort to make sure we get it right.

The Pro-Nuclear War Party

August 14, 2016
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According to a Wall Street Journal report, the following people and entities would like the United States to begin a nuclear war: Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, the U.K., France, Japan, South Korea, and Germany. If any of those people or entities believe they can prove a case of libel, it might be a huge one. (Are you listening, Rupert?)According to Mr. Murdoch’s newspaper, the White House has been discussing the possibility of declaring that the United States no longer has a policy of engaging in the first use of nuclear bombs. The trouble is that those individuals and nations named above object. They insist, we are told, that the United States should have the policy of beginning a nuclear war.

Have the people of the UK, France, Japan, South Korea, Germany, or the United States itself been polled on this? Has any legislature pretending to represent any of those populations voted on this? Of course not. But what we could do, perhaps, is amend the policy to read: “When the United States begins the nuclear war, it shall announce that it is doing so in the name of democracy.” That should be good.

Has Mr. Kerry, Mr. Carter, or Mr. Moniz been evaluated by a psychiatrist? Was Mr. Kerry against this before he was for it? The important question, I believe, is whether they want to start the nuclear war with any hatred or bigotry in mind. If what they intend is a loving, tolerant, and multicultural nuclear war, then really what we ought to be worrying about is the unfathomable evil of Donald Trump who has said that he’d like to kill families — and particular types of families.

Now, I am not claiming to have fathomed the evil of Mr. Trump, but it has been U.S. policy since before there was a United States to kill families. And it is my strong suspicion that a nuclear war and the nuclear winter and nuclear famine it would bring to the earth would harm at least some families of every existing type.

The non-nuclear nations of this off-its-axis planet have been moving forward on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. That sort of strong and sane proposal could have something to do with the White House interest in advancing something as weak as a statement of no longer planning to be the first to start the apocalypse. But you can see the logic of the profiteers quite clearly. The same White House has laid out a plan to dump a trillion dollars in the coming years into building smaller, more “usable,” nukes. If the United States commits to not using them first, as other nuclear nations have already done, and if that commitment becomes universal, well, then nobody will ever use them, and at some point in the 23rd century it might occur to some bureaucrat that if nobody’s ever going to use them, it might not be the best use of unfathomable levels of spending to keep building them, and then where would we be?

But, not to worry, the Wall Street Journal and a pair of aspiring politicians have got you covered, because “a decision by Mr. Obama to press ahead with the declaration appears unlikely in his remaining months, given the controversy it would stir in the midst of a presidential election.” If you believe Mr. Obama is against controversy in the election, I’ve got an argument for the deterrent value of nuclear weapons to sell you. If Hillary Clinton were against first-use, so would Obama be. But she isn’t. Neither is His Huckstership, the Republican nominee.

Opening presidential election debates to include Jill Stein would create the controversy on this and other issues that Mr. Murdoch and his fellow media overlords would prefer to avoid. And Obama would find himself on the same side of that controversy as anyone else who has completely and utterly lost all sense of human decency.

 

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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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Fiddling while the Doomsday Clock ticks

August 8, 2016
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Last Jan. 26, unnoticed in the sound and fury of the presidential primary season, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that its famous Doomsday Clock would remain at 3 minutes to midnight (=global catastrophe): “As the signatories to this reportmake clear, the Earth remains perilously and inexcusably close to metaphorical midnight.”The Bulletin was first published in 1945 by scientists who had helped develop the atomic bomb. In 1947 The Bulletin began using the image of a Doomsday Clock to symbolize how close nuclear weapons technology had brought us to the destruction of civilization. They have since included the threat from human-induced global warming. The only other years the clock was this close to midnight were in 1949 when the Soviets acquired their atomic bomb, in 1953 when the U.S. and USSR acquired the hydrogen bomb, and in 1984 when cold-war tensions were at their peak.

The start of the Doomsday Clock signaled a new era in human history: one in which humans had acquired the power to destroy their planet but lacked the wisdom and institutions that would make its use unlikely. That’s why the clock was set from the start at the final minutes of the last hour, and since then never earlier than 17 minutes before midnight. What now alarms the Bulletin’s panel of scientific experts (including 16 Nobel Laureates ) is a combination of rising tensions among nuclear powers and the inadequate international response to accelerating climate change.

Climate Change

Seashore flooding and increasing weather extremes make it hard to ignore the threat from climate change. According to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society’s annual State of the Climate report, in 2015 greenhouse gases, global land and sea surface temperatures and global sea levels were the highest on record.

The latest international attempt to address global warming was the Paris Agreement signed on Earth Day by the leaders of 175 nations. Unfortunately, as the New York Times points out, the agreement will not have the legal force of a treaty because it would “be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill without the required two-thirds majority vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.” Of all the major political parties in the democratic world, only the GOP rejects climate science.

Republicans have nominated for President a climate-change denier who has shown himself to be a narcissistic man-child. They also want him to be commander-in-chief of U.S. nuclear forces. The GOP is a major threat to human survival.

Nuclear War

On August 6, 1945 the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It instantly killed 70,000 people, and 140,000 more died from radiation effects. The city of 310,000 was obliterated. A second atomic bomb on August 9 caused similar devastation in Nagasaki. The first bomb had an explosive power of 15 kilotons (=15,000 tons of TNT), while the second was 22 kilotons. The estimated totaldestructive force of the current nuclear arsenal is 570,000 kilotons (570 megatons) for the U.S. and 660+ megatons for Russia, equal to 38,000 and 44,000 Hiroshimas respectively.

According to the Arms Control Association, the world’s nuclear powers now possess a total of 15,300 nuclear warheads, 90% of which are held by the U.S. and Russia. About a third of these are retired and await dismantlement. Each nation has about 4500 warheads stockpiled for potential use. Russia has 1648 warheads deployed on ballistic missiles or heavy bombers, while the U.S. has 1538. Each side maintains a “nuclear triad” consisting of land-based ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and strategic bombers.

It’s a terrible irony that we nearly ended the threat of a nuclear doomsday 30 years ago at the 1986 Reykjavk summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Both offered to completely eliminate their nuclear arsenals, and then backed off. The obstacle was Reagan’s refusal to limit the development of his so-called Star Wars anti-ballistic missile system even though the elimination of the missiles would make the system unnecessary.

The kind of irrationality that led to the failure of the Reykjavk summit is now at work in U.S. foreign policy toward Russia. The immediate background of the current threat is the American-sponsored expansion of NATO to the borders of Russia, incorporating many former Warsaw Pact countries. NATO even announced that Ukraine, despite its deep historic and economic ties with Russia, would be considered for membership.

As Noam Chomsky put it recently: “One can imagine how the United States would react if the Warsaw Pact were still alive, most of Latin America had joined, and now Mexico and Canada were applying for membership.”

In 2013 the U.S. supported a coup that ousted the democratically elected Ukrainian President Yanukovych, replacing him with a Western-leaning regime. This was the last straw for Russian President Putin. He responded by annexing Crimea, an ethnically Russian part of Ukraine that included port facilities for the Russian Black Sea fleet. He also supported a separatist insurrection in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine that continues today.

The American narrative from politicians and the mainstream media is that Russia is an aggressor that needs to be contained by economic sanctions and military threats. NATO is moving military forces close to the border with Russia, and Russia is responding with its own troop movements. There is a growing acceptance of a New Cold War.

Instead of urgently pushing for nuclear arms reduction, President Obama (winner of the Nobel Peace Prize) has committed to a trillion-dollar renewal program for the U.S. nuclear triad. It envisions weapons and delivery systems that “move toward the small, the stealthy and the precise” ( NYT , 1/11/16). The Russians have noticed, and are scrambling to catch up. The Doomsday Clock is ticking.

 

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I’m a retired philosophy professor at Centre College. I also am a regular columnist for The Danville Advocate-Messenger,the local paper in what was my home town (I now live in Connecticut. My last book was Posthumanity-Thinking Philosophically (more…)

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