Bill Totten's Weblog

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A poor future in the city

Observations on population

by Sam Alexandroni

New Statesman (July 02 2007)

The urban population of Africa and Asia will double by 2030, according to the latest annual UN population report. This rapid growth in the world's cities will result in a dramatic increase in the number of teenagers living in extreme poverty, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) warns, and will also lead to a surge in violent crime and HIV infection.

By 2030, eighty per cent of the world's urban population will live in the developing world and sixty per cent will be under eighte18. The majority of these teenagers will grow up in poverty. The picture is one of chaos and misery: a vast population of young people packed into squalid slums without opportunities, law or essential services.

The consequences could be catastrophic. Poor youngsters aged fifteen to 24 are both the principal victims and the perpetrators of violent crime; about half of all new HIV infections occur in this age group. Unless something is done now, this "youth bulge" will signal a disastrous upsurge in violence and HIV infection. Significantly, the fastest-growing urban population is in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicentre of the Aids pandemic.

Africa's urban population will increase from 294 million to 742 million, Asia's from 1.36 billion to 2.64 billion and Latin America and the Caribbean from 394 million to 609 million. Urban populations of the developed world will show far slower growth: from 870 million to just over one billion.

The greatest growth will not be in the mega-cities (those with ten million or more people such as Calcutta and Sa~o Paulo), but in settlements of 500,000 or less where there is room for expansion.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the driving factors of this increase will be the movement of people uprooted by drought, famine, ethnic conflicts and wars.

The authors do not believe this rapid growth of shanty towns and cities need necessarily spell disaster. They remain hopeful about the world's urban future, concluding that, if the right preparations are made now, the concentration of the world's population in cities can be positive.

Yet the catalogue of profoundly depressing statistics offers plenty to be concerned about.

There are already growing pressures on natural resources. In East Africa, the average time spent waiting for water increased from 28 minutes each day in 1967, to 92 minutes a day in 1997, raising concerns at how a region already suffering from water shortages will supply twice as many people just two decades from now.

"We are not on schedule to meet this challenge", says Stephen Turner, deputy director of Water Aid. "Sub-Saharan Africa is way off-track. The issue is not water scarcity, it is water equity. The hidden scandal is that governments and donors are not making this a priority."

Cities, the UN report suggests, can be the solution to some impending environmental problems. For example, they may be the most effective way of providing people with essential services, protecting the environment by containing human settlement to a smaller area.

But cities are environmentally friendly only if well planned, argue commentators such as climate expert, George Monbiot: "In urban sprawl you get the worst of all worlds - an urban population living with few natural resources to fall back on when times are hard but spread over a large area that is very difficult to supply with essential services".

Governments and local authorities have tended to worry about the civil unrest resulting from large populations of frustrated young people living in slum conditions, which is why current policies focus on reducing migration from rural areas and making it hard for new arrivals to settle in shanty towns.

But such policies are counter-productive, the report argues. Strategies to prevent people settling in cities merely encourage unplanned and unsafe housing. If policy-makers continue to resist the "inevitable" growth of cities, we will see more wealthy, fortress communities abutting slums that are rife with violence and disease.

The only option, the report's authors conclude, is to try to strengthen the positive aspects of urbanisation. This means co-operating with grass-roots organisations, empowering women, investing in education and improving access to contraceptives (all ways to reduce birth rates).

It also means, say the report's authors, accepting the inevitable and providing land for people to build new shanty towns but ensuring that they are equipped with roads, electricity, clean water, sewers and waste disposal.

"We are really at the crossroads", says George Martine, lead author of the report. "Unless we take action then chaos is what we have in store. Many of these ideas [such as the provision of sites and services for shanty towns] have been tried and later buried under political concerns. We need to correct the misconceptions that governments in the developing world have about urbanisation - we need a new mindset.

"Our message is one of hope, but it is also a call to action."

"State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth" is available from 27 June.

Bill Totten

Despite warnings, oil usage expected to increase

by James Kanter

International Herald Tribune (July 09 2007)

Despite four years of high prices and increasingly dire warnings about climate change, a new report Monday predicted that world oil demand would rise faster than previously expected over the next five years while production slips, threatening a supply crunch.

"Demand is growing and as people become accustomed to higher prices they are starting to return to their previous trends of high consumption", said Lawrence Eagles, the head of oil markets analysis at the Paris-based International Energy Agency. "It's important that we have more investment and a greater emphasis on energy efficiency".

The pressures on fuel supplies are growing because booming Asian economies are using more fuel to power their prospering manufacturing industries and to supply growing numbers of automobiles amid a spurt in consumerism.

Rapid growth of the petrochemicals sector and low-cost airlines are other important factors lifting demand.

Supplies are being squeezed by a scarcity of modern oil refining facilities as well as sufficient staff to operate them. Supplies also are a concern because of deteriorating production of oil from countries outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the price-setting cartel operated by the world's biggest producers.

The world "needs more than three million barrels per day of new oil each year to offset the falling production in the mature fields outside of OPEC", Eagles said.

Analysts said that behind the overall numbers were signs that the energy habits of the planet were moving in two distinct directions.

In developed countries, and in particular in the European Union, obligations agreed to by governments to conserve energy and use renewable sources of energy - both to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to maintain energy security - are expected to ease pressure on oil supplies.

But that trend is being offset by rapidly developing nations. While they still consume far less energy per capita, they also are manufacturing goods for rich countries and increasingly are adopting heavily energy-consuming lifestyles, including air conditioners, refrigerators and cars.

"My view is that energy consciousness will figure strongly in Western countries and could contribute to demand decrease, but it's not at all sure that we will see the same trends in China and India", said Colette Lewiner, global leader for energy at Capgemini in Paris.

In its report, the International Energy Agency, which advises 26 industrialized countries, said that global oil demand would rise by an average 2.2 percent a year from 2007 to 2012, up from a forecast in February 2007 of two percent annually from 2006 to 2011.

Developing world and emerging industrialized economies will see their share of world oil consumption rise from 42 percent of global oil demand to 46 percent by 2012, the report said.

Eagles welcomed progress in Europe and Asia, where governments are mandating more efficient cars. He said that the "United States is very clearly coming to the point where there would be a landmark change in fuel efficiency policies".

He also welcomed ramped up investment in refining capacity across the world, saying that could help exert some downward pressure on prices over the next three years. But those effects are likely to be short-lived, Eagles said.

Beyond 2010, Eagles warned, "tightness in OPEC's spare capacity will reassert itself".

And by 2012, he said, there would either have to be limits on demand or additional supplies in order to avoid price increases.

Eagles also gave a stark warning that biofuels - a renewable source of energy produced from plants - were unlikely to be a quick, silver-bullet solution.

Factories to make biofuels are becoming commonplace but agricultural products that are the basis of the fuels are - like crude oil in some parts of the world - becoming scarcer.

Prices of this feedstock including corn, sugar, soybeans, wheat and palm oil have risen sharply, making the production of biofuels increasingly expensive.

"Although we have a lot of policy statements on biofuels in many countries, the policies and mandates aren't fully in place at this point so we are not sure that this supply is going to be there", Eagles said.

By 2012 biofuels will still only account for only two percent of global oil supplies, the International Energy Agency said.

Yet another factor weighing on fuel supplies is periodic but severe problems in supplies of cleaner-burning natural gas, which has supplanted fuel oil in many industries over the past quarter-century.

But natural catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita in 2005, which knocked out US gas production, and political decisions such as when Russia turned off gas supplies to neighboring countries in 2006, have led to renewed demand for fuel oil - putting yet more pressure on oil supplies.

Copyright (c) 2007 The International Herald Tribune |

Bill Totten

Monday, July 30, 2007

UN official: Cuba has solved its energy crisis ...

... without sacrificing its environment

The Associated Press

International Herald Tribune (July 04 2007)

Cuba has solved crippling energy shortages that plagued the island as recently as 2004 without sacrificing a long-term commitment to promoting environmentally friendly fuels, the head of the United Nations Environment Program said Wednesday.

The electric grid still relies too heavily on wasteful gas-flare reactors and heavy polluting diesel generators, but the communist government has taken important steps toward developing wind and solar power, as well as ethanol from sugar cane, said Achim Steiner, the program's executive director.

"Cuba a few years ago was facing a real energy crisis, sixteen hours of ... electricity cuts and therefore a realization that the economy was going to collapse under this system", said Steiner, in Havana for a conference on the environment and development.

"In terms of a short term response, it is quite remarkable how Cuba, under its economic conditions, managed to solve that crisis", he said.

At a news conference, Steiner said "Cuba can look proudly at having solved a short-term crisis with a long-term commitment toward cleaner energy". He said his organization wanted to "put a spotlight on Cuba's efforts".

Just three years ago, the country was hit by blackouts that wounded the economy while enraging a population suffering through the merciless summer months without air conditioning, fans or any way to refrigerate food.

The government's response was a sweeping "energy revolution" that included an overall of the antiquated electrical grid, as well conservation drives.

Fidel Castro appeared on television nearly daily to explain improvements in excruciating detail and government workers went door to door in many neighborhoods, replacing incandescent light bulbs with more-efficient alternatives.

Steiner praised the energy revolution, but noted that things were far from ideal. A gas reactor throws a plume of dark smoke over Havana's otherwise idyllic bay and most vehicles here use leaded gasoline and diesel that fill the air with pollutants.

Meanwhile, Cuba's economy has recovered well after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union cost Havana billions in generous subsidies. But that recovery has largely been fueled by oil-rich Venezuela, whose socialist president, Hugo Chavez, provides the island with oil at favorable prices.

International Herald Tribune

Copyright (c) 2007 The International Herald Tribune |

Bill Totten

Death of the Amazon

by Sue Branford and Jan Rocha

New Statesman (July 02 2007)

In Brazil, environmental technocrats talk of saving the rainforest with satellite technology - but loggers, miners and farmers keep finding scams to evade the law.

Sitting in an air-conditioned office in Brasilia, Brazil's modernist federal capital that always has an unreal feel to it, we found it difficult not to be impressed. Or maybe, after so many depressing stories about the destruction of the rainforest, we just wanted to believe what we were being told. We were both beguiled by the vision so powerfully presented to us.

"A new era is beginning for the Amazon", said Tasso Rezende de Azevedo, the youthful head of Brazil's National Forest Programme, running a hand through his thick, brown hair. Bringing up on his computer a bewildering array of maps and aerial photos, he went on: "Today, thanks to modern satellite technology, we have instant information. We know almost immediately when someone is illegally cutting down the forest and we can send in one of our teams to arrest those responsible. From now on, loggers and farmers will have to obey the law."

Tasso belongs to a young Brazilian generation of environmental technocrats who have a fervent belief in the power of technology. Under the leadership of Marina Silva, the charismatic environment minister, who herself comes from the Amazon, they have developed an ambitious strategy for ending deforestation, now running at 1.3 million hectares a year, making Brazil the fifth largest global contributor to greenhouse gases. At the centre of this strategy lies a vast mosaic of conservation units, stretching across the heart of the Amazon Basin from north to south and already covering some twenty million hectares (an area the size of England and Scotland together), with more units planned.

The idea is that these reserves will act as a buffer and stop the human predators - the land-grabbers, illegal loggers, cattle ranchers and soya farmers - moving into the western Amazon, which is still largely untouched.

Some of these are old-fashioned nature parks, where no human activity is permitted. Others are so-called "extractive reserves" for the Amazon's long-term inhabitants such as the ribeir inhos (riverside dwellers, mainly descended from 19th-century rubber tappers or from runaway slaves). Yet others, created under Brazil's Project for Sustainable Development (PDS), are for the Amazon's shifting population of former gold prospectors, dam workers and landless families that have invaded indigenous reserves. Key to the success of all these conservation units are Tasso's satellite images, which will allow the government to ensure that only permitted, sustainable economic activity is undertaken.

But can it work? During thirty years of visiting the region, we have witnessed the relentless advance of the agricultural frontier ever deeper into the Amazon forest. Dared we hope that the destruction might be ending? We visited Santare'm, an old port built by the Portuguese, where the mighty Tapajo's tributary meets the even mightier Amazon River.

This area is being ransacked for hardwoods (especially ipe^, now that mahogany, once known as green gold, has been exhaustively logged and exports banned) and planted with soya, the international wonder crop, fed to cattle all over the world. The riverfront, lined by trading and passenger boats that ply the local waters, is now overlooked by an ungainly soya terminal, built by the giant US commodities trader Cargill. If the government's policies were starting to bite here, then a new era really would be dawning.

We hired a 4x4 to visit Renascer, one of the government's new sustainable projects, situated about 200 kilometres south-east of Santare'm. According to figures published at the end of last year by the National Institute for Rural Settlement and Agrarian Reform (Incra), 360 families have been settled here. To reach the settlement, we travelled through dense forest, skidding and sliding along dirt roads made as slippery as soap by recent rains. High up in the jungle canopy, we caught a glimpse of a pair of arara-azuls, a species of endangered macaw almost exclusively found in Brazil. Occasionally, a tapir or an agouti ran across the track. What became clear as we travelled further into the forest and passed countless loggers' tracks leading off either side of the road is that Renascer's 44,000 hectares (109,000 acres) had already been plundered for hardwoods.

We saw no sign of human life as we drove deeper into the settlement. At the end of the road we found several abandoned huts, strewn with discarded clothing. On one hung a hand-painted sign that read, somewhat forlornly, "Agro-Extractive Reserve Renascer, Project for Sustainable Development". But where were the settlers? The only people we met within the settlement area were two men and a woman who had moved in on their own initiative, planting cassava between tree stumps in an area cleared by the loggers and rearing ducks in a stream. Having plundered the area, the loggers had moved further into the forest. "We can still hear the whine of chainsaws in the distance", one of them said.

Corrupt officials

On our return to Santare'm and after talking to government officials, researchers and settlers, it became obvious that loggers have invented a scam to continue illegal logging. Under the terms of a Project for Sustainable Development, settlers can clear one-fifth of the area they are allocated, while the remaining four-fifths goes to a collective forest reserve to be used for renewable activities, such as collecting Brazil nuts, extracting oil from andiroba trees, and sustainable logging. As the government tightens its control over logging, demanding proper forest- management projects and legal titles to the land, bandit loggers who have neither have found the weak spot in the new strategy. They have gone into partnership with corrupt officials within Incra, which authorises and administers the settlements, and have set up fake community organisations to run Project for Sustainable Developments. Some of these have become facades behind which the loggers carry on plundering the forest.

Many innocent people are caught up in the scam. We discovered that a few years ago one logger had enticed some eighty people, desperate for a plot of land, to join his fake community organisation. He had taken them by lorry to Renascer to have a look at the land and dumped them there. But Renascer, set up with the interests of the loggers in mind, is located in difficult, hilly terrain. Marooned in this remote area, the would-be settlers began to get hungry and grew frightened after a few days. They started to trudge back to Santare'm on foot. After walking 27 kilometres, they came to the nearest house, built by a soya farmer, who gave them food and water and even drove the eldest couple, in their late sixties, in his jeep back to Santare'm. All that is left of this failed experiment is abandoned huts.

None of these people wants ever again to hear talk of Renascer, but others continue to fall into the same trap. We spoke to C, too scared to give his full name. A small weather-beaten man of 47 with five children, he is hoping to get a piece of land in Renascer. Like many in Santare'm, he migrated to the Amazon from the dirt-poor state of Maranha~o, working as a gold miner, sawmill employee and book salesman - whatever turned up. When he heard about the new settlements, he thought it was at last a chance to get land. He eagerly began paying five reals (GBP 1.25) a month to the association of would-be Renascer residents set up by the timber company stooge. Two years have passed; meetings are held, but "nothing happens", says C. "They keep telling us we'll get our plot in two weeks' time ... I know they're fooling us, but I daren't complain. If I say anything, they'll kill me."

We showed him a photo of Renascer, his first glimpse of his promised land. If these settlers ever get their land, they will be able to survive only with support from the timber companies. But the loggers will leave once they have stripped out all the timber. The community will then collapse and Renascer will be seen as another failed attempt to bring sustainable development to the Amazon. The settlers will be blamed, because the loggers will have airbrushed themselves out of the story.

Near Renascer is another Project for Sustainable Development called Santa Clara. This is on a flat plateau - unusual in the Amazon - that is devoid of rivers and streams, and is unsuitable for any kind of settlement because of the risk of forest fires. Yet soya farmers from Mato Grosso have moved in, attracted by cheap (in reality, illegal) land. Cargill has agreed to purchase the soya - no questions asked about origins. Caught unawares by the tougher strategy from Brasilia, the soya farmers have been given hefty fines for clearing virgin forest, but they are determined to stay in the area, even if it means allying themselves with land sharks and corrupt local officials.

Since 2005, almost 100 conservation units of various kinds have been created in the Santare'm area. One researcher told us that nine-tenths of them were facades behind which loggers and farmers are hiding. By claiming that their timber and soya come from environmentally sustainable projects, they may even get better prices.

Over the past thirty years, the Amazon has become a byword for violence and lawlessness. As we should have remembered, listening to the head of the forest programme describe his brave new world in Brasilia, technology alone cannot change this. Many government officials have a commitment to stopping the senseless destruction of the forest but, on the ground, corruption, understaffing and inadequate resources undermine their efforts.

Bill Totten

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Solar Activity 'Not The Cause of Global Warming'

by Steve Connor

The Independent (July 11 2007)

Claims that increased solar activity is the cause of global warming - rather than man-made greenhouse gases - have been comprehensively disproved by a detailed study of the Sun.

Scientists have delivered the final blow to the theory that recent global warming can be explained by variations in the natural cycles of the Sun - a favourite refuge for climate sceptics who dismiss the influence of greenhouse-gas emissions.

An analysis of the records of all of the Sun's activities over the past few decades - such as sunspot cycles and magnetic fields - shows that since 1985 solar activity has decreased significantly, while global warming has continued to increase.

Mike Lockwood, of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Chilton, Oxfordshire, said: "In 1985, the Sun did a U-turn in every respect. It no longer went in the right direction to contribute to global warming. We think it's almost completely conclusive proof that the Sun does not account for the recent increases in global warming."

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A, shows there is no doubt that solar activity over the past twenty years has run in the opposite direction to global warming, and therefore cannot explain rises in average global temperatures.

Dr Lockwood and his colleague Claus Frohlich, of the World Radiation Centre in Davos Dorf, Switzerland, have produced the most powerful counter argument to suggestions that current warming is part of the natural cycle of solar activities. "There is considerable evidence for solar influence on Earth's pre-industrial climate, and the Sun may well have been a factor in post-industrial change in the first half of the last century", they write.

However, since about 1940 there has been no evidence to suggest that increases in global average temperatures were caused by solar activity. "Our results show that the observed rapid rise in global mean temperatures seen after 1985 cannot be ascribed to solar variability, whichever of the mechanisms is invoked and no matter how much the solar variation is amplified", the two scientists said.

The theory that past changes in solar activity may have explained some changes in the climate before the industrial revolution is not in dispute. In previous centuries, for instance, notably between about 1420 and 1570, when the Vikings had to abandon their Greenland settlements, solar minima corresponded with unusually cool weather, such as the "little ice age" of the 17th century.

But climate sceptics have exploited this to dispute the idea that man-made emissions are responsible for global warming. In the recent Channel 4 programme The Great Global Warming Swindle, the rise in solar activity over the latter half of the 20th century was erroneously presented as perfectly matching the rise in global average temperatures.

Dr Lockwood said he was outraged when he saw the documentary, because of the way the programme-makers used graphs of temperature rises and sunspot cycles that were cut off in the 1980s, when the two trends went in the opposite direction.

"The trouble is that the theory of solar activity and climate was being misappropriated to apply to modern-day warming. The sceptics were taking perfectly good science and bringing it into disrespect", Dr Lockwood said.

The Royal Society said yesterday: "There is a small minority which is seeking to confuse the public on the causes of climate change. They are often misrepresenting the science, when the reality is that the evidence is getting stronger every day."

(c) 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

Bill Totten

A message from the melting slopes of Everest

The sons of Hillary and Tenzing speak out about climate change: "Believe us, it's a reality"

by Cahal Milmo and Sam Relph

from The Independent & The Independent on Sunday (July 06 2007)

Fifty-four years after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to scale Everest, their sons have said the mountain is now so ravaged by climate change that they would no longer recognise it.

On the eve of the Live Earth concerts this weekend, Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing yesterday issued a timely warning that global warming is rapidly changing the face of the world's highest mountain and threatening the survival of billions of people who rely on its glaciers for drinking water.

The base camp where Sir Edmund and Norgay began their ascent is forty metres lower than it was in 1953. The glacier on which it stands, and those around it, are melting at such a rate that scientists believe the mountain, whose Nepalese name, Qomolangma, means Mother of the World, could be barren rock by 2050.

Up to 40,000 Sherpas who live at the base of the Himalayas face devastation if vast new lakes formed by the melted ice burst and send a torrent of millions of tons of water down the slopes.

Mr Hillary, who has himself twice reached Everest's summit, said: "Climate change is happening. This is a fact. Base camp used to sit at 5,320 metres. This year it was at 5,280 metres because the ice is melting from the top and side. Base camp is sinking each year. For Sherpas living on Mount Everest this is something they can see every day but they can't do anything about it on their own."

The warning came as a survey revealed that most Britons remain unconvinced about the extent of climate change and that terrorism, crime, graffiti and even dog mess are more pressing issues for the UK. The Ipsos-Mori poll found that 56 per cent of people believe scientists are still debating whether human activity is contributing to climate change. In reality, there is virtual consensus that it is.

Just over half of people, 51 per cent, believe climate change will have little or no effect and more than one-third admitted they were taking no action to reduce their carbon emissions.

Speaking before the seven Live Earth concerts, which organisers hope will be a catalyst for action on global warming, Jamling Tenzing, who has also climbed Everest, said the mountain was serving as an early warning of the extent to which it is already changing the planet.

The glacier where Sir Edmund and Norgay pitched their base camp before eventually reaching the summit at 29,000 feet on 29 May 1953 has retreated three miles in the past twenty years. Scientists believe that all glaciers in the Himalayas, which are between half a mile and more than three miles in length, will be reduced to small patches of ice within fifty years if trends continue.

Mr Tenzing said: "The glaciers have receded a great deal since my father's time. There are many things he wouldn't recognise today. The glacier on which base camp sits has melted to such a degree that it is now at a lower altitude. I think the whole face of the mountains is changing."

The glacial retreat presents a double peril for those who live in the Himalayas and the populations of India and China, where the water flowing from the mountains accounts for forty per cent of the world's fresh water.

The rapid increase in the rate of glaciers melting - from 42 metres a year in the forty years to 2001 to 74 metres a year in 2006 - has resulted in the formation of huge lakes in the space of a few years.

A United Nations study of the 9,000 glacial lakes in the Himalayas found that more than 200 are at risk of "outburst floods", unleashing thousands of cubic metres of water per second into an area where 40,000 people live. In 1985, Lake Dig Tsho in the Everest region released ten million cubic metres of water in three hours. It caused a ten-metre-high wall of water which swept away a power station, bridges, farmland, houses, livestock and people up to 55 miles downstream. Scientists estimate that the most dangerous lakes today are up to twenty times bigger. One of those, Imja Tsho, did not exist fifty years ago and lies directly above the homes of 10,000 people.

The worst-case scenario according to Nepalese scientists is a cascade effect whereby one overflowing lake empties into another, starting a chain reaction which would kill thousands and wipe out agriculture for generations.

Peter Hillary said: "I've seen the result of glacial lakes bursting their banks and it's just catastrophic. It's like an atomic bomb has gone off. Everywhere is rubble. The floods of the past are unfortunately nothing compared with the size of what we are currently threatened with."

In the longer term, scientists believe the depletion of the glaciers will drastically reduce the flow of water into the nine major rivers fed by the Himalayan glaciers.

Defra recruits critic of Bush

An outspoken critic of President George Bush's approach to combating global warming has been appointed to advise the British Government on climate change.

Bob Watson was voted out of his job chairing the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) five years ago after incurring the wrath of the Bush administration. He will take over as chief scientific adviser at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in September. The appointment was approved by Gordon Brown.

His recruitment, a week after Mr Brown took over as Prime Minister, will be seen as further evidence the Government is trying to distance itself from Mr Bush. Last week, he caused consternation at the White House when he appointed Sir Mark Malloch Brown, a strong critic of US foreign policy, as minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations.

Dr Watson, a British-born expert on atmospheric pollution, advised former US President Bill Clinton on the environment and worked at the World Bank before becoming the IPCC's chairman. The US began manoeuvring to remove him shortly after President Bush's inauguration in 2001. A year later, he was replaced by Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian scientist.

Environmental groups uncovered a memo from the US oil corporation ExxonMobil, a major contributor to Mr Bush's election campaign, asking the White House to unseat Dr Watson because he had an "aggressive agenda". At the time, Dr Watson acknowledged the US government's intervention was an "important factor" in the campaign to oust him.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "He was the unanimous choice out of all the candidates".

(c) 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

Bill Totten

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rain Dance

Clusterfuck Nation

by Jim Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of The Long Emergency (July 09 2007)

Live Earth is a 24-hour, seven-continent concert series taking place on 7/7/07 that will bring together more than 100 music artists and two billion people to trigger a global movement to solve the climate crisis. -- The Live Earth Web site

Am I the only one who wonders whether rock and roll extravaganzas in the service of Great Causes might be exercises in grandiosity and futility? What I wonder especially: is this the only way we know how to respond to the difficulties that life on earth presents - to engage a corps of professional narcissists to strut and pose in stadiums, affecting to wave their magic wands (or Fender Stratocasters) and make everybody feel better about a given problem (distress on the farm, disease in Africa, global warming ...)? Can't we think of other, more meaningful things to do? Or are we stuck in a perpetually delusional rut of Woodstock-style symbolism, out doing a global rain dance instead of really changing our behavior?

I'm not convinced that these big public service rock shows do much harm - other than perhaps inflating our expectations and using too much electricity - but this particular one galled me a little.

For one thing, even though global warming is by definition a global problem, the notion of a global community as a permanent fixture of human history is, I think, a mirage. If there is any salient macro implication to the problems I term the long emergency, it is that the world will soon become a bigger place again; the great nations will soon retreat to their own corners of the world as they powerdown by necessity; and all the trade relations, cultural exchanges, and geopolitical conceits that have lately made the Earth seem like a big international hotel give way to much more local issues of sheer survival.

There was so much about the Live Earth show that actually expressed what is worst about the current state of American culture: the obscene posturing of zillionaire celebrities, awarding themselves brownie points for the largeness of their concern - even while, like Mr Sting of the band called the Police, they buy-and-sell $20 million Manhattan condos, and burn god-knows-how many tons of Wyoming coal amplifying the bass runs to "Roxanne". And the flip-side of these celebrity pretensions, of course, is the disturbing fealty paid to them by the fans, as members of the public caught up in celebrity-worship are called. Obviously, the whole thing is a kind of self-reinforcing feedback loop spiraling up to ever worse grandiosity on the part of the celebs and ever more pathetic groveling worship of these fake gods by the fans - until it becomes little more than an object lesson in the tragic limitations of the human condition.

Looming behind the spectacle like some Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon, is the puffy figure of Al Gore, who has managed to turn his journalistic accomplishment into something uncomfortably like a Nuremberg rally. I say this perhaps incautiously, not because I believe that Al Gore is a bad person, but because it could get to the point here in America, not far down the line, when a desperate public will beg some political leader to push them around, to tell them what to do, to direct their behavior in some purposeful way to save their asses. And these prancing, preening rock and roll celebrities may be paving the way, so to speak, for some corn pone American fascist to strut his stuff for an American audience worried about the growing darkness, and the falling needle on their car's gas gauge.

The last thing we need now is the carefully packaged postures of concern from "stars". Al Gore could do a lot more good militating to get regular hourly passenger train service running between Nashville and Atlanta, or stomping his state, from Memphis to Chattanooga for swapping sales tax on regular merchandise for a higher tax on gasoline. Or, he could just put aside his pretensions for being a kind of global Wizard of Oz and just cut the shit and run for president of the US, where he might actually make a difference.

Bill Totten

The world has two energy crises but no real answers

by Gideon Rachman

Financial Times (July 09 2007)

How very shocking! Brendan Nelson, Australia's defence minister, has caused sharp intakes of breath by saying something that is obviously true. He remarked last week that the Middle East was "an important supplier of energy, oil in particular" and that - as a result - people "need to think what would happen if there were a premature withdrawal from Iraq".

Mr Nelson did not say that Iraq was a "war for oil". He merely noted that there was a lot of the stuff sitting under the ground there - and that this mattered.

This is not news. If you look at the biggest geopolitical questions facing the world, energy is at the heart of most of them.

The world is, in fact, facing two energy crises. The first is rooted in scarcity and traditional power politics. It involves the struggle by the world's largest and most energy-hungry economies to get hold of the natural resources they need. Just yesterday the International Energy Agency warned {1} that the world oil market would be "extremely tight" over the next five years. Demands from China and other emerging economies are rising. But Mary Kaldor - co-author of a new book called Oil Wars (Pluto, 2007) - points out the struggle to find new oil is a familiar sort of conflict, reminiscent of the 19th century "great game" or earlier imperial clashes.

The second energy crisis is new. It is driven by climate change. It demands international co-operation rather than competition. While the first crisis leads politicians and businessmen to search out ever more oil and gas, the second demands that they radically reduce their economies' dependence on hydrocarbons.

Politicians find themselves pulled in two directions. Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister, spent much of his last few months in office trying to promote an international agreement on climate change. But he also thinks that one of his most important - if least heralded - achievements was to secure a long-term deal for Britain on gas supplies from Norway.

In theory, the two energy crises could point in the same direction. The development of alternative, "clean" energies would reduce dependence on oil and gas. It is also crucial to any effort to cut emissions of carbon dioxide. The trouble is that there is little sign that alternative energy can be developed fast enough to rein in demand for oil and gas. Mr Blair is a firm believer in the need to develop nuclear energy. But even this policy - controversial as it is - seems unlikely to fill the gap. One report published last week argued that four new nuclear reactors a month would have to be built from now to 2070 to make any difference to global carbon dioxide emissions (Too Hot to Handle? The Future of Civil Nuclear Power, Oxford Research Group) {2}.

But while the debate about global warming continues to generate more hot air than real change, the pursuit of new sources of oil and gas is now central to the foreign policies of all the world's biggest powers.

China's controversial foray into Africa is its first real effort to build power and influence outside Asia. The search for oil is fundamental to this policy - in particular, China's controversial relationship with the government of Sudan. At home, China is opening a new coal-fired power station every week, to the despair of global-warming activists.

Energy is also now probably the most important - and divisive - issue facing the European Union. Tensions between Poland and Germany have been raised by a Russo-German plan to build a new gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. But while the Germans are placing their bets on securing long-term supplies from Russia, some other EU countries are scrambling to diversify their sources of supply - alarmed by the prospect that Russia could threaten to turn off the gas, as it did with Ukraine in 2006. Britain has its deal with Norway. The Balts and the Finns are constructing big new nuclear power stations.

Few in Europe will be comforted to hear Alexander Medvedev of Gazprom {3}, the giant Russian energy company, remark matter-of-factly that: "In 25 years' time, there will be only three major suppliers of natural gas - Russia, Iran and Qatar". Meanwhile the Russian economy is growing fast and Russian foreign policy is becoming more assertive - fuelled by a booming energy industry.

The US has its own energy dilemma. It accounts for 25 per cent of the world's oil consumption, but around nine per cent of world oil production and two per cent of world oil reserves. America's demand for hydrocarbons keeps rising and the economy is still utterly dependent on the stuff - 97 per cent of the US transport system is fuelled by oil.

The Iraq war has done nothing to ease this problem. If it was a "war for oil", it was singularly unsuccessful. Just before the invasion, oil was trading at around $30 a barrel. On Monday it hit an eleven-month high of more than $76 a barrel.

President George W Bush announced last year that he intended to end his nation's "addiction to oil". Billions are being poured into research on alternative energy.

All of this is reminiscent of the last big energy panic in the 1970s. In 1973, President Richard Nixon launched "Project Independence" - to free the US of reliance on foreign energy. Jimmy Carter called energy independence "the moral equivalent of war" - and said that by 2000 the US should get twenty per cent of its energy from solar power. Since then US oil consumption has risen by fifteen per cent and it is projected to grow by another 24 per cent by 2025. Solar power currently accounts for less than one per cent of US energy needs.

The US government is doubtless sincere in its protestations that it means to kick the oil habit. But, like many an addict, it has said similar things before - and the addiction has only grown worse. Now the US is competing for energy supplies with new and hungry addicts. Chinese oil consumption is currently growing by more than seven per cent a year.

Climate change has only increased the moral and strategic case for alternative energy. Speaking at the London School of Economics last week, Sir Nicholas Stern - author of an influential report on climate change - struggled to sound optimistic. He admitted that finding and deploying alternative energy fast enough to avoid climate disaster would be very difficult, but added: "It is possible. And if it's not possible, we're in real trouble." I would say we're in real trouble.






Post and read comments at

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

"FT" and "Financial Times" are trademarks of the Financial Times.

(c) Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2007.

Bill Totten

Friday, July 27, 2007

Culture Death

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (July 18 2007)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

A few weeks ago, one of the readers of The Archdruid Report posted a comment asking whether I thought the white race would survive the decline and fall of industrial civilization. At the time I more or less brushed the question aside; since "the white race" doesn't exist in the first place, after all, speculating on its long-term survival makes about as much sense as wondering whether unicorns will make the endangered species list. In retrospect, though, my reader's question deserved a more thoughtful answer. It remains true that "the white race" is a cultural construction rather than a biological entity, and one that has been used to justify far too many crimes to pass unchallenged. Still, labels such as this one point toward critical issues of collective identity that need to be taken into account in any attempt to sense the shape of the future ahead of us.

The concept of race as a source of collective identity was itself the product of an earlier age of crisis, and really can't be understood apart from the rise and fall of the nation-state, arguably the most distinctive social innovation of modern times. From the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 to the wave of national revolutions that swept over Europe exactly two centuries later in 1848, the great questions of European cultural politics centered on the struggle of nation-states to define themselves against local loyalties rooted in the old feudal system, on the one hand, and participation in the transnational community of Christendom on the other. People who grew up, as their grandparents' grandparents did, thinking of themselves as Cornish or Poitevin or Westphalian, on the one hand, and members of the universal Body of Christ on the other, struggled to cope with a new social reality that demanded that they think of themselves as English or French or German.

This was anything but a fast process, and it succeeded only where certain specific circumstances fostered it. The nation-state as a source of identity depends on a deliberate blurring of categories in which a population, a culture, a language, and a system of government fuse in the imagination into a single national entity. One of the consequences of this category-blending is that very often, distinct populations, cultures, and languages become gaming pieces in the struggles of local and regional power centers to define and defend themselves against national governments. Watch debates over the Welsh language in Great Britain, for example, and you have a ringside seat for the struggle between centralizing and decentralizing forces in British political life. The notion of race had similar origins as members of multiethnic societies tried to define their nations in ways that excluded their economic or political rivals.

These issues have special relevance today, because the relative success of the nation-state in seizing control of the imagination of identity in the Western world has drawn most of its strength from the increasing economic and political integration of Western nations over the last three centuries, and this in turn has been inseparable from the rise of an industrial economy powered by fossil fuels. It's not accidental that Britain, the first nation-state to make the breakthrough to industrialism, was also one of the first to form a coherent national identity. The transportation networks that made industrialism work in economic terms - first canals, then railroads, then highways - also made it possible for national governments to extend their reach throughout their territories in ways few previous societies ever managed.

The history of regional power in North America provides a good example of this process at work. In 1861 it was still possible for many people in the mostly agrarian South to think of themselves primarily as Virginians or Georgians or Texans, and only secondarily as citizens of the United States. Sixty years later, even the Ku Klux Klan had to define its repellent goals as "100% Americanism" in order to find an audience. In 1861, the North American railroad network was still in its infancy, mostly concentrated in portions of the Northeast and Midwest. By 1921 it blanketed the continent with one of the most successful transportation systems in history, and was already being supplemented with highways and airlanes. As transport expanded, so did the reach of the federal government, and so did the focus of most Americans' sense of identity.

It's been common enough for believers in the mythology of progress to argue on this basis that national governments will soon go the way of the feudal provinces and half-independent states that were swallowed up by the growth of the nation-state. They would be right, too, if we could count on an ever-increasing supply of the cheap abundant energy that makes modern transportation networks function ... but we can't. The peaking of world fossil fuel production promises exactly the opposite: a future in which energy is neither cheap nor abundant, and economic arrangements that require goods to be shipped halfway around the planet as a matter of course become too costly to survive. Those who dream of a unified world government and those who dread the prospect will both have to find new targets for their respective hopes and fears, because the sheer diseconomies of scale in a world of declining energy availability make attempts at global government an exercise in futility.

Rather, as energy becomes scarcer and more expensive, transportation networks that depend on vast amounts of inexpensive fuel will begin to unravel, starting with the most extravagant and going from there. Air travel will probably be the first to go, followed by the personal automobile, while bus and truck traffic on the deteriorating highways will likely continue long after cars have become one of the prerogatives of the very rich. Those countries that still have viable railroad systems will likely be able to maintain those long after the highways are silent, and the networks of last resort, the canal systems that made 18th century industrialism work, remain viable in some European countries and may just put a floor under the process of decline if their value is recognized in time.

The United States, by contrast, scrapped most of a world-class rail system in the third quarter of the 20th century, and only a few vestiges of its early 19th century canal system still survive today. Once the private car has become an anachronism and the energy costs of long-distance trucking make local production of most goods a better bargain, the economic glue that holds together a sprawling highway network and the many industries necessary to maintain it faces rapid dissolution. That same glue is most of what holds the United States together as a nation-state, and its breakdown will likely see the unraveling of the United States as a primary focus of our collective identity. Just as the rapid growth of transportation links turned the grandchildren of Virginians and Californians into Americans, the disintegration of those same transportation links may well turn the grandchildren of Americans into something else.

It's unlikely to turn them back into Virginians and Californians, though, because the triumph of the nation-state in the 19th century was followed, in the United States more than anywhere else in the world, by the triumph of the market economy over culture. A faux culture designed by marketing experts, produced in factories, and sold over the newly invented mass media, elbowed aside the new and still fragile national culture of the United States and then set to work on the regional and local cultures this latter had only just begun to supplant. By the second half of the 20th century, nearly all of the functions filled by noneconomic culture in other societies were being filled by the market in America, and increasingly in other Western countries as well. The tunes people whistled, the recipes they cooked, the activities that filled their leisure hours and the self-images that shaped their thoughts and behavior no longer came out of such normal channels of cultural transmission as family and community; they came out of the market economy, with a price tag attached that was not denominated in dollars alone.

The second half of the 20th century, in fact, saw the death of anything that could reasonably be called American culture. Most examples of what anthropologists call "culture death" have seen people beaten and starved into relinquishing their traditional cultures; what the modern American experience shows is that people can also be bribed by prosperity and cajoled by advertising into doing the same thing. Granted, in a society awash in cheap abundant energy, it's easier and cheaper to buy one's culture ready-made from a store than to make the investments of time and energy into family and community needed to maintain a living culture in the true meaning of the word. Equally, in a society where "fashion" driven by media campaigns takes the place of any less mercenary guiding force, making traditional American cultures look as bad as possible was just another bit of marketing. Think of the movie Deliverance, with its likeably cosmopolitan heroes struggling to survive against the brutal malevolence of backwoods villains, and the banjo riff that provided the movie's leitmotif defining traditional American culture itself as a hostile Other: that same message has flooded the American media for much of a century.

Culture death is a traumatic experience, and I suspect that a great deal of the shrill anger and maudlin self-pity that fills American society these days has its roots in our unwillingness to face up to a trauma that, in the final analysis, we have brought on ourselves. As the age of cheap energy comes to an end, though, I suspect there are worse traumas in store. A nation that has sold its own culture for a shiny plastic counterfeit risks a double loss if that counterfeit pops like a soap bubble in its collective hands. Equally, a people that has come to see its role as that of passive consumer of culture, rather than active maker and transmitter of culture, may have very few options left when the supply of manufactured culture to consume runs out.

The impact of these dilemmas on our collective imagination of identity is likely to be drastic as the manufactured culture of the present comes apart. We are already seeing people in contemporary American society turn to almost any resource you care to imagine in the search for some anchor of group identity less transient than the whims of marketers; religion has often filled its time-honored role in this regard, but so have racial fantasies, sexual habits, apocalyptic social theories, and much more. Nor is it hard to find Americans who are trying to redefine themselves as members of some other culture, past, present, or imaginary - speakers of Klingon or J R R Tolkien's Elvish languages, for example, outnumber speakers of quite a few real languages. This is still a fringe phenomenon, though much less so than it was twenty years ago; twenty years from now, as the deindustrial age opens around us, they may impact the social mainstream in ways impossible to predict in detail today.

Bill Totten

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Green consumerism will not save the biosphere

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (July 24 2007)

It wasn't meant to happen like this. The climate scientists told us that our winters would become wetter and our summers drier. So I can't claim that these floods were caused by climate change, or are even consistent with the models. But, like the ghost of Christmas yet to come, they offer us a glimpse of the possible winter world we'll inhabit if we don't sort ourselves out.

With rising sea levels and more winter rain (and remember that when the trees are dormant and the soils saturated there are fewer places for the rain to go) all it will take is a freshwater flood to coincide with a high spring tide and we have a formula for full-blown disaster. We have now seen how localised floods can wipe out essential services and overwhelm emergency workers. But this month's events don't even register beside some of the predictions now circulating in learned journals {1}. Our primary political struggle must be to prevent the break-up of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. The only question now worth asking about climate change is how.

Dozens of new books appear to provide an answer: we can save the world by embracing "better, greener lifestyles". Last week, for example, the Guardian published an extract of the new book by Sheherazade Goldsmith, who is married to the very rich environmentalist Zac, in which she teaches us "to live within nature's limits" {2}. It's easy: just make your own bread, butter, cheese, jam, chutneys and pickles, keep a milking cow, a few pigs, goats, geese, ducks, chickens, beehives, gardens and orchards. Well, what are you waiting for?

Her book also contains plenty of useful advice, and she comes across as modest, sincere and well-informed. But of lobbying for political change, there is not a word: you can save the planet in your own kitchen - if you have endless time and plenty of land. When I was reading it on the train, another passenger asked me if he could take a look. He flicked through it for a moment then summed up the problem in seven words. "This is for people who don't work".

None of this would matter, if the Guardian hadn't put her photo on the masthead last week, with the promise that she could teach us to go green. The media's obsession with beauty, wealth and fame blights every issue it touches, but none more so than green politics. There is an inherent conflict between the aspirational lifestyle journalism which makes readers feel better about themselves and sells country kitchens and the central demand of environmentalism: that we should consume less. "None of these changes represents a sacrifice", Sheherazade tells us. "Being more conscientious isn't about giving up things". But it is: if, like her, you own more than one home when others have none.

Uncomfortable as this is for both the media and its advertisers, giving things up is an essential component of going green. A section on ethical shopping in Goldsmith's book advises us to buy organic, buy seasonal, buy local, buy sustainable, buy recycled. But it says nothing about buying less.

Green consumerism is becoming a pox on the planet. If it merely swapped the damaging goods we buy for less damaging ones, I would champion it. But two parallel markets are developing: one for unethical products and one for ethical products, and the expansion of the second does little to hinder the growth of the first. I am now drowning in a tide of ecojunk. Over the past six months, our coatpegs have become clogged with organic cotton bags, which - filled with packets of ginseng tea and jojoba oil bath salts - are now the obligatory gift at every environmental event. I have several lifetimes' supply of ballpoint pens made with recycled paper and about half a dozen miniature solar chargers for gadgets I don't possess.

Last week the Telegraph told its readers not to abandon the fight to save the planet. "There is still hope, and the middle classes, with their composters and eco-gadgets, will be leading the way". {3} It made some helpful suggestions, such as a "hydrogen-powered model racing car", which, for GBP 74.99, comes with a solar panel, an electrolyser and a fuel cell {4}. God knows what rare metals and energy-intensive processes were used to manufacture it. In the name of environmental consciousness, we have simply created new opportunities for surplus capital.

Ethical shopping is in danger of becoming another signifier of social status. I have met people who have bought solar panels and mini-wind turbines before they have insulated their lofts: partly because they love gadgets, but partly, I suspect, because everyone can then see how conscientious (and how rich) they are. We are often told that buying such products encourages us to think more widely about environmental challenges, but it is just as likely to be depoliticising. Green consumerism is another form of atomisation - a substitute for collective action. No political challenge can be met by shopping.

The middle classes rebrand their lives, congratulate themselves on going green, and carry on buying and flying as much as ever before. It is easy to picture a situation in which the whole world religiously buys green products, and its carbon emissions continue to soar.

It is true, as the green consumerists argue, that most people find aspirational green living more attractive than dour puritanism. But it can also be alienating. I have met plenty of farm labourers and tenants who are desperate to start a small farm of their own, but have been excluded by what they call "horsiculture": small parcels of agricultural land being bought up for pony paddocks and hobby farms. In places like Surrey and the New Forest, farmland is now fetching up to GBP 30,000 an acre as city bonuses are used to buy organic lifestyles {5}. When the new owners dress up as milkmaids then tell the excluded how to make butter, they run the risk of turning environmentalism into the whim of the elite.

Challenge the new green consumerism and you become a prig and a party pooper, the spectre at the feast, the ghost of Christmas yet to come. Against the shiny new world of organic aspirations you are forced to raise drab and boringly equitable restraints: carbon rationing, contraction and convergence, tougher building regulations, coach lanes on motorways. No colour supplement will carry an article about that. No rock star could live comfortably within his carbon ration.

But such measures, and the long hard political battle required to bring them about, are, unfortunately, required to prevent the catastrophe these floods predict, rather than merely to play at being green. Only when they have been applied does green consumerism become a substitute for current spending rather than a supplement to it. They are harder to sell, not least because they cannot be bought from mail order catalogues. Hard political choices will have to be made, and the economic elite and its spending habits must be challenged, rather than groomed and flattered. The multi-millionaires who have embraced the green agenda might suddenly discover another urgent cause.


George Monbiot has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Essex and an honorary fellowship by Cardiff University.


1. Eg James Hansen et al, 2007. Climate Change and Trace Gases. Philiosophical Transactions of the Royal Society - A. Vol 365, pages 1925-1954. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2007.2052.

2. Sheherazade Goldsmith (Editor in chief), 2007. A Slice of Organic Life. Dorling Kindersley, London.

3. Sarah Lonsdale, 19th July 2007. Take the online test to find out your footprint. Daily Telegraph.

4. See

5. See

Copyright (c) 2006

Bill Totten

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Point of Return

by Satish Kumar

Resurgence Issue 243

It is 'cool' to be an optimist.

Pessimism is in fashion. Scientists, environmentalists and climatologists are claiming that collapse is around the corner and civilisation is coming to an end. Book after book tells us that we have passed the tipping point and have reached the point of no return. The skies are saturated with carbon dioxide and the atmosphere is filled with greenhouse gases. We are told over and over that whatever we do, we cannot reverse the rise in temperature or prevent the sea from flooding London! What happened to New Orleans will happen to New York. Global warming is here to stay. The scenario of doom and gloom is expounded by experts and activists alike.

We do not underestimate the severity of the climate crisis. We respect the scientists who are predicting a catastrophic future for humanity. We agree that our present way of life, so dependent on the use of fossil fuel, is hanging on a cliff edge. If we go any further we will fall into the abyss. So the only thing we can do now is to take a step back; let's call it "the point of return". We need to return to a way of life that is free from damaging dependence on fossil fuel.

At present we burn billions of barrels of petroleum every day for our food, clothes, homes, heating, lighting, transport and entertainment. This way of life is not only wasteful and unsustainable, but also very dangerous. As Sir Crispin Tickell writes in his article, it took nature 200 million years to create the vast store of fossil energy that we have almost spent in 200 years. The speed with which we are exhausting fossil energy is incredible. Sir Crispin suggests a fundamental shift in values and a radical return to a holistic worldview.

There is a word in Sanskrit for the point of return: it is pratikraman. Its opposite is atikraman, which means stepping outside our natural limits. Atikraman happens when we break the universal law. Returning to the centre of one's being or to the source of inner wisdom is pratikraman. These two Sanskrit words provide a useful approach to understanding the current human predicament and a possible way out. A profound introspection is needed to examine the state of our psyche; we need to ask, are we meeting our need or indulging our greed? Are we healing or wounding the Earth?

In the context of climate change and global warming, addiction to oil is atikraman and a return to the energy derived from air, water and sun is pratikraman. One way to begin our pratikraman is to stop and put a cap on consumerism. We need a moratorium on motorways and runways. No new homes without insulation. We need to put an immediate freeze on industrialised agriculture everywhere in the world. Once we have put such a complete freeze on the use of fossil fuel, we can start the reduction process and the return journey to renewable resources. If we plan and manage our return journey carefully we should be able to escape the projected meltdown. We were able to repair the hole in the ozone layer by reducing the use of CFCs; we should be able to mitigate the extreme consequences of global warming if we can put an immediate cap on the use of fossil fuel and prepare to make the return journey instantly.

To meet the challenge of global warming, we need to change from being consumers to being artists; we have to take refuge in the arts and crafts. As William Morris advocated long ago, arts and crafts ignite our imagination, stimulate our creativity and bring us a sense of fulfilment. Poetry, painting, pottery, music, meditation, gardening, sculpting and umpteen other forms of arts and crafts can meet all basic human needs; produce beautiful objects to use, which need not require the use of fossil fuel. Human happiness, true prosperity and joyful living can only emerge from a life of elegant simplicity.

We are at the point of return from gross to subtle, from glamorous to gracious, from hedonism to healing, from conquest of the Earth to conservation of Nature, and from quantities of possessions to quality of life. It is 'cool' to be an optimist.


Satish Kumar is President of Schumacher UK, Editor of Resurgence and Director of Programmes at Schumacher College.

Bill Totten

The Human Impact

We need a paradigm shift in which economists, politicians and ecologists alike recognise that humans are more than mere producers or consumers.

by Sir Crispin Tickell

Resurgence No 243 (July / August 2007)

THE EARTH'S SURFACE is wafer-thin yet everything in and on it connects and cannot be understood except as part of an integrated system. This unity has been recognised from the earliest days of human observation.

Indeed, it was the stuff of religion. Gods and goddesses were seen to embody specific elements, ranging from the sky to the most local spring. The notion that the Earth itself was alive was part of Greek philosophy. Leonardo da Vinci saw the human body as the microcosm of the Earth, and the Earth as the macrocosm of the human body. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake just over 400 years ago for maintaining that the Earth was indeed alive, and that other planets could be as well. The geologist James Hutton saw the Earth as a self-regulating system in 1785, and T H Huxley saw it likewise in 1877. Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945) saw the functioning of the biosphere as a geological force, moving, processing and recycling billions of tons of surface material every year.

But it was James Lovelock who brought this together into the Gaia theory which challenges current reductionism. Most of us are better at looking at the constituent elements of problems than seeing the connections between them and understanding how the resulting system works. But Gaia theory compels us to look at the life on Earth as a composite system.

Over the 3.8 billion years of life on Earth, Gaia has survived great extinctions and catastrophes. This has required a remarkable resilience whereby physical and biological mechanisms have adapted to new circumstances. Gaia has no particular tenderness for humans. We are no more than a small, albeit immodest, part of Gaia. Only in the last tick of the clock of geological time did humans make their appearance, and only in the last fraction of it did they make any impact on the Earth system as a whole. But that impact has been enormous. There has been a greater human impact in the last 200 years than in the preceding 2,000, and more change in the last twenty years than in the preceding 200.

THERE HAS BEEN an enormous increase in the number of one animal species: our own. There were around a billion of us at the time of Thomas Malthus at the end of the 18th century and two billion in 1930, and there are now over six billion. The world population is increasing by over eighty million people each year. More than half our species now lives in cities, which are themselves like organisms drawing in resources and emitting wastes.

This has profoundly affected the condition of the land surface. More people need more space and more resources. Soil degradation is currently estimated to affect some ten percent of the world's current agricultural area. Although more and more land, whatever its quality, is used for human
purposes, increase in food supplies has not kept pace with increase in population. Today many of the problems are of distribution, but even countries generating food surpluses can see limits ahead. The application of biotechnology, itself with some dubious aspects, can never hope to meet likely shortfalls.

Industrial contamination of various kinds has also greatly increased. To run our complex societies we need copious amounts of energy, at present derived from dwindling resources of fossil fuels laid down hundreds of millions of years ago. It took around 200 million years to lay down the coal, oil and gas deposits on which our society depends, yet we have consumed the bulk of them over a period of around 200 years. Thus each single year we consume a million years of fossil-fuel deposits.

There has also been increasing pollution of water, both salt and fresh. No resource is in greater demand than fresh water. At present such demand doubles every twenty-one years and seems to be accelerating. Yet supply in a world of over six billion people is the same as at the time of the Roman Empire in a world of little more than 300 million people.

Human activity has been a prime driver in changes to the chemistry of the atmosphere. According to estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we could be altering the global climate at a rate far greater than would have occurred naturally over the last 10,000 years, with unforeseeable consequences. Carbon levels in the atmosphere are now the highest in the last 650,000 years, and are rising fast.

Humans are causing extinction of other organisms at many times the normal background rate. Indeed, current rates of species extinction are reminiscent of the dinosaur extinctions of 65 million years ago. The consequent damage to the natural services on which we, like all species, depend, is immeasurable. We face the prospect of creeping impoverishment of the biosphere.

Then come the still uncertain consequences of technology. Recently Lord Rees, President of the Royal Society, looked at the possible result of inadvertence, criminality, use of exotic weapons, nanotechnology and excessive dependence on technology, and concluded that the chances of our civilisation surviving this century are no more than fifty-fifty.

Change rarely proceeds in curves. It goes in steps and thresholds. We tend to believe that what we know will only change within narrow limits, but unfortunately history gives no foundation for this belief. I repeat that Gaia has no special tenderness for our species, but we certainly need to have more tenderness for Gaia.


If we are to reshape the future of humanity, we have to look more radically at our current value system. There is a school of thought that wants to attach monetary value to everything. But how can anyone give a monetary value to pollution of the atmosphere, acidification of the oceans, loss of a species, or supply of such natural services as the microbial disposal of wastes? Somehow we have to bring in the factor of costs. Markets are superb at setting prices but incapable of recognising costs.

It should be remembered that the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment: therefore, governments should take particular responsibility to determine not only what is in the public interest, but what is in the global environmental interest, and use fiscal instruments to promote it. Yet governmental values seem to lie in the excesses of what has been called feral capitalism; in short, under pressure from vested interests. Democratic governments also suffer from electoral timetables that promote the short term above the long term. Few seem able to look far enough ahead.

There is an accompanying spread of rising cultural expectations, nourished by worldwide use of information technology. One consequence is a drive towards industrialisation as a synonym for development, and the catch-all answer to the world's manifest ills. With it have come globalisation and an increasing homogenisation of human culture. This at least has led to governments becoming more transparent in their actions, and feeling more accountable to their citizens.

Damage to the current life systems of the planet is not yet irreparable. Most of the solutions to the problems we have created are already well known. Take the human population problem: we know it can be solved through improvement in the status of women, better provision for old age, wider availability of contraception, and better education, especially for young women. Take degradation of land and water: we know that reforestation and introduction of greater biological diversity in agricultural systems can help restore the health of the land. Take the atmosphere: we know we have to change to systems of sustainable energy generation and reduce our levels of energy consumption. Take human relationships: we know we have to find ways to reduce the gaps between rich and poor. Take the way in which we conduct most scientific enquiry: we know we cannot continue to break down issues into compartments, and so miss the internal dynamics of life systems as a whole.

Our descendants may regard this as a disastrous epoch in the history of the Earth - or they may see it as a time when humans pulled themselves together, changed direction, and took advantage of the immense opportunities open to them.

Those opportunities are partly technical, relating to use of information technology, and partly personal, relating to the thousands of minuscule ways in which we run our daily lives. At the most basic level we have to reconsider how we feed ourselves; how we warm and cool ourselves - in short, how we receive and use energy; how we use and look after water; where we live and work; how we transport ourselves; how we use, save and recycle materials; how we work with others across the world; how we treat the other animals and plants with which we share the planet; and above all how we think: not just as producers or as consumers, but as real, creative, imaginative, resourceful people.


Sir Crispin Tickell is Director of the Policy Foresight Programme at the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilisation at the University of Oxford and President of Tree Aid.

Bill Totten

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Middle East After Iraq

by Gwynne Dyer (June 23 2007)

Israeli historian Benny Morris is famous in his country for reopening the forgotten history of the expulsion of the Palestinians during the 1948 "war of independence" and deconstructing the Israeli myth that they freely chose to abandon their homes. By five years ago, however, he had lost faith in a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and was openly saying that everybody would have been better off in the long run if one side or the other had won a decisive victory in 1948.

If Israel had conquered all of Palestine and expelled all the Palestinians in 1948, Morris wrote, "today's Middle East would be a healthier, less violent place, with a Jewish state between Jordan and the Mediterranean and a Palestinian Arab state in Transjordan. Alternatively, Arab success in the 1948 war, with the Jews driven into the sea, would have obtained the same, historically calming result. Perhaps it was the very indecisiveness of the geographical and demographic outcome of 1948 that underlies the persisting tragedy of Palestine."

Well, of course, but most outcomes are indecisive. Like many knowledgeable people in the Middle East, Morris's mood was strikingly pessimistic even before the US invasion of Iraq, but five years later the mood is darker still. Beyond forecasts of civil war in Iraq, however, there has been little effort to discern what the Middle East will actually look like after the US troops go home.

There is already a civil war in Iraq, and it might even get worse for a time after American troops leave, but these things always sputter out in the end. There will still be an Iraqi state, plus or minus Kurdistan, and regardless of whether or not the central government in Baghdad exercises real control over the Sunni-majority areas between Baghdad, Mosul and the Syrian border.

With a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, post-occupation Iraq will have close ties with Iran, but there will be no Iranian troops there. Nobody in Tehran is crazy enough to volunteer Iranian troops for counter-insurgency duty in Sunni Arab parts of Iraq, and Iran lacks the military capability for adventures in the further reaches of the Arab world even if it had the desire.

The Sunni Arab parts of Iraq have been turned into a training ground for Islamist extremists from all parts of the Arab world by the American invasion. Once the American troops are gone, however, the action will soon move elsewhere, for the US defeat in Iraq has dramatically raised the prestige of Islamist revolutionaries throughout the Arab world and beyond.

That is where the price of America's Middle Eastern adventure will be paid: not in Iraq itself, but in the Arab states that still have secular and/or pro-Western regimes. The main (and generally outlawed) political opposition in all these countries - Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Algeria and half a dozen others - has been Islamist revolutionaries for many years already, and now some of them are going to win.

It's not possible to predict WHICH Arab states will fall under Islamist control, and they certainly aren't all going to: the pipe-dream of a world-spanning Islamic empire remains precisely that. But it will be astonishing if one or more of the existing Arab regimes does not fall to an Islamist revolution in the next few years.

For the citizens of the country or countries in question, that could be quite a big problem, since it would probably mean not democracy and prosperity but just more decades of poverty and a different kind of tyranny. For people living outside the Middle East, however, it would probably make little difference.

Islamist-ruled STATES are not the same as bands of freelance fanatics. If they have oil to export, then they will go on exporting it, because no major oil producer can now do without the income that those exports provide; they need it to feed their people. And they would have little incentive to sponsor terrorist attacks outside the region, for they would have fixed addresses, and interests to protect.

For Israel, however, the situation has changed fundamentally. For the first twenty years of its existence, Israel was a state under siege. For the past forty years, since the conquests of 1967, it has had the luxury of debating with itself how much of those conquered lands it should return to the Arabs in return for a permanent peace settlement. (The answer was always "all of them", but that was not an answer many Israelis would hear.)

Now the window is closing. Before long, some of the Arab states that Israel needs to make peace with are likely to fall to Islamist regimes that have an ideological commitment to its destruction. (Hamas's capture of the Gaza Strip is a foretaste of what is to come.) Israelis trying to evade hard choices have long complained that they had "nobody to negotiate with".

It is about to become true.

Israel faces another generation of confrontation and quite possibly of war, and the Palestinians face another generation of military occupation. Significant chunks of the Arab world face Islamist revolutions that would bring more poverty and a new kind of oppression. It is a mess, and it's too late to fix it.


Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Bill Totten

Lies and Truths

Qumsiyeh: A Human Rights Web

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored". -- Aldous Huxley

Compiling Zionist lies and distortions is by necessity a work in progress. It obviously can be rather lengthy since the lies and mendacity of those who either participated in or still participate in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine goes back for 100 years. I listed below common lies and links to debunk them as a beginning (to prompt more). Please send me your contributions and/or additions, whether in other lies not mentioned here or in further quotes and data on the listed lies, to .

Suggested use for the data as it accumulates as a handy place for finding information for sending to chat rooms, listserves, editors, politicians and others who could benefit from knowing factual responses to the myths. For an example, to the extent of lies used by Zionists see the video at .

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz (7/15/01) reported that: "... giving his audience (Likud leaders) a bit of advice on how to deal with foreign interviewers (Bejamin Netanyahu said): 'Always, irrespective of whether you're right or not, you must always present your side as right'".

We are all familiar with the incredible PR repeated ad nauseum about Israel. From "security" to "terrorism" to "wanting peace", we are inundated in corporate media with these images that are divorced from reality. I plan to start collecting glimpses of these proven lies with glimpses of reality. Send me more to build this webpage; email your contribution to .

As Nathan Chofshi wrote in the Jewish Newsletter: "We came and turned the native Arabs into tragic refugees. And still we have to slander and malign them, to besmirch their name. Instead of being deeply ashamed of what we did and trying to undo some of the evil we committed ... we justify our terrible acts and even attempt to glorify them." {New York, 9 February 1959, cited in Erskine Childers, 'The Other Exodus' in Spectator, London, 12 May 1961}

Common Zionist Lies

Common Zionist lies are listed below. For articles and data debunking these lies, see .

* Palestine was a land without a people for a people without a land.

* Israel made the desert bloom / Palestine was destitute.

* Innocent Jews wanting to "return home" were rejected from the start by local Arabs for no good reason.

Ahad Ha-Am (Asher Ginsberg) wrote the following in 1891: "In all things it is our custom to learn nothing from the past for the future. There is certainly one thing we could have learned from our past and present history: how careful we must be not to arouse the anger of other people against ourselves by reprehensible conduct. How much more, then, should we be careful, in our conduct toward a foreign people among whom we live once again, to walk together in love and respect, and needless to say in justice and righteousness. And what do our brethren in Eretz Israel do? Quite the opposite! They were slaves in their land of exile, and they suddenly find themselves with unlimited freedom, the kind of wild freedom to be found only in a country like Turkey. This sudden change has engendered in them an impulse to despotism, as always happens when 'a slave becomes a king', (Proverbs 30:22) and behold they walk with the Arabs in hostility and cruelty, unjustly encroaching on them, shamefully beating them for no good reason, and even bragging about what they do, and there is no one to stand in the breach and call a halt to this dangerous and despicable impulse. To be sure our people are correct in saying that the Arab respects only those who demonstrate strength and courage, but this is relevant only when he feels that his rival is acting justly; it is not the case if there is reason to think his rival's actions are oppressive and unjust. Then, even if he restrains himself and remains silent forever, the rage will remain in his heart and he is unrivaled in 'taking vengeance and bearing a grudge'. (Leviticus 19:18)" "Emet Me-Eretz Yisrael" (Truth from the Land of Israel), 29 May 1891, 21 Iyyar 5651, Translated by Alan Dowty.

* Ben Gurion (who became Israel's first Prime Minister) and Zionist leadership before 1948 war had no intention to drive the native Palestinians out.

As early as 1917 (when Palestine was 96% Christian/Muslim and 3% Jewish), Ben Gurion stated "Within then the next twenty years, we must have a Jewish majority in Palestine". (Shabtai Teveth, page 43)

In 1936 he stated that the future Israel must "become a force, and the Arabs respect force ... these days it is not right but might which prevails. It is more important to have force than justice on one's side." (Shabtai Teveth, page 191)

In 1937 "The compulsory transfer of the Palestinian Arabs from the valleys of the proposed Jewish state could give us something which we never had ... MORE than a state, government and sovereignty - this is national consolidation in a free homeland". (Righteous Victims, page 142)

In 1938, he wrote "With compulsory transfer we would have vast areas ... I support compulsory population transfer. I do not see anything immoral in it. But compulsory transfer could only be carried out by England ... Had its implementation been dependent merely on our proposal I would have proposed; but this would be dangerous to propose when the British government has disassociated itself from compulsory transfer ... But this question should not be removed from the agenda because it is central question. There are two issues here : 1) sovereignty and 2) the removal of a certain number of Arabs, and we must insist on both of them." (Expulsion of the Palestinians, 117)

In February 1948 "The war will GIVE us the land. The concept of 'ours' and 'not ours' are only concepts for peacetime, and during war they lose all their meaning". (Benny Morris, page 170 & Expulsion Of The Palestinians, page 180)

And in early May 1948, Ben-Gurion approved establishing the "Transfer Committee" to oversee "the cleaning up nikui in Hebrew of the Palestinian Arab settlements, cultivation of Arab fields and their settlement by Jews, and the creation of labor battalion to carry out this work". (Benny Morris, page 137)

Yitzhak Rabin wrote in his diary soon after Lydda's and Ramla's occupation on 10th & 11th of July 1948: "After attacking Lydda later called Lod and then Ramla ... What would they do with the 50,000 civilians living in the two cities ... What is to be done with the population?, waving his hand in a gesture which said: Drive them out! 'Driving out' is a term with a harsh ring ... Psychologically, this was on of the most difficult actions we undertook". (Soldier of Peace, page 140-141 & Benny Morris, page 207)

David Ben Gurion also recognized that "The (upcoming) war will give us the land. The concept of 'ours' and 'not ours' are only concepts for peacetime, and during war they lose all their meaning". In his diaries he said regarding Palestinian refugees "We must do everything to ensure they never do return", and to the Sunday Times "The old will die and the young will forget". Under Ben Gurion's direction, Transfer Committee was officially set up to effect ethnic cleansing.

I don't understand your optimism. "Why should the Arabs make Peace? If I was an Arab leader, I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural; we have taken their country." {Ben Gurion in 1956 Quoted by Nahum Goldman, former President of World Zionist Congress, in "The Jewish Paradox" Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1978, page 99}

* Palestinians want/ed to drive Jews and Israel into the sea.

* Tiny Israel fended off large Arab armies in 1948.

* Land was purchased, Palestinians were not ethnically cleansed.

* There was an exchange of population, Jews came from Arab Countries to Israel in exchange Arabs left Israel.

* Israel respects holy sites of other religions.

* Jerusalem "reunification" let people be treated equal regardless of religion. Variant: Israel is not judaicizing Jerusalem / Freedom of religion.

* The US is an "honest broker".

"Israel's dependence on the United States is far Greater than suggested by the sum of $3 billion. Israel's physical existence depends on the Americans in both military and political terms. Without the US, we would not be equipped with the latest fighter planes and all other advanced weapons. Without the American veto, we would long have been expelled from every international organization not to speak of the UN, which would have imposed sanctions on us that would have paralysed Israel's international trade, since we cannot exist without importing raw materials. For the same reason, it is wrong to divide the American money up into military aid of $1.8 billion and civilian aid of $1.2 billion. What we are getting is really unmarked dollar bills." {Nehemia Stressler, Haaretz, May 12 1989}

* Islam is intent on taking over the world.

* "Israel's centraity in Jewish life" manifest by the creed developed and advocated by Zionists "Am Yisrael Chai" meaning the People of Israel (= the Jews) live.

* Israel had a positive influence on world affairs.

* The 1967 war was a defensive war by Israel against enemies who wanted to destroy it.

* The Interational Solidarity Movement support violence.

* The Road Map is an international effort for peace in the Middle East and Palestinians reject it.

* Palestinians send their kids to be killed for propaganda purposes.

* Arabs only understand the language of force.

* Zionists teach peace and democracy, Palestinian society teaches hate.

* Palestinians don't use nonviolent resistance but instead blow themselves up with innocent civilians.

* Israel takes great care not to harm civilians and never targets them / Israeli army is most ethical army.

* Israel attacks infrastructure only if it is linked to terrorists.

* The Deir Yassin Massacre (one of hundreds committed duing the ethnic cleansing of 1947-1949) was committed by rogue elements and not mainstream Zionists.

* The massacre of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 in Lebanon was not the responsibility of the Israelis.

* The lies and distortions about the Lavon affair.

* Israel was trying to save Arab Jews.

* Palestinians and other Arabs largely rejoiced after 9/11 attacks.

* Barak Made a generous offer at Camp David, Arafat rejected it and went back and started a bloody intifada.

* Christians, Jews and others should support Israel because of the Promised land / Bible issues.

* The people of the West Bank benefited from Israeli rule.

* Jews of Iraq and Arab countries were persecuted and expelled.

* Iran's President is a Jew-hating, Holocaust-denying, Islamo-fascist who stated he will "wipe Israel off the map".

* Zionists did not push for the war on Iraq, and the conflict with Iran is also about US security not Zionist perceived self-interest.

* Israel is beneficial to US interests in the Middle East.

* Israel accidentally attacked the USS Liberty in international waters because it was mistaken for an Egyptian ship.

* Rachel Corrie was accidentally killed while protecting the house of terrorist.

* Mohammed Al-Durra was killed by Palestinians or killed in "cross-fire".

* Israel did not deliberately attack a UN compound in Qana, Lebanon.

* The "security barrier" Israel is building is not a land grab and is about security.

* Israel demolishes homes for security.

* Israel only imprisons those responsible for terrorism.

* Israel does not use weapons of mass destruction.

* Israel complies with international law and International obligations.

* Arabs in Israel are treated equal. Variant, Israel is a democracy.

* Israel does not torture Palestinian Prisoners in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

* Zionists believe in and allow free speech.

* Zionism was a response to anti-Semitism.

* Israel is not an apartheid regime.

* Muslims cannot assimilate in Western countries.

* Jihad and Mujahideen refers to violence against infidels / non-muslims.

* Israeli academics are generally liberals who support human rights.

* Israel seeks peace with Syria.

* Media has been biased against Israel.

* Boycotts and divestment are immoral and anti-Semitic.

* Zionism represent Jews or at least mainstream Judaism.

* Zionsits have been honest.

* Palestinians (eg, the Mufti of Jerusalem) supported Hitler because they hated Jews.

* Israel attacked Lebanon in the summer of 2006 because Arabs were holding Israeli soldiers captive. These soldiers had never strayed onto Lebanese territory.

Bill Totten