Bill Totten's Weblog

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Dream, Downscaled

The Jena 6: A Bad, Easy Cause

by Ted Rall (September 25 2007)

White policemen patrol black neighborhoods, less as guardians of public safety than troops subduing occupied territory. They hassle young black men, subjecting them to "random" searches. Sometimes - too often - they shoot them. All-white juries acquit them, validating tall tales of squirt guns and wallets and shadows that look like guns.

Our prisons look like America - the part of America that's downtown and predominantly African-American. Being born black means you'll probably attend substandard, poorly funded schools, that you'll earn less than if you'd been born another race. You'll get sick more often and die sooner. Why aren't these life-shattering, soul-crushing injustices, rather than the overzealous prosecution of the schoolyard thugs known as the "Jena 6", attracting thousands of marchers?

I used to live on a street next to a strip of park created to separate my neighborhood - which was white - from Harlem. On my side of the park the New York ritual called "alternate side of the street parking" required motorists to move their cars daily. This cleared the way for street sweepers and garbage pickup. It was clean and safe. My morning walk down the park's stairs to the subway illustrated the nature of systemic racism.

Each step was crumblier, more trash-strewn. On the east side of the park, where every face was brown, the garbagemen came once a week. Bags of refuse broke open, their contents whipped around in those little wind vortexes that spring up in urban spaces. When the light in a lamppost blew out on the Harlem side, it stayed out for months. Many of the buildings had been abandoned.

African-Americans live lives whose despair is amplified by petty nonsense. At our post office, the clerk always demanded that my black roommate show an ID to pick up his packages. She never asked me. (Racism is complicated. She was black.) Boutiques on Madison Avenue buzzed me in wearing ripped jeans and a Dead Kennedys T-shirt; they ignored him in a suit and tie. I'm not surprised that blacks are pissed off. The shock is that they haven't burned down the whole country.

The Jena 6 hype is bizarre, while countless innocent African-American men rot in prison - some on death row - unjustly convicted because they couldn't afford decent lawyers.

According to a website set up for their legal defense fund, "The Jena Six are a group of black students who are being charged with attempted murder for beating up a white student who was taunting them with racial slurs, and continued to support other white students who hung three nooses from the high school's 'white tree' which sits in the front yard". (The charges have since been reduced to aggravated assault.) The implication is obvious: "hate speech" justifies physical assault.

Justin Barker, 17, was beaten unconscious and then kicked repeatedly. A sturdy sort, he spent three hours in the emergency room before attending the school's Ring Ceremony later the same day. The accused, members of the school football team, claim that Barker had made fun of one of them for having himself been beaten up by a group of white students at an earlier event, one of a string of racially-charged incidents in the small town. Barker denies it.

"Young white males involved in the racial incidents received slaps on the wrist, at most, while young blacks received school expulsions or criminal charges", wrote Clarence Page in The Chicago Tribune. One of the Jena 6 remains in jail despite having had his conviction overturned. That's wrong. But, said Justice Department attorney Donald Washington, "There was no connection between the September noose incident and December attack [on Barker]". Furthermore, reports the Associated Press, "the three youths accused of hanging the nooses were not suspended for just three days - they were isolated at an alternative school for about a month, and then given an in-school suspension for two weeks".

"They haven't always been fair in the courthouse with us. If you're black, they go overboard sometimes", says Jena High School janitor Braxton Hatcher, 62, who is black. That's easy to believe. Then he repeats the standard talking point: "I think this was just a fight between boys. I don't think it was attempted murder."

Six against one isn't a schoolyard fight. I've been in more than my fair share of schoolyard fights, so I know. Fights are one on one. Six on one is attempted murder. Kicking someone after they've passed out is attempted murder. Nothing Barker said, no matter how foul, can justify such a vicious assault by bullying jocks. This is the stuff of Columbine.

Symbolic hate speech, even as vile as nooses in the context of the recent history of the Deep South, pales next to actual physical violence. The real problem is that there's a perception that attempted murder charges wouldn't have been filed had the races of the students involved in the Barker beatdown been reversed.

Indeed, the Urban League finds that the average black man convicted of aggravated assault - the charge pending against five of the Jena 6 - faces 48 months in prison if convicted, a term about one-third longer than if he'd been white. And the Justice Department says black men who get arrested are three times more likely than whites to end up in prison.

What white apologists call the legacy of racism - does a continuing phenomenon leave a legacy? - wrecks the lives of millions of Americans. Consider the following:

"Statistically", reports The Los Angeles Times, "black males in America are at increased risk for just about every health problem known. African Americans have a shorter life expectancy than any other racial group in America except Native Americans, and black men fare even worse than black women ... It is possible, [researchers now] believe, that the ill health and premature deaths can be laid - at least in part - at the feet of continuous assaults of discrimination, real or perceived ... The reaction contributes to a chain of biological events known as the stress response, which can put people at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and infectious disease, says Namdi Barnes, a [UCLA] researcher...for many African Americans, these responses may occur so frequently that they eventually result in a breakdown of the physiological system."

In short, racism kills.

As one wag observed, the Jena 6 are no Rosa Parks. In the face of the intractable challenge of a nation so racist that it literally makes people ill, however, what passes for a civil rights movement finds that it's easier to set its sights low.


Ted Rall is the author of the new book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East? (Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing, 2006), an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.

Copyright 2007 Ted Rall

Bill Totten

Can Anyone Stop It?

by Bill McKibben

The New York Review of Books (October 11 2007)

Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
by Bjorn Lomborg
Knopf, 253 pages, $21.00

Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility
by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger
Houghton Mifflin, 344 pages, $25.00

What We Know About Climate Change
by Kerry Emanuel
MIT Press, 85 pages, $14.95

Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren
edited by Joseph F C DiMento and Pamela Doughman
MIT Press, 217 pages, $19.95 paper

Note: Bill McKibben will be answering questions from readers about his article "Can Anyone Stop It?" and the possibilities for action to stop global warming. Send your question by September 28, 2007 to, with the subject line "Question for Bill McKibben". Please be brief. Mr McKibben will reply to selected questions here in early October.

During the last year, momentum has finally begun to build for taking action against global warming by putting limits on carbon emissions and then reducing them. Driven by ever-more-dire scientific reports, Congress has, for the first time, begun debating ambitious targets for carbon reduction. Al Gore, in his recent Live Earth concerts, announced that he will work to see an international treaty signed by the end of 2009. Even President Bush has recently reversed his previous opposition and summoned the leaders of all the top carbon-emitting countries to a series of conferences designed to yield some form of limits on carbon dioxide.

The authors of the first two books under review have some doubts about a strategy that emphasizes limits on carbon emissions, Lomborg for economic reasons and Nordhaus and Shellenberger for political ones. Since any transition away from fossil fuel is likely to be the dominant global project of the first half of the twenty-first century, it's worth taking those qualms seriously.

In his earlier book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician, attacked the scientific establishment on a number of topics, including global warming, and concluded that things were generally improving here on earth. The book was warmly received on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, but most scientists were unimpressed. Scientific American published scathing rebuttals from leading researchers, and its editor concluded in a note to readers that "in its purpose of describing the real state of the world, the book is a failure". A review in Nature compared it to "bad term papers", and called it heavily reliant on secondary sources and "at times ... fictional". E O Wilson, who has over the years been attacked by the left (for sociobiology) and the right (for his work on nature conservation), and usually responded only with a bemused detachment, sent Lomborg a public note that called his book a "sordid mess". Lomborg replied to all of this vigorously and at great length {1}, and then went on, with the help of The Economist magazine, to convene a "dream team" of eight economists including three Nobel laureates and ask them to consider the costs and benefits of dealing with various world problems. According to his panel, dealing with malaria ranked higher than controlling carbon emissions, though again some observers felt the panel had been stacked and one of the economists who took part told reporters that "climate change was set up to fail". Lomborg later conducted a similar exercise with "youth leaders" and with ambassadors to the United Nations, including the former US emissary John Bolton, with similar results.

In his new book, Cool It, Lomborg begins by saying that the consensus scientific position on climate change - that we face a rise in temperature of about five degrees Fahrenheit by century's end - is correct, but that it's not that big a deal. "Many other issues are much more important than global warming". In fact, he argues, it would be a great mistake either to impose stiff caps on carbon or to spend large sums of money - he mentions $25 billion worldwide annually on R&D as an upper bound - trying to dramatically reduce emissions because global warming won't be all that bad. The effort to cut emissions won't work very well, and we could better spend the money on other projects like giving out bed nets to prevent malaria.

Lomborg casts himself as the voice of reason in this debate, contending with well-meaning but wooly-headed scientists, bureaucrats, environmentalists, politicians, and reporters. I got a preview of some of these arguments in May when we engaged in a dialogue at Middlebury College in Vermont {2}; they struck me then, and strike me now in written form, as tendentious and partisan in particularly narrow ways. Lomborg has appeared regularly on right-wing radio and TV programs, and been summoned to offer helpful testimony by, for instance, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, famous for his claim that global warming is a hoax. That Lomborg disagrees with him and finds much of the scientific analysis of global warming accurate doesn't matter to Inhofe; for his purposes, it is sufficient that Lomborg opposes doing much of anything about it.

But Lomborg's actual arguments turn out to be weak, a farrago of straw men and carefully selected, shopworn data that holds up poorly in light of the most recent research, both scientific and economic. He calculates at great length, for instance, his claim that the decline in the number of people dying from cold weather will outweigh the increase in the number of people dying from the heat, leading him to the genial conclusion that a main effect of global warming may be that "we just notice people wearing slightly fewer layers of winter clothes on a winter's evening". But in April 2007, Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the panel of experts whose scientific data he prefers to cite, released a report showing, among many other things, that fewer deaths from cold exposure "will be outweighed by the negative health effects of rising temperatures world-wide, especially in developing countries".

n fact, the IPCC poses a serious problem for Lomborg. He accepts this international conclave of scientists and other experts early on in his book as the arbiter of fact on questions of global warming {3}. Unfortunately for Lomborg, just as he was wrapping up this book the IPCC published, quite apart from the report of its April panel, its most recent five-year update on the economics and engineering of climate change solutions, which undercuts his main argument.

Consider Lomborg's central idea that we can't do much about global warming, and that anything we do attempt will be outrageously expensive. Lomborg bases his analyses on studies of the Kyoto Protocol, negotiated a decade ago. He argues that that protocol would make only the slightest dent during this century in how much the planet warms. This is a debater's point to begin with - the Kyoto Protocol was only supposed to last through 2012; everyone knew it was at best a first step, and this first step was further weakened after attacks from conservative economists claiming that it would bankrupt the earth (attacks that kept the US from ever signing on).

As it turns out, they were almost certainly wrong. Working Group III of the IPCC, which reported at the beginning of May, said at great length that in fact it was technically feasible to reduce emissions to the point where temperature rise could be held below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or two degrees Celsius - the point where many climate scientists now believe global warming may turn from a miserable problem into a catastrophe. As the IPCC said:

"Both bottom-up and top-down studies indicate that there is substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades, that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels".

The technologies cited as examples are numerous and varied, and reflect the immense amount of research into alternatives that has been conducted in the decade since Lomborg's estimates based on Kyoto data. They include hybrid cars, combined heat and power plants, better lighting, improved crop-plowing techniques, better forestry, higher-efficiency aircraft, and tidal energy, among others. These reflect precisely the kinds of human ingenuity that Lomborg says he wants to encourage, and they undermine the idea that we can't possibly get emissions under control. By contrast, the report shows that following the Lomborg path - which essentially calls for some more funding for research and no governmental action - will see carbon emissions rise as much as ninety percent worldwide by 2030. The IPCC conclusions, it should be said, were compiled by 168 lead authors, 84 contributing authors, and 485 expert peer reviewers, spanning a huge variety of relevant disciplines. This seems to me more convincing than Lomborg's "dream team" of eight economists gathered for a few days in Copenhagen.

Moreover, the IPCC team made it clear in their May report that it was not only feasible to make these changes but economically possible as well. They calculated that if we made this energy transition, the economy would grow very slightly more slowly than before - about 0.12 percent more slowly annually, or three percent total by 2030. In other words, our children would have to wait until Thanksgiving 2030 to be as rich as they would otherwise have been on New Year's Day of that year.

This seems to me very good news - I've long worried that the cost would be substantially higher. But it also makes a good deal of sense. Remember how, say, the auto industry warned that first seatbelts and then airbags would cripple them economically? As soon as the government mandated their use, manufacturers figured out how to make them more cheaply and easily than we would have guessed. We've seen the same results with other pollutants.

The IPCC report, to put it bluntly, eviscerates Lomborg's argument; maybe that's why he devotes but a single paragraph to it in the book, scoffing at "several commentators" who called the estimated reduction of three percent by 2030 "negligible". But though Lomborg will doubtless eventually produce a long disquisition on why he knows better than the 737 experts collaborating on the IPCC project, his bluff has been called. Consider the reaction of his old colleagues at The Economist, which only a few short years ago was underwriting his Copenhagen Consensus work. "Just as mankind caused the problem", the editors said, "so mankind can stop it - and at a reasonable cost". The 0.12 percent a year drag on GDP? "The world would barely notice such figures", said the magazine, hardly noted for its casual attitude about economic growth.

Doubtless scientists and economists will spend many hours working their way through Cool It, flagging the distortions and half-truths as they did with Lomborg's earlier book. In fact, though, its real political intent soon becomes clear, which is to try to paint those who wish to control carbon emissions as well-meaning fools who will inadvertently block improvements in the life of the poor. Just ask yourself this question: Why has Lomborg decided to compare the efficacy of (largely theoretical) funding to stop global warming with his other priorities, like fighting malaria or ensuring clean water? If fighting malaria was his real goal, he could as easily have asked the question: Why don't we divert to it some of the (large and nontheoretical) sums spent on, say, the military? The answer he gave when I asked this question at our dialogue was that he thought military spending was bad and that therefore it made more sense to compare global warming dollars with other "good" spending. But of course this makes less sense. If he thought that money spent for the military was doing damage, then he could kill two birds with one stone by diverting some of it to his other projects. Proposing that, though, would lose him much of the right-wing support that made his earlier book a best seller - he'd no longer be able to count on even The Wall Street Journal editorial page. {4}

In its editorial celebrating the IPCC report, The Economist adds a caveat. Though the new data make clear that "the technology and the economics of this problem are easily soluble", the politics of the situation are much harder. "The problem, of course, is that the numbers work only if they are applied globally ... All the world's big emitters need to do it", and each of them will be tempted to take a pass.

It's in this light that the new book by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger is of interest, for they address the question of how to persuade Americans to take action on climate change. In October 2004, they collaborated on a provocative essay called "The Death of Environmentalism". Naming names (and quoting Martin Heidegger, Zen koans, and Abraham Lincoln), they accused the environmental movement of failing to deliver progress on global warming for a variety of reasons both structural and philosophical. The authors distributed their views at the annual meeting of the philanthropists who underwrite many of the groups they were attacking. The nastiness that followed was predictable - a certain notoriety for the authors and a great deal of defensive reaction from leaders of environmental organizations.

Now they've produced a book that develops the same argument in much greater depth. It is unremittingly interesting, sharp, and wide-ranging, and it provides a great deal of thoughtful comment for anyone trying to figure out how to rally public support behind action on climate change, or indeed behind any progressive change. It goes much deeper than George Lakoff's widely touted book on reframing issues, Don't Think of an Elephant {5}. It also has certain important limitations that stem in part, I think, from the authors' background as survey researchers.

They work as managing directors of something called American Environics, an offshoot of a Canadian firm that conducts in-depth interviews with North Americans about their attitudes. Much of the research is used by businesses looking for market strategies, but Shellenberger and Nordhaus have put it to use for nonprofit groups as well. Their surveys study attitudes on topics like work, violence, gender, and class, and also on a wide variety of particular issues. They find, for example, that between 1992 and 2004, the percentage of Americans who agreed with the statement "The father of the family must be the master in his own house" went from 42 to 52 percent. But at the same time, the percentage who agreed that "taking care of the home and kids is as much a man's work as women's work" rose from 86 percent in 1992 to 89 percent in 2004. Their synthesis of this huge pile of data leads them to believe that Americans see themselves (as objectively they should) as materially affluent, so that efforts to persuade people to understand themselves (or others) as victims will fail. Americans have simultaneously become more insecure about health care, employment, and retirement, however, as wage growth has stagnated - resulting in an "insecure affluence" that they argue has usually led to more individualism, not to more community solidarity.

In this kind of atmosphere, they argue, progressives must break away from the scripts of the New Deal and the 1960s:

"The time is ripe for the Democratic Party to embrace a new story about America, one focused more on aspiration than complaint, on assets than deficits, and on possibility than limits".

This would not be easy for the liberal wing of the party to accept, and both in their essay and in this book the authors spend plenty of time lampooning the efforts of those they view as anachronistic.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger mount a spirited attack, for instance, on Robert F Kennedy Jr, a leading environmentalist - but also a leading opponent of developing wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. It's not just that he's a rich man who doesn't want to look at windmills off the deck of his summer home, they insist; for them, he's a telling reminder of the problems that arise

"... when one imagines that there is a thing called nature or the environment that is separate from and superior to humans, and that this 'thing' is best represented by those who live nearest to it".

Environmentalists become, in this telling, champions of the static. Opponents of windmills such as Kennedy

"... end up functionally championing the continued dependence of Cape Cod and other Massachusetts communities on a nineteenth-century fuel source to heat their homes and generate electricity".

In the same way, other groups worried about views or noise or density

"... end up blocking the transformation of American communities into vibrant, creative, and high-density cities like New York that are far more sustainable and livable than endless megalopolises like Los Angeles".

Scornful of well-heeled environmentalists, they also attack advocates of "environmental justice" who have complained that their communities are the victims of disproportionate pollution. They contest the data, and argue that smoking and eating bad food are much bigger problems for minority communities. In dealing with asthma, for example, the authors, instead of concentrating on emissions from diesel buses, recommend working to improve "housing, health care, daycare, parenting classes, and violence prevention", which may actually do more to reduce the problem. Such reforms would deal more directly with the goals that residents of the inner city cited when questioned in the surveys of Nordhaus and Shellenberger: "jobs, crime, health care, housing". Over and over again, in a wide variety of settings, they make the same point: environmentalists have to take a much wider view of the world. If you don't want the rainforest in Brazil cut down, you need to be working in the favelas of Sa~o Paulo to prevent the conditions that cause people to migrate toward the Amazon in search of a better life.

This is an important point, marred by overstatement. Kennedy, for instance, is a strong supporter of environmental causes who made a bad call on the windmills near his house - and as Nordhaus and Shellenberger note, many environmentalists in the region have effectively organized to support the turbines, which seem likely to be built. Environmental organizers in urban neighborhoods have in fact already emerged as champions of precisely the kind of campaigns the authors encourage. Not ten miles from where they live, Van Jones, the former head of Oakland's Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, has launched the most tenacious drive yet for precisely the kind of Green Jobs campaign the authors envision. Their caricature of the environmental movement is increasingly out of date, and it will grow more so because of the simple fact that carbon dioxide, the main gas involved in global warming, is so different from older forms of pollution. Carbon monoxide - carbon with one oxygen atom - killed you when you breathed it in. If you put a filter on the back of your car, it disappears from the exhaust stream. There's no filter for carbon dioxide; it's the inevitable result of the combustion of fossil fuel. To deal with it, you need to deal with the dependence on fossil fuel, which means dealing with the economy as a whole, which means dealing with how we live.

The question becomes how best to do that. Citing their research that shows Americans are "aspirational", they advise against anything that smacks of limits. It's when economic growth is really booming, they insist, that we become confident enough to do things like control pollution. They summarize at some length Benjamin Friedman's powerful recent argument for economic expansion, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth {6}, with its conclusion that good times bring out empathy and generosity in Americans, and that in fact environmental progress has traditionally been a product of surplus - when we felt rich, we'd spend money on cleaning the air.

Unfortunately, at the moment growth means burning more fossil fuel. As Friedman acknowledged (though Nordhaus and Shellenberger don't include this crucial quote in their retelling), carbon dioxide is "the one major environmental contaminant for which no study has ever found any indication of improvement as living standards rise". How can that fact be faced? How to have growth that Americans want, but without limits that they instinctively oppose, and still reduce carbon emissions? Their answer is: investments in new technology. Acknowledge that America "is great at imagining, experimenting, and inventing the future", and then start spending. They cite examples ranging from the nuclear weapons program to the invention of the Internet to show what government money can do, and argue that too many clean-energy advocates focus on caps instead:

"Neither Democratic leaders in Congress nor Democratic presidential candidates can convincingly speak to American greatness as long as they refuse to put their money where their mouths are".

The need for new technology is obviously urgent - it's precisely what the IPCC economists are counting on in the data cited above. The question is how best to mobilize that investment. Some of it can and should come from government spending, but there's probably as much or more to be realized by setting the private sector to work. That is precisely what the series of caps on carbon now under consideration are supposed to do. If we say that next year American industry will only be able to produce 98 percent of the carbon it produced this year, and the year after that the number will be 95 percent and the year after that 91 percent, and if we let industries trade among themselves the carbon allotments they buy at auction - buying it, in effect, from we the people who each own some share of the atmosphere - then we should see the logic of the market start to wring those carbon reductions out of the economy relatively quickly. As The Economist makes clear, this system will work much better once it is international - once, that is, some expanded form of Kyoto is adopted by treaty, something that can't happen until the greatest carbon culprit, the US, leads by taking serious action here at home. Government can and should invest, especially to make sure that the energy transition produces the kind of jobs that many Americans really need, but its larger role is to set in place the caps that will speed the whole process. And speed is of the essence because, pace Lomborg, each new round of scientific analysis makes clear just how fast global warming is coming at us.

The antipathy of Shellenberger and Nordhaus to placing limits on carbon emissions, an antipathy based on their fervent belief in what they hear in their surveys, locks them into accepting slower progress than is necessary and possible. No one thinks we can stop global warming, but the IPCC data makes it clear that it is still possible - if we begin immediately and take dramatic steps to limit carbon emissions - to hold it below the thresholds that signal catastrophe. The authors concede too much to the enemies of regulation, a concession they're willing to make partly because they've convinced themselves that clinging to the static biological world we were born into is impossibly conservative. Global warming, they write,

"... will force human societies to adapt in all sorts of ways, not the least of which could be bioengineering ourselves and our environments to survive and thrive on an increasingly hot and potentially less hospitable planet".

This is improbable; indeed it sounds flaky.

But in the reams of analysis provided by Nordhaus and Shellenberger, there are also many kernels of hope for even faster progress than technology alone can provide. From their surveys, they find that Americans not only desire more choice and autonomy and individualism, but also want some kind of functioning community and support system (their analysis of the rise of evangelical churches is particularly strong).

The first group of attitudes, favoring individual choice, may make the acceptance of limits more difficult; but the second group holds out some real possibilities - and it jibes with much new research from economists, psychologists, and sociologists about the dissatisfaction evident among increasingly alienated and disconnected Americans. Consider the fact that the average Western European uses half as much energy as the average American (and hence produces half as much carbon dioxide). Half is a big proportion, especially when you consider that it comes not from any new technology but instead from somewhat different social arrangements. Europeans have decided to, say, invest in building cities that draw people in instead of flinging them out to sprawling suburbs, and invest in mass transit that people then actually take. This kind of investment may produce quicker returns than high-tech R&D; at the very least, it's urgently important that these kinds of societies (where reported rates of human satisfaction are sharply higher than in the US) be held up to China, India, and the rest of the developing world, in place of our careening model. In addition, given that we will certainly be facing a disrupted planet, tighter human communities are probably a better bet for "surviving and thriving" than bioengineering to achieve different kinds of bodies.

After grappling with these weighty treatises, it's a relief to read two short books that cover less ground. Kerry Emanuel is the foremost hurricane scientist in the US; his original research has helped us understand and demonstrate the link between global warming and storminess. In an epic feat of concision, he manages in eighty-five very small pages to explain the state of the science of climate change, concluding on the optimistic note that

"... the extremists [who deprecate the threat of climate change] are being exposed and relegated to the sidelines, and when the media stop amplifying their views, their political counterparts will have nothing left to stand on".

In the best essay from the collection edited by Joseph DiMento and Pamela Doughman, the New York Times climate reporter Andrew Revkin makes it clear that finally (and no small part thanks to his own reports) the press and television are starting to do exactly that. One of the most important jobs of journalists at the moment, he writes, is

"... to drive home that once a core body of understanding has accumulated over decades on an issue - as is the case with human-forced climate change - society can use it as a foundation for policies and choices".



{1} His replies can be found at

{2} Readers wishing to view that encounter on line may visit

{3} He needs to do this because otherwise he would have to contend with the recent work of the NASA climatologist James Hansen, indicating that the ice sheets of Greenland and the West Antarctic may be sliding into the sea much faster than previously imagined and raising the possibility of a horrific rise in sea level during this century. The IPCC, which considers the peer-reviewed research of the previous five years, remains agnostic on Hansen's new work and presumably won't offer its opinion for another half-decade, which allows Lomborg in turn to ridicule Al Gore as a hysteric for publicizing it. See James Hansen, "The Threat to the Planet", The New York Review, July 13, 2006.

{4} Interestingly, the new owner of The Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch, rattled by an epochal drought in his native Australia, has announced that his entire empire will soon be carbon-neutral.

{5} Chelsea Green, 2004.

{6} Knopf, 2005.

Copyright (c) 1963-2007 NYREV, Inc. All rights reserved. Nothing in this publication may be reproduced without the permission of the publisher. Illustrations copyright (c) David Levine unless otherwise noted; unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. Please contact with any questions about this site. The cover date of the next issue of The New York Review of Books will be October 25 2007.

Bill Totten

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why Climate Change Can't Be Stopped

Environmental advocates have finally managed to put the issue of global warming at the top of the world's agenda. But the scientific, economic, and political realities may mean that their efforts are too little, too late.

by Paul J Saunders and Vaughan Turekian

Foreign Policy (September 2007)

As the world's leaders gather in New York this week to discuss climate change, you're going to hear a lot of well-intentioned talk about how to stop global warming. From the United Nations, Bill Clinton, and even the Bush administration, you'll hear about how certain mechanisms - cap-and-trade systems for greenhouse gas emissions, carbon taxes, and research and development plans for new energy technologies - can fit into some sort of global emissions reduction agreement to stop climate change. Many of these ideas will be innovative and necessary; some of them will be poorly thought out. But one thing binds them together: They all come much too late.

For understandable reasons, environmental advocates don't like to concede this point. Eager to force deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, many of them hype the consequences of climate change - in some cases, well beyond what is supported by the facts - to build political support. Their expensive policy preferences are attractive if they are able to convince voters that if they make economic sacrifices for the environment, they have a reasonable chance of halting, or at least considerably slowing, climate change. But this case is becoming harder, if not impossible, to make.

To be sure, scientific studies and news reports make it clear that climate change is already happening, with greenhouse gas emissions as a significant driver of this change. Arctic ice has now melted sufficiently to open up the fabled Northwest Passage, provoking public jockeying between Russian and Canadian officials over potential oil and gas deposits. At the same time, the US Department of Interior is considering placing polar bears on the endangered species list as a result of global warming. Extreme weather events have become more common, such as flooding in Africa and forest fires in the western United States.

New emissions limits in the United States and other major emitters such as Europe's key economies and Japan may slow the processes driving these events. But the mounting scientific evidence, coupled along with economic and political realities, increasingly suggests that humanity's opportunity to prevent, stop, or reverse the long-term impacts of climate change has slipped away. In fact, while greenhouse gas intensity (emissions per unit of gross domestic product) of both developed and developing economies has decreased significantly over the past decade as a result of greater efficiency measures, overall greenhouse gas emissions have nevertheless continued to rise. That's because as economies grow, they consume more energy and produce more carbon dioxide. And, obviously, each country wants its own economy to grow.

While some might argue that great reductions can be made in greenhouse gas emissions using current technologies (particularly by increasing efficiency), this is still debated within the scientific community. This argument assumes, among other things, that companies replace their current capital stock with the most efficient available today - something that is not likely to occur in the near future even in developed countries due to its considerable cost. For this reason, even if the Bush administration has been slow to publicly admit that human-induced climate change is real, it has been fundamentally right to focus on developing new technologies that might sever the relationship between energy consumption and emissions.

Unfortunately, given the scale and complexity of modern economies and the time required for new technologies to displace older ones, only a stunning technological breakthrough will allow for reductions in emissions that are sufficiently deep to stop climate change. According to Britain's Stern report, stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at 550 parts per million - twice pre-industrial levels, a level at which most believe there is already a higher probability of major climate disruptions - would require stopping the global growth in emissions by 2020 and reducing emissions by 2.5 percent per year after that. The longer it takes to stop the growth in emissions, the deeper the eventual cuts need to be.

And while the United States leads the world in investment in new energy technologies, spending nearly $3 billion in 2007, it would be irresponsible for us to count on an energy technology miracle to save the day. Excitement over increasingly "green" business practices is likewise misplaced; companies will do what they need to do to increase their profits and - when the cost is modest - to improve their images. This has reduced emissions and will continue to do so. But without meaningful international agreements that create both unrealistically tight limits and market mechanisms, the cuts will ultimately be marginal rather than decisive.

Without a technological or economic miracle, it would take a political miracle to reach an international agreement that would mandate the necessary emissions cuts to reverse the momentum behind our evolving global climate system. But once again, realities get in the way. The US Congress is too divided to pass legislation sufficiently tough to make a major difference. And although some hope that regional or state-level cap-and trade systems could sharply reduce US emissions in the absence of federal action, this is also unlikely because states face many of the same problems that challenge national governments. First and foremost, any state that imposes emissions limits that are too tight in comparison with its neighbors' are likely to simply export their emissions without it resulting in a major overall reduction.

The international political environment also makes truly significant emissions cuts very unlikely. In 2010, according to the US Energy Information Administration, developing countries will emit nearly twenty percent more carbon dioxide than developed countries. Indeed, only in China (and perhaps India) would emissions limits or cuts make more of a difference than in the United States.

By one estimate, China has already surpassed America in emissions to become the world's leader and, with sustained high growth rates, will open the gap even further. In fact, if China grows at eight percent for the next nine years, its economy will double in size - and its greenhouse gas emissions can be expected roughly to double as well. Moreover, as China's economy expands, it is turning increasingly to carbon-laden coal for electricity. And although China's energy intensity (energy consumed per unit of economic output) has decreased by nearly five percent per year for the last two decades as a result of greater efficiency, it is still nearly seven times that of the United States, according to the World Bank. At this rate, China's growth trajectory could add the equivalent pollution of another present-day United States to the climate system in a little more than a decade.

Dollar for dollar, the most efficient way to cut global greenhouse gas emissions would be, in theory, to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to improve China's energy efficiency. But Congress would never support such an approach. After all, which members of Congress would vote to undercut the competitiveness of US companies, especially in the face of a weak domestic economy, public anger over outsourcing, China's currency value, and the US trade deficit with China? More broadly, how long will voters in Europe and Japan, which have done the most to limit emissions, be prepared to make sacrifices for the global climate if they believe they are alone in doing so?

A realistic look at climate change suggests that it is time to change the debate. In 2005, a paper published by the UN Environment Program put average global economic losses due to "great weather disasters" at $100 billion per year, and projected that it was increasing at about six percent per year - enough to double every twelve years, and to total $2 trillion for the period from 2007 to 2020. Policy makers in the United States and elsewhere must start hedging their bets and prepare us to live in this new world. This emphatically does not mean giving up on efforts to slow climate change, which could still measurably reduce the costs of protecting the people and infrastructure most vulnerable to higher temperatures and new weather patterns. Nor should it suggest that the task of adaptation will be easy or cheap. World leaders will face many of the same dilemmas that complicate the current debate: Developed countries, which have produced most of the human-origin carbon dioxide in the air, will be in the best position to cope with climate change and developing countries will want them to bear a disproportionate financial burden for its consequences.

Still, we do have some of the tools we will need already. International lenders like the World Bank have only begun to invest in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions; they need to give greater emphasis to projects that limit developing countries' vulnerabilities to climate change. The scientific community will need to do a much better job of predicting climate impacts at a regional and local scale. Governments will need to support this process, to collect and assess the information that results, and develop their own plans. Riding out the consequences of a warming world will be difficult, and we need to prepare now.


Paul J Saunders is executive director of the Nixon Center and associate publisher of The National Interest.

Vaughan Turekian is chief international officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has a PhD in atmospheric geochemistry. They served together as aides to the under secretary of state for global affairs during the Bush administration from 2003 to 2005.

Bill Totten


Our American way of life is not sustainable

by Chris Clugston

Culture Change (September 2007)

For a full graphical version of this article, please see

Editor's Note: Chris Clugston is the kind of independent researcher and commentator who has the corporate and academic background to put numbers together. Fortunately, it is for the big picture. Few environmentalists are willing to tackle overpopulation, but Clugston actually quantifies it.
-- Jan Lundberg

Through our relentless pursuit of the American Dream and our blind adherence to our American way of life, we have become overextended - we have exceeded America's capacity to sustainably support our existing population at our current standard of living. That is, the natural resources and economic resources required to support our ever-increasing consumption levels by our ever-expanding population are simply not available; nor is the capacity of our habitat sufficient to assimilate the ever-increasing amounts of waste disgorged by our ever-expanding population.

To compound our predicament, we have become "irreversibly" overextended - we are past the point of "painless" return. We have so consistently and drastically overshot our sustainable consumption and population levels that returning to sustainable levels will necessarily involve significant lifestyle disruptions - living standard degradation, population level reduction, and the possible loss of sovereignty; there can be no "soft landing".

Note: We are temporarily able to maintain prosperity and growth, despite our overextended condition, because the adverse effects associated with our continuously accumulating ecological and economic indiscretions - which enable our current prosperity and growth - have yet to be felt. We are essentially living on borrowed time.

Quantifying American Overextension

In order to fully appreciate the extent to which America is overextended and to understand why our American way of life is not sustainable, it is necessary to quantify American overextension; that is, to compute the difference between our current consumption and population levels, and the consumption and population levels at which America could subsist sustainably and self-sufficiently going forward into the future.

One method by which these metrics can be determined is through the use of "ecological footprint" data.

Ecological Footprint

The Global Footprint Network [GFN] defines ecological footprint as "a resource management tool that measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology". Thus, a country's ecological footprint equals the earth's surface area required to produce the resources consumed by its population and to assimilate the waste generated by its population, over the course of a year.

For example, by 2003 GFN calculations, Iraq had a per capita ecological footprint of 2.5 acres, China 4.0 acres, India 1.7 acres, UK 13.8 acres, world average 5.4 acres - and America 24.0 acres.

This means that, on average, approximately 24 acres of planet earth's surface area are required to produce the resources consumed and to assimilate the waste generated by every American each year. Interestingly, America's "biocapacity", the domestic US surface area available to produce resources for consumption and to assimilate resulting waste, is only 11.6 acres per capita - leaving an "ecological deficit" of 12.4 acres per capita.

This means that over half of America's current subsistence - production of the resources that we consume and assimilation of the waste that we generate - is enabled through excessive consumption; that is, by "importing biocapacity, liquidating existing stocks of ecological capital, or allowing wastes to accumulate and ecosystems to degrade" [quote from GFN website].

In fact, America has been running increasingly large annual ecological deficits since the 1960s.

US Ecological Footprint

The ecological footprint analysis conducted by Redefining Progress [RP], an organization that defines ecological footprint in somewhat broader terms, is even more alarming. RP calculated America's 2001 per capita ecological footprint to be 267 acres and our per capita biocapacity to be 50 acres, leaving a per capita ecological deficit of 217 acres.

This indicates that over eighty percent of America's current subsistence is enabled by excessive consumption!

Sustainable US Consumption and Population Levels

How does ecological footprint data translate into sustainable US consumption levels and population levels? America's 2006 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was approximately $13.2 trillion - which can be considered a financial proxy for our "current consumption level". At the end of 2006, America's population stood at approximately 300 million, which can be considered our "current population level".

Using GFN Data

According to the GFN ecological footprint analysis, America's biocapacity, our domestic surface area available to produce resources for consumption and to assimilate resulting waste, currently provides for only 48% of our actual annual subsistence; 52% of our annual subsistence is enabled by importing biocapacity, drawing down resource reserves, and degrading our habitat.

Therefore, in order to live sustainably and self-sufficiently within the constraints imposed by our domestic US biocapacity, while maintaining an average living standard roughly comparable to that which we enjoy today, we would have to reduce our aggregate annual consumption level and total population level by approximately 52%.

The result would be an American population of approximately 144 million people consuming at an aggregate annual rate of approximately $6.3 trillion. Alternatively, if we chose to maintain a US population of 300 million people, given a total GDP of $6.3 trillion, our average material standard of living (consumption level), as defined by annual per capita GDP, would decline from its current $44,000 to approximately $21,000.

Using RP Data

According to the RP ecological footprint analysis, America's domestic biocapacity currently provides for only nineteen percent of our actual annual subsistence. In order to live sustainably and self-sufficiently in the RP case, while maintaining an average living standard comparable to that which we enjoy today, we would have to reduce our aggregate annual consumption level and total population level by approximately 81%.

The result in this case would be an American population of approximately 57 million people consuming at an aggregate annual rate of approximately $2.5 trillion. If we chose instead to maintain a US population of 300 million, given a total GDP of $2.5 trillion, our average standard of living (consumption level), as defined by annual per capita GDP, would decline from $44,000 to approximately $8,300.

The Real "Inconvenient Truth": America is Irreversibly Overextended

By either account, America is severely - irreversibly - overextended. As a point of reference, the biocapacity that would be required to enable the entire world's population to consume resources and to generate waste on the same level as America's population is equivalent to six earths! [Data Source: Redefining Progress]

Yet we remain steadfast in our refusal to acknowledge our overextended condition, its unsustainable nature, and its inevitable result - a contraction, most probably apocalyptic, characterized by catastrophic living standard degradation and population level reduction.

We are the Problem

As more Americans come to realize that there is something terribly wrong with the American status quo, we tend to project rather than accept blame for our predicament. We attempt to blame "the government" or "big business" for the unfortunate but inevitable consequences associated with our relentless pursuit of the American Dream.

This convenient but erroneous line of reasoning creates the mistaken impression that we, the American public, are the innocent victims of dysfunctional policies and initiatives perpetrated on us by external forces beyond our control - it's "them", not "us". Unfortunately, this misguided perspective serves only to obscure the real cause associated with our current dilemma, and to totally undermine effective solutions.

We must understand that our governments and corporations are not responsible for the fact that we have adopted an unsustainable lifestyle paradigm, our American way of life, as our means to pursue the illusory Amerikan Dream. Politicians and business executives are merely our elected representatives - we elect politicians with our votes and business executives with our dollars.

If truth, our representatives are doing exactly what we have elected them to do; they are attempting to maintain at any cost our American way of life - our distorted "reality" within which we can continue to live beyond our means and perpetuate our inflated lifestyles. And, they will do whatever they can on our behalf, as we do individually, to achieve this goal.

We are not the innocent victims of deranged politicians and corporate executives and their arbitrarily imposed policies and initiatives; we are the beneficiaries of their ecological and economic indiscretions on our behalf. And we have chosen these people to represent us precisely because they will continue to commit such indiscretions on our behalf.

What we have here is a symbiotic relationship between a self-absorbed, self-entitled American public and our political and economic representatives, to whom we have ascribed the privileged status of "leaders". We have willingly abdicated total responsibility for our very existence at the societal level to our leaders, in exchange for "perpetual entitlement" to our American way of life at the individual level.

The Solution is "Unacceptable"

If we are to avert catastrophic disaster, we must fundamentally alter our existing orientation and dysfunctional behavior - from thoughtlessly exploiting our natural and economic resources, to judiciously consuming these resources in a manner that will ensure our long-term survival.

We must all reject our American way of life, living unsustainably beyond our means - ecologically and economically, individually and societally - for a lifestyle in which we choose to live sustainably within our means. That is, we must drastically reduce our consumption level and modify our consumption mix, through a combination of population and material living standard reduction - to an aggregate consumption level and mix that are consistent with US biocapacity. At that point, our generation and future generations will be able to subsist indefinitely on renewable, domestically-available, natural and economic resources.

Not likely ...

"The American way of life is not negotiable".
-- President George H W Bush, Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, 1992

... a statement that is unthinkingly endorsed - implicitly, if not explicitly - by nearly all Americans.

We all claim to be willing to "do our share" - as long as it doesn't negatively impact our material standard of living - our inflated American lifestyles - our American way of life. But it must - significantly.

The Consequences Are Inescapable

As long as we adhere blindly to our American way of life and choose to live unsustainably beyond our means, we cannot possibly take meaningful action to terminate our dysfunctional behavior - to cease the ecological and economic indiscretions that have caused us to become irreversibly overextended.

Barring an almost inconceivable series of serendipitous events - unforeseen technological breakthroughs, major efficiency improvements, miraculous discoveries, and just plain luck - we will reach an ecological or economic limit that will trigger a debilitating contraction in the not-too-distant future - possibly within five years, probably within fifteen years, and almost certainly within 25 years.

"The 'developed' nations have been widely regarded as previews of the future condition of the 'underdeveloped' countries. It would have been more accurate to reverse the picture"
-- William Catton Jr, Overshoot (University of Illinois Press, 1982), page 175


Global Footprint Network

Redefining Progress


The body of Chris Clugston's work is at Prior to founding Wake Up Amerika! Chris spent over thirty years working with information technology sector companies in marketing, sales, finance, M&A, and general management - the last twenty as a corporate chief executive and management consultant. He received an AB/Political Science, Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Penn State University, and an MBA/Finance with High Distinction from Temple University in Philadelphia. The Oil Drum and Energy Bulletin recently posted his paper "Global Peak Energy - Implications for Future Populations".

Bill Totten

Friday, September 28, 2007

Green papers, white lies, hot air

Britain's policy on global warming remains mired in confusion, with too much debate and too little action. But there is a solution ...

by Mark Lynas

New Statesman (September 20 2007)

When the most powerful woman on the planet speaks, it's a good idea to listen. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who recently knocked Condoleezza Rice off Forbes's top spot for powerful women, suggested an innovative solution to climate change late last month. Speaking in the Japanese city of Kyoto, where the 1997 protocol was signed, the German chancellor proposed an equal-rights framework for carbon emissions, where each country would get emissions entitlements assigned on the basis of its population.

The UK's Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, shows no sign of having heard Merkel's words.

The idea that a global deal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions must involve a convergence to equal per-capita allocations is not new: it is textbook "contraction and convergence" (C&C) - a climate policy framework first advanced by Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute more than a decade ago, and subsequently supported by numerous influential people, from the Indian prime minister to the Archbishop of Canterbury. As Merkel pointed out, only C&C offers a fair basis for bringing developing countries such as India and China into a future post-Kyoto emissions framework. Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate-change official, believes the plan to be the "only equitable, ultimate solution".

We have only eight years to go before the UN's target date when greenhouse gases must start to decline if we are to have a realistic chance of limiting eventual global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (as the EU, among many others, demands). Yet Britain's climate policy remains mired in confusion.

Gordon Brown and Hilary Benn have inherited Blair's old target of a sixty per cent reduction by 2050, but the truth is that, under an equitable framework such as C&C, Britain would need an 85 per cent cut because of our relatively small population and high emissions. This is a simple piece of mathematics that government ministers show no sign of having considered.

At this year's Labour party conference, with policy proposals flying around for every issue under the sun, this is perhaps the most important. If Brown's government were to join Germany, India and most African countries in proposing a C&C framework to supersede Kyoto when its first phase expires in 2012, the world would have taken its biggest step forward since the Climate Change Convention was first agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, way back in 1992.

Brown talks of equity as one of his guiding moral principles, and global warming provides a chance like no other. Equity is not just desirable, but essential if climatic equilibrium is to be maintained.

To their credit, the Liberal Democrats have already recognised this. Their Zero Carbon Britain policy document, released to media indifference last month, explicitly puts C&C at the heart of government policy - recognising that without setting a global framework for calculating Britain's fair share of a worldwide emissions budget, any UK target is meaningless.

Even without a clear long-term target, some very big decisions are looming that will have consequences for decades - and, indeed, centuries - to come. First, Gordon Brown needs to make it clear to the electricity industry that the era of coal as a fuel source for power generation is over. It is insane that, while we lecture others at international gatherings about their need to go low-carbon, a single British power station (Drax in Yorkshire) is allowed to continue emitting more carbon dioxide from a single chimney than at least 100 countries.

Worse, the government seems poised to agree to a new round of coal-fired power generation: RWE npower is proposing to spend GBP 1 billion on building a coal-burning plant at Tilbury in Essex, while E.ON UK (which owns Powergen) wants to replace its ageing Kingsnorth plant in Kent with two new 800-megawatt coal-burning units. Other power companies are watching closely, ready to advance plans for yet more new coal plants. Never mind the bitter row over nuclear power: the government's decision on whether to allow this new coal rush is far more significant in terms of Britain's impact on climate change.

Blue-sky thinking

With dirty power plants on the horizon, the clean energy revolution looks stalled. Onshore windfarms are held up by Land Rover-driving nimbies worried about their postcard views; offshore wind investment is languishing because of a lack of government incentives. The Renewables Obligation scheme is complex and gives little long-term certainty and most experts now agree it should be replaced by a feed-in tariff system as used in Germany and Spain.

Tellingly, both these countries have surged ahead with renewable power in recent years. For small generators, government policy has been little short of disastrous: the poorly funded Low Carbon Buildings Programme (LCBP) has succeeded so far only in putting off prospective householders and driving solar companies into bankruptcy. Here, too, a feed-in law could help, by guaranteeing a high long-term return on investment for anyone who decides to make the leap of investing in rooftop solar arrays or other microgeneration technologies.

Every mile of M1 widening soaks up the same amount of government money as the entire LCBP, as I have written before. Yet this hosing of public funds at hugely polluting motorways may be about to get worse: the government is considering awarding a GBP 3 billion contract - the largest ever - for widening the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester. This appalling waste of money can still be stopped, and we should look to this decision for a true indication of whether Labour intends to get serious about global warming.

The long-awaited Climate Bill is supposed to straighten out these contradictions by setting a national budget for carbon emissions and then forcing the government to make us all stick to it. Whether this is done by ramping up carbon taxes or by bringing in personal carbon allowances, the government is going to have to take measures at some stage to discourage excessive carbon consumption at the individual level.

The Climate Bill as proposed also contains a loophole - one big enough to fly a jet airliner through. By exempting aviation from our national carbon budget, the government will allow millions more tonnes of carbon to leak into the atmosphere, negating efforts in other sectors of the economy.

International negotiations will be key to closing this loophole but, in the meantime, Brown could send a clear sign of the changing times by putting the brakes on airport expansion. This is where true climate policy is made - in tarmac and hard cash, not green papers and white lies.

Bill Totten

War is Bad for Logic

and Other Living Things

by Ted Rall (September 18 2007)

"What non-violent antiwar activists are unable to realize", writes Peter Gelderloos, "is that the most important resistance, probably the only significant resistance, to the occupation of Iraq is the resistance being waged by the Iraqi people themselves". This comes from a relatively tangential passage in a thought-provoking book, How Non-Violence Protects the State (South End Press, 2005), that will get a more detailed look in a future column.

Although its appearance in The Nation guaranteed it would receive scant notice, a July 30 essay by Alexander Cockburn was one of the first to seriously address the most troubling internal contradiction of the anti-Iraq War left. War, everyone knows, is a zero-sum game. For one side to win, the other has to lose. If you "support our troops" you hope, at minimum, for their safe return. But each day a US soldier survives at the front means another day he will occupy Iraq and another day he can kill Iraqi resistance forces. Supporting the troops, as right-wingers say, requires supporting their mission. Which means opposing the guys who are trying to kill them.

Cockburn quoted antiwar activist Lawrence McGuire: "The grand taboo of the antiwar movement is to show the slightest empathy for the resistance fighters in Iraq. They are never mentioned as people for whom we should show concern, much less admiration. But of course, if you are going to sympathize with the US soldiers, who are fighting a war of aggression, then surely you should also [my emphasis] sympathize with the soldiers who are fighting for their homeland." (An intellectually honest person would substitute "instead" for "also".)

It kills me to say this, but neocon madman William Kristol was correct when he wrote in The Weekly Standard: "What mattered to the left was that it was dangerous politically not to 'support the troops'. Of course the antiwar left hated what the troops were doing ... So 'supporting the troops' meant feeling sorry for them, or pretending to."

The 2004 discussion over US soldiers who bought their own body plates, and resorted to "hillbilly armor" to protect their Humvees from roadside bombs, was a case in point. Antiwar pundits, including me, tried to drive a wedge between the Bush Administration and the military by pointing out that the Pentagon was pinching pennies at the expense of soldiers' lives. But what if you're an Iraqi? You risk your own life every time you place an IED along the "Highway of Death" between Baghdad and the airport. The more Americans you blow up, the closer you come to achieving your goal of liberating Iraq. The last thing you need is "antiwar" Americans agitating for stronger armor plates!

A parallel to World War II, "the good war" depicted in countless movies, is useful. You're a German citizen living in Berlin, and you hate the Nazis. You're against the war. Do you pray for the SS? Or the French Resistance? You can't do both. (Well, you could - but you'd be an idiot.)

The moral quandary forced upon the left is epitomized by Phyllis Bennis, an in-the-box wonk for the Institute for Policy Studies. "Certainly", she allows, "the Iraqi people have the right to resist an illegal occupation, including military resistance". Which is, as they said in the 1970s, mighty white of her. "But as a whole", she continues, "what is understood to be 'the Iraqi resistance' against the US occupation is a disaggregated and diverse set of largely unconnected factions, in which the various often-antagonistic armed movements (including some who attack Iraqi civilians as much as they do occupation troops) hold pride of place. There is no unified leadership that can speak for 'the resistance', there is no NLF or ANC or FMLN that can claim real leadership and is accountable to the Iraqi population as a whole."

For most of World War II, the same was true of the French Resistance (history grants them the upper-case "R") too. Communists, socialists and even monarchists fought the Germans - and each other - until Charles de Gaulle's center-right faction prodded, bullied and ultimately muscled out his (more popular and more progressive) rivals. There were, as in Iraq today, French criminal gangs who fought solely for money. If this was 1943 and Bennis and other mainstream liberals were anti-Nazi Germans, would they "support what is called 'the French resistance'"?

As their Iraqi counterparts do today, the Free French carried out what the press of the period called "terrorist attacks". Kidnappings, assassinations and bombings were usually directed at government officials, German troops, and French collaborators - but civilians were also killed. So why does the antiwar left find the Iraqis distasteful?

Gelderloos argues that the post-Vietnam American left is hard-wired with reflexive pacifism, denying that violent militancy can ever be a valid tactic, even when faced with horrific oppression. Liberals frequently express disapproval of protestors who smashed windows at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, and the Earth Liberation Front's (ELF) torching of SUVs at auto dealerships - even though no one got hurt.

Knee-jerk non-violence partly explains the left's reluctance to embrace the Iraqi resistance. Nationalism/patriotism is another factor. Who wants to see more funerals of American soldiers? And who wants to be smeared as the next "Hanoi Jane"?

When "asked who I think will then take power [after US forces leave Iraq]", Bennis writes, "the only thing I can anticipate with any confidence is that first, I probably won't like them very much because they're likely to have a far more religious orientation than I like but that second, it's not up to me to choose who governs Iraq".

The Islamist and/or totalitarian ideology of many of Iraq's anti-US factions is a turn-off to the secular American left. The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland worried aloud in late 2003, when the war against the occupation of Iraq heated up: "Not all of Iraq's resistance will fit [a] romantic, maquis image. Some will be Baathist holdouts, Saddamites who once served as henchmen to a murderous dictator. No progressive should want to see these villains land a blow on British or American forces." This year, in the socialist New Politics, Stephen Shalom noted that "to give our automatic support to any opponent of US imperialism means we should have supported the Taliban in 2001 or Saddam Hussein in 2003".

Since war is a zero-sum game, it's our guys or theirs. "Support the troops by bringing them home" is an empty slogan that belies reality. With both political parties supporting the war, US troops are not going to come home any time soon. As Gelderloos writes: "The approach of the US antiwar movement in relation to the Iraqi resistance does not merely qualify as bad strategy; it reveals a total lack of strategy, and it is something we need to fix". It also exposes an ugly truth about antiwar lefties. They don't believe in national self-determination any more than George W Bush and Dick Cheney.


Ted Rall is the author of the book America Gone Wild (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2006), which includes a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the most controversial political cartoons of the post-9/11 era.

Copyright 2007 Ted Rall

Bill Totten

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Free Trade, Open Immigration Dogmas Must Be Rethought

by Paul Craig Roberts {1} (August 16 2007)

At a time when even the Wall Street Journal {2} has disappeared into the maw of a huge media conglomerate, the New York Times remains an independent newspaper. But it doesn't show any independence in reporting or in thought.

The Times issued a mea culpa for letting its reporter, Judith Miller {3}, misinform readers about Iraq {4}, thus helping the neoconservatives {5} set the stage for their invasion. Now the Times' reporting on Iran seems to be repeating the mistake. After the US commits another senseless act of naked aggression by bombing Iran, will the Times publish another mea culpa?

The Times editorials also serve as conduits for propaganda. On August 13, a Times editorial jumped on China for "irresponsible threats" {6} that threaten free trade. The Times' editorialists do not understand that the offshoring of American jobs, which the Times mistakenly thinks is free trade, is a far greater threat to America than a reminder from the Chinese, who are tired of US bullying, that China {7} is America's banker {8}.

Let's briefly review the "China threat" and then turn to the real problem.

Members of the US government believe, as do many Americans, that the Chinese currency is undervalued relative to the US dollar and that this is the reason for America's large trade deficit with China. Pressure continues to be applied to China to revalue its currency in order to reduce its trade advantage over goods made in the US.

The pressure put on China is misdirected. The exchange rate is not the main cause of the US trade deficit with China. The costs of labor, regulation and harassment are far lower in China, and US corporations have offshored their production {9} to China in order to benefit from these lower costs. When a company shifts its production from the US to a foreign country, it transforms US GDP into imports. Every time a US company offshores goods and services, it adds to the US trade deficit.

Clearly, it is a mistake for the US government and economists to think of the imbalance as if it were produced by Chinese companies underselling goods produced by US companies in America. The imbalance is the result of US companies producing their goods in China {10} and selling them in America.

Many believe the solution is to force China to revalue its currency, thereby driving up the prices of seventy percent of the goods on Wal-Mart shelves. Mysteriously, members of the US government believe that it would help the US consumer, who is as dependent on imported manufactured goods as he is on imported energy, to be charged higher prices.

China believes that the exchange rate is not the cause of US offshoring and opposes any rapid change in its currency's value. In a message issued in order to tell the US to ease off the public bullying, China reminded Washington that the US doesn't hold all the cards.

The NYT editorial expresses the concern that China's "threat" will cause protectionist US lawmakers to stick on tariffs and start a trade war. "Free trade, free market" economists rush to tell us how bad this would be for US consumers: A tariff would raise the price of consumer goods.

The free market economists don't tell us that dollar depreciation would have the same effect. Goods made in China would go up thirty percent in price if a thirty percent tariff was placed on them, and the goods would go up thirty percent in price if the value of the Chinese currency rises thirty percent against the dollar.

So, why all the fuss about tariffs?

The fuss about tariffs makes even less sense once one realizes that the purpose of tariffs is to protect domestically produced goods from cheaper imports. However, US tariffs today would be imposed on the offshored production of US firms. In the era of offshoring, corporations are not a constituency for tariffs.

Tariffs would benefit American labor, something that the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Republican Party would strongly oppose. A wage equalization tariff would wipe out much of the advantage of offshoring. Profits would come down, and with lower profits would come lower CEO compensation and shareholder returns.

Obviously, the corporate interests and Wall Street do not want any tariffs.

The NYT and "free trade" economists haven't caught on, because they mistakenly think that offshoring is trade. In fact, offshoring is labor arbitrage. US labor is simply removed from production functions that produce goods and services for US markets and replaced with foreign labor. No trade is involved. Instead of being produced in America, US brand names sold in America are produced in China.

It is not China's fault that American corporations have so little regard for their employees and fellow citizens that they destroy their economic opportunities and give them to foreigners instead.

It is paradoxical that everyone is blaming China for the behavior of American firms. What is China supposed to do, close its borders to foreign capital?

When free market economists align, as they have done, with foreigners against American citizens, they destroy their credibility and the future of economic freedom. Recently, the Independent Institute, with which I am associated, stressed that free market associations "have defended completely open immigration and free markets in labor" {11}, emphasizing that 500 economists signed the Independent Institute's Open Letter on Immigration in behalf of open immigration.

Such a policy is satisfying to some in its ideological purity. But what it means in practice is that the Americans, who are displaced in their professional and manufacturing jobs by offshoring and work visas for foreigners, also cannot find work in the unskilled and semi-skilled jobs taken over by illegal immigrants. A free market policy that gives the bird to American labor is not going to win acceptance by the population. Such a policy serves only the owners of capital and its senior managers.

Free market economists will dispute this conclusion. They claim that offshoring and unrestricted immigration provide consumers with cheaper prices in the market place. What the free market economists do not say is that offshoring and unrestricted immigration also provide US citizens with lower incomes, fewer job opportunities, and less satisfying jobs. There is no evidence that consumer prices fall by more than incomes so that US citizens can be said to benefit materially. The psychological experience of a citizen losing his career to a foreigner is alienating.

The free market economists ignore that a country that offshores its production also offshores its jobs. It becomes dependent on goods and services made in foreign countries, but lacks sufficient export earnings with which to pay for them. A country whose workforce is being reallocated, under pressure of offshoring, to domestic services has nothing to trade for its imports. That is why the US trade deficit has exploded to over $800 billion annually.

Among all the countries of the world, only the US can get away with exploding trade deficits. The reason is that the US inherited from Great Britain, exhausted by two world wars, the reserve currency role. To be the reserve currency country means that your currency is the accepted means of payment to settle international accounts. Countries pay their oil import bills in dollars and settle the deficits in their trade accounts in dollars.

The enormous and continuing US deficits are wearing out the US dollar as reserve currency. A time will come when the US cannot pay for the imports, on which it has become ever more dependent, by flooding the world with ever more dollars.

Offshoring and free market ideology are turning the US into a Third World country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one-quarter of all new US jobs created between June 2006 and June 2007 were for waitresses and bartenders. Almost all of the net new US jobs in the 21st century have been in domestic services.

Free market economists simply ignore the facts and proceed with their ideological justifications of open borders, a policy that is rapidly destroying the ladders of upward mobility for the US population.


Copyright (c) Creators Syndicate, Inc. {13}

Paul Craig Roberts - - was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution: An Insider's Account of Policymaking in Washington {14}; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy {15}, and is the co-author with Lawrence M Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice {16}. Click {17} for Peter Brimelow's Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.

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Copyright (c) 1999 - 2007

Bill Totten

Maggie's gift to Gordon

David Cameron tried to break with the Tory past by modelling himself on Tony Blair. But with Margaret Thatcher back at No 10, his new clothes are looking sadly dated.

by John Gray

New Statesman (September 20 2007)

History imposed on David Cameron the task of persuading the electorate that Conservatives are at home in 21st-century Britain. William Hague, Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith were at one in supposing that, overlooked or derided by metropolitan opinion, there was a conservative British majority that viewed the society emerging around them with alarm and indignation. In fact, most voters felt at home in liberal Britain, and the Conservatives went on to three successive defeats. Breaking with his predecessors, Cameron decided that unless the Conservatives identified themselves with the nation that Britain has become they were finished as a party of government. By aligning himself with contemporary British values, he posed a challenge to Labour to which Gordon Brown must now respond.

The next general election will take place against the background of a period of profound social change that goes back to the crises of the Seventies. To a considerable extent, 21st-century Britain is an unintended consequence of Margaret Thatcher. It was Thatcher who, accentuating the impact of global forces that no one controls, dismantled the postwar settlement and created the market-driven society we live in today. She believed that by rejuvenating British capitalism she could revive the stolidly bourgeois Britain she had known in the Fifties; but that country was a product of Labour rule, and the upshot of reshaping public institutions on a market model was to create a society of a kind she had never imagined.

In an essay that had a powerful influence on the intellectual fringes of early Thatcherism, Friedrich Hayek distinguished between two rival versions of individualism - a "true", Burkean variety, rooted in tradition, that accepted the constraints of conventional morality and a "false", Romantic version in which personal choice and self-realisation trumped all other values. Hayek believed that a revitalised free market would bring with it a return to "true" individualism.

Instead, it was a version of Romantic individualism that triumphed. As the imperatives of market choice have spread into every area of social life, personal fulfilment and the satisfaction of desire have become the ruling values. Relationships of all kinds have become looser and social structures have become more negotiable and provisional. In many ways this has been a benign process. As a result we are more tolerant of the varieties of family and sexual life, and less pervasively racist, and although we are perceptibly more unequal we are less obsessed with class than in the past. But the country created by freeing up the market is in many respects the antithesis of the one Hayek and Thatcher aimed to restore. If ever there was such a thing as a conservative philosophy, its central values were social cohesion and cultural continuity in a settled form of common life. Yet when it is released from restraint the market works to unsettle established ways of living. So, far from reviving an older Britain, Thatcher wiped away its last traces.

Endemic discontent

However, if the freewheeling society we have today is Thatcher's creation, her latter-day followers refuse to recognise the fact. The diehards who make up much of the Conservatives' core support despise and reject the nation she unwittingly created. They believe that by ditching Thatcher's inheritance, Cameron has abandoned anything resembling conservatism; but it was Thatcher who destroyed the old social structures - and with them the possibility of a viable conservative project. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Conservative Party itself. The loosening up of hierarchies that occurred in society at large has been reflected in a parallel dissolution of the Tory culture of loyalty. Before Thatcher, Tory leaders could rely on an ethos that elevated loyalty above ideology. After Thatcher, disloyalty and infighting became defining Tory traits, and every party leader was placed permanently on probation. Mistrusted by his party, Cameron is seen as a traitor to conservative values. But the Thatcherites themselves - with their endemic discontent and doctrinal mentality - demonstrate how unreal these values have become. Early this month, the former deputy leader Michael Ancram urged Cameron to "unveil the party's soul" rather than "trashing" its Thatcherite past. If Cameron follows such advice, the Conservatives will be left stranded on the margins of power in a country they have ceased to comprehend.

Whatever his critics may say, Cameron had no alternative but to remodel his party. His strategy of repositioning his party on the liberal centre ground enabled it to become, once again, a contender for power. The trouble is that the model of modernisation he adopted was already obsolete. By the time Cameron adopted Blairite new Labour as his template, Blair had become a buffoonish figure - a would-be global messiah who engineered the worst British foreign policy disaster since Suez. A more experienced politician might have asked himself whether it was wise to pose as Blair's successor. Cameron might have unseated Blair in a general election run-off; but once Blair vanished from the scene, the Tory leader was left looking dated and redundant.

In the Commons, Cameron goaded Blair with the taunt, "You were the future once". Yet, by modelling himself on Blair, Cameron tied himself to the past. Unprepared for the national sigh of relief that greeted Blair's departure, he seems ill-prepared for the very different style of politics that has arrived with Gordon Brown.

Only a new breed of Conservatives, for whom Thatcher was a chapter in the history books rather than a living presence, could have consigned her to the memory hole with such brisk finality. In this, Cameron's limited political experience has been a source of strength, but passing most of his short political life in Blair's shadow has narrowed Cameron's vision. Blair's decade in power was a by-product of unrepeatable historical conditions. He was able to return Labour to power by accepting many of Thatcher's policies because she embodied the interests and values of a crucial part of the electorate that was ready to transfer its allegiance to him.

By the time Blair left office he represented no one, and the same is true of Cameron today. Like Blair, Cameron moves in a smart, moneyed set with tenuous links to the wider society. Aside from the fox-hunting fraternity - promised a free vote on repealing the ban - it is hard to think of any social group whose concerns Cameron has consistently championed. Even his commitment to green issues, which at one point seemed to be voicing widely felt anxieties, sounds contrived and unconvincing. There is no section of today's Britain where his voice resonates with any particular force.

Cameron's patrician background plainly had a role in his most serious error to date. His insouciant dismissal of an institution that was for generations a hugely important part of British education showed how slender is his acquaintance with the choices most people have to face. Unlike most Tory voters, Cameron has always been able to take for granted the option of educating his children privately. Like a junior colonial officer in the declining years of empire, he seems hardly to comprehend the lives of those he has set out to govern. His stumble over grammar schools was more than a minor slip. It disclosed an amateurish quality in his entire operation, and exposed the vulnerability of a political project that lacks any solid base of social support.

Provincial majority

There is a great opportunity here for Gordon Brown. Linked by overlapping social ties and a common proximity to the London media, Blair and Cameron are alike in their detachment from Britain's provincial majority. This is not the disaffected, reactionary rump invoked by latter-day Thatcherites. It is broadly liberal in outlook, but it demands from government some of the qualities that used to be claimed by Conservatives, such as common sense, competence and a cool head in times of crisis. It has no time for Blairite rants about incessant change, nor for the unending stream of ephemeral initiatives that embodied the Blair regime in practice. By distancing himself so sharply from this style of government, Brown has wounded Cameron at his weakest point.

The shift in the public philosophy of the Conservatives that Cameron initiated seems to have started as a psephological gambit, which recognised that the party could not return to power on the back of its core supporters alone and aimed to capture Liberal Democrat votes in about a hundred key seats. As an electoral strategy it has had mixed results, with Lib Dem voters switching to Labour as well as to Cameron's Conservatives. At the same time, large issues have been left unresolved. At present there are at least two tendencies vying for control among the Conservatives. There are neoliberals such as John Redwood, who urge further large-scale market deregulation and hugely reduced government - a programme whose effect would be to impose another revolutionary shake-up on society, and which for that reason has no prospect of being implemented by any government in the foreseeable future.

In contrast there are the neoconservatives, who accept that governments are bound to continue to play a significant role in social welfare and regulating the economy. What these tendencies have in common is that neither can claim to be distinctively conservative - the neoliberals owe more to Hayek (who always denied being a conservative) than they do to Burke, while neoconservatism originated on the American far left. Both are progressive ideologies, which differ from those that prevail on the centre left chiefly by being less realistic and more dogmatic.

The practical problem for Cameron is that neither of these tendencies allows the Conservatives to make the vital break with the past. If the neoliberal tendency represents a reversion to Thatcherism at its most rigidly doctrinal, the neoconservative wing of the party - to which, in most respects, Cameron himself belongs - offers little more than a continuation of Blairism. These difficulties have been compounded by his most recent turn in which - while talking of the need to repair Britain's " broken society" - he has increasingly reverted to stock right-wing themes such as crime and immigration.

Many commentators have accused Cameron of inconsistency, but his larger error is that of moving back to the reactionary territory that lost his predecessors the past three elections. However dressed up in fashionable jargon, talk of the broken society cannot help harking back to a nation whose passing the majority of Britons do not regret. No doubt concern with crime is widespread, as are doubts about current levels of immigration. But these worries do not add up to anything like a wide sense of social collapse, and most of Britain's voters like the country in which they live. By putting a rejection of that country at the heart of his campaign, Cameron has fallen into the trap that has snared every Conservative leader since Thatcher. He has failed to reconcile his party to the society she created, while alienating the voters he needs to attract by implicitly condemning the way many of them have chosen to live.

At present, both the parliamentary party and the party organisation are racked by internecine conflicts, and Cameron himself is looking ever more like an opportunist with no settled beliefs. By itself, intellectual incoherence has rarely been a serious obstacle to securing power. When combined with an ill-conceived political strategy, the result can be disastrous. Only months ago Cameron seemed poised to overtake Labour. There is still a chance he could deny it an overall majority in the general election, but with the Tory leader's switch to the self-defeating politics of reaction and Gordon Brown's assured performance as Prime Minister, the initiative has moved back to Labour. Brown's "steady as she goes" brand of government is an ambiguous phenomenon, for though it involves a sharp break with Blair's style, it is premised on continuing with much of the policy framework that was in place when Blair was in power - which itself continued much of Thatcher's. In an irony neatly captured by the tea at No 10, Cameron has been left struggling to manage the party Thatcher nearly destroyed, while Brown is using the Thatcher inheritance to entrench Labour as the party of government. If Brown can convince voters that he has viable new policies - particularly in the areas of energy and the environment - there is every chance Cameron will follow Blair into history's memory hole.

Much now depends on events. Enough has transpired to plant a large question mark over Cameron's project. He aimed to fashion a new centre-right party, but the result has been a continuation of drift and division. A setback in the next general election could turn these divisions into a civil war not unlike the one that engulfed the party when Thatcher was toppled. The difference is that, after Cameron's attempt to impose a Blair-style makeover on the party, it could end up like a failed state - a rabble of rival factions, each claiming to embody true conservatism at a time when such a thing is no longer imaginable.

The stakes could hardly be higher. The upshot of the next general election could be meltdown in the Conservative Party and a long period of unchallenged power for Gordon Brown.


John Gray's latest book is Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (Allen Lane, the Penguin Press, GBP 18.99)

Bill Totten