Edwin Rosskam Workers and hurricane shelter in tobacco field, Puerto Rico January 1938
Once more for everyone who’s got even the lightest slightest shade of green in their thoughts and dreams and fingers, I’ll try and address the issue of why going or being green is a futile undertaking as long as it isn’t accompanied by a drive for a radical upheaval of the economic system we live in. Thinking we can be green – that is to say, achieve anything real when it comes to restoring our habitat to a healthy state – without that upheaval, is a delusion. And delusions, as we all know all too well, can be dangerous.
It’s not possible to “save the planet” while maintaining the economic system we currently have, because that system is based on and around perpetual growth. It’s really as simple as that, and perhaps it’s that very simplicity which fools people into thinking that can’t be all there is to it. Switching to different fuels, alternative energy forms, is useless in such a system, because there will be a moment when the growth catches up with all preservation measures; it’s not a winnable race. There will come a time when a choice between preservation and growth must be made, and the latter will always win (as long as the system prevails). It would be very helpful if the environmental movement catches up on the economics aspect, because it’s not going anywhere right now. It’s a feel-good ploy that comforts parts of our guilty minds but won’t bring about what’s needed to eradicate that guilt.
If you’re serious about preserving the world and restoring it to the state your ancestors found it in, it’s going to take a lot more than different lightbulbs or fuels or yearly donations to a “good” cause. That, too, is very simple. You won’t be able to keep living the way you do, and preserve the place you have in your society, your job, your home, your car. That is a heavy price to pay perhaps in your view, but there is no other way. Whether you make that choice is another story altogether. Just don’t think you’re going to come off easy.
What makes it harder is the question whether we, as a species, are capable of pulling this off in the first place. Still, if we can’t even get it right as individuals… But trying to answer what it would all take, in reality, is still preferable than telling ourselves, and each other, and your children, a bunch of fiction-based lies on a daily basis. At least, that’s my take. Either we make an honest attempt or we say “after us the flood”. Trying to find a snug and comfy but cheating place somewhere in between is an insult to ourselves, our ancestors and our progeny.
I read a number of things this morning that, in typical fashion, all sort of touch on all this, as so many do all the time, but still fall short of the logical conclusion. For many, that’s because perpetual growth is a hard to grasp concept, and an economic system based on it is even more difficult, but it’s a terrible shame that it leads to all those well-meaning people producing what is in the end really little more than gibberish. Jeremy Brecher gets it partly right for the Nation,
While concrete, on-the-ground solutions are essential for knitting together labor and environmental concerns, our movements also need to evolve toward a common program and a common vision. We can present such initiatives as exemplars of a broad public agenda for creating full employment by converting to a climate-safe economy. There are historical precedents for such programs. Just as the New Deal in the Great Depression of the 1930s put millions of unemployed people to work doing the jobs America’s communities needed, so today we need a “Green New Deal” to rebuild our energy, transportation, building, and other systems to drastically reduce the climate-destroying greenhouse gas pollution they pour into the air.
Such a shared program would end the “jobs versus environment” conflict because environmental protection would produce millions of new jobs and expansion of jobs would protect the environment. Such a program provides common ground on which both labor and environmentalists can stand. Such a program can also be the centerpiece of a larger shared vision of a new economy. After all, just expanding the kind of economy we have will just expand the problems of inequality and environmental catastrophe our current economy is already creating. The ultimate solution to the “jobs vs. environment” dilemma is to build a new economy where we all have secure livelihoods based on work that creates the kind of sustainable world we all need.
… but the notion that expansion, any kind of expansion, would protect the environment is dangerous. Expansion is part of the other side’s vocabulary. And using their vocabulary is not a good thing. George Monbiot quotes George Lakoff to make that exact point:
George Lakoff, the cognitive linguist who has done so much to explain why progressive parties keep losing elections they should win, explained that attempts to monetise nature are a classic example of people trying to do the right thing without understanding frames: the mental structures that shape the way we perceive the world. As Lakoff points out, you cannot win an argument unless you expound your own values and re-frame the issue around them.
If you adopt the language and values of your opponents “you lose because you are reinforcing their frame”. Costing nature tells us that it possesses no inherent value; that it is worthy of protection only when it performs services for us; that it is replaceable. You demoralise and alienate those who love the natural world while reinforcing the values of those who don’t.
And the rest of Monbiot’s piece is sort of alright, but his from the rooftops support for more nuclear (in Britain) shows that he, like so many others, only gets part of the story.
… the financial case for new roads in the United Kingdom, shaky at the best of times, falls apart if you attach almost any value to the rise in greenhouse gases they cause. Case closed? No: the government now insists [..] that climate change cannot be taken into account when deciding whether or not a road is built. Do you believe that people prepared to cheat to this extent would stop a scheme because one of the government’s committees has attached a voodoo value to a piece of woodland?
It’s more likely that the accounting exercise would be used as a weapon by the developers. The woods are worth £x, but by pure chance the road turns out to be worth £x +1. Beauty, tranquillity, history, place, particularity? Sorry, they’ve already been costed and incorporated into x – end of discussion. The strongest arguments that opponents can deploy – arguments based on values – cannot be heard.
This line of thinking should be applied not just to nature, but to all basic human necessities as well, food, water, shelter, and yes, even the energy that keeps us warm. I have often said that if you allow money into your political system, money will inevitably end up owning that system. And that is true for all resources too: in an economic perpetual growth model, money, if allowed to, will concentrate in just a few institutions and families and eventually own everything. Didn’t Marx, too, say something like that a while back?
And I could go on, but I already wrote it all several times, for instance on May 27 2008, and nothing has changed since. At least not for the good. And so here goes. I wrote this in reaction to an otherwise great article in Der Spiegel entitled: The Price of Survival: What Would It Cost to Save Nature?.
I still really like that Spiegel article, except that it’s wrong on many counts. Here’s from 6 years ago (and yes, I know there are things in it I have mentioned more recently as well):
Another great article from German magazine Der Spiegel. It has one huge problem, though: it is based on ideas and assumptions that are so wrong and misguided they can only do harm. We can not buy back our world, and we can not restore or save it with money. As long as we keep stating the earth’s value in monetary terms, we are irrevocably doomed. If you accept that you come from, and belong to, the world around you, and understand that Darwin has delivered proof that (wo)man has come from all that has been before, that 90% of our genes are identical to those of our pets and so on, than putting a dollar price on plants and animals and rivers and skies is identical to putting a dollar price on your own life, and on your children and loved ones. Everything alive is a part of you. Dollars are not.
In our economic system, based on debt, credit and interest, the future value of everything under the sun necessarily gets discounted over time. That is because currencies lose their value over time. It’s also in our genes: we prefer what we have now over what we might have later. Our ancestors were the ones who focused on immediate threats. Those who focused on future ones, in general didn’t live long enough to procreate.
There is an economist in this article who says: “Protecting diversity is much cheaper than allowing its destruction.” He’s wrong, because of what I just said: all future values are discounted, so destruction is more profitable than preservation. This economist has never grasped the essence of his own chosen field.
The article continues: “Biodiversity – and efforts to preserve it – could in fact become an enormous business in the future”. See, that’s the rub right there, in the word ‘could’, [sometime] in the future . In the here and now, using and destroying all we can get our hands on is the only thing that makes sense economically. If that is hard to wrap your mind around, wait till you get hungry, and you face the choice between eating or protecting diversity. You’ll eat.
The only things in the natural world that have a value in our economics are those that can be sold at a profit, today; and that is all the value they have. All else is luxury. Preservation only has a chance in times of plenty, and even then only in theory. After all, we are today coming out of the by far most plentiful time in human existence, but it has not exactly been a time of preservation. Quite the contrary, it has both led to, and was accommodated by, the worst destruction of the natural environment ever in history. That is not a coincidence; it’s destruction that gave us our riches.
Now, we are entering a much poorer time economically, and that will lead to an even worse destruction, if only because the riches made us multiply like so many rabbits.
As long as our world views emanate from an economic system based on perpetual growth, there is, after the short high we are now leaving, no way but down and worse. We would need to take food, water and indeed the entire natural world out of any and all profit calculations, or they’ll all be devoured in time by the ever-growing credit monster that requires us to pay interest over every breath we take, every plant we grow, every meal we eat, and every house we build. As long as we run our societies on that system, there is no other possible outcome than what we are witnessing today.
To fully understand this, you need to shake off your dreams and illusions about preservation and doing good, and take a good hard open look at the numbers on extinctions and environmental degradation. People have been talking about saving the planet for a long time, but it all deteriorates. And not just that, the deterioration accelerates.
Groups like Greenpeace are almost religiously accepted as being highly beneficial, but in reality are some of the worst players around, since they facilitate the perpetuation of the lies and illusions about saving and preserving, while the house is on fire. Donating to them is like paying the church to be absolved of your sins. That makes them guilty, if not of perpetrating crimes outright, then certainly of aiding and abetting, of being accomplices to the foul deed. Good intentions don’t buy you salvation, not when they’re built on illusions that serve only to make you feel good.
If we are to save this planet, we will have to throw out the economic model. But that is an issue utterly absent from any green program. Green movements indeed are but modern religions, far removed from reality, unable to grasp what happens right before their eyes, focused instead on making those who donate feel good, on keeping the false idea alive that we can continue to live close enough to the way we do and save the planet at the same time.
Man is like yeast, which destroy their own living environment when given the chance. At least yeast have the excuse that they can’t think. Man can think, but is still incapable of understanding that thinking does not control his actions. What does drive us to do what we do, happen to be the same things that drive yeast: billion-year-old primitive instincts with no regard whatsoever for the future. We discount the future in the exact same way that our economic system does. That system is ideally fitted for how our brains function, and that will make it near impossible to get rid of it before it’s too late.
Being able to think equals being able to lie, to lie to ourselves and others about why we do what we do. That makes man both the most tragic and the most destructive animal ever assembled by evolution. As such, we are a unique success story.
I’ve often wondered why it is, and what it means, that man allows himself to destroy the world his children need to live in after he’s gone. What does that say about the idea of “love for your progeny”? It drags down that love to the level of some semi-automated, genetically predetermined (re-)action, like a cat that licks her kittens; but that’s where love stops, for man and cat. But yes, it can be puzzling at first glance: while they obliterate the natural world without which their sons and daughters have no chance of survival, most parents would die to save their kids from a fire today. And there is the essence: it’s about today. We are no better at “doing future” than yeast is.
“But now a revolution is taking shape in the way we think”, claims the article, citing the value of biodiversity to our economic model. “the economic weapon must shoot in the right direction.”But that weapon can only shoot in one direction, there’s no reverse, no steering wheel, and it’s short-range only. The sole chance we have is to take out that “economic weapon” altogether, not try in vain to point it in the “right” direction. We shouldn’t have multinationals giving money to the Congo, we should make sure no multinational ever sets another foot there. For every dollar they donate, they destroy a hundred; that is solidly engraved in the system.
I will gladly admit I cannot say this better than Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend did in their 1993 book “Valuing the Earth” (note how similar the title is to those of this post and the original Der Spiegel piece):
“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment—that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatim as a physical description of our economic process.
A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
I know it’s the second time in a week that I quote Daly and Townsend, but that’s because I hope everyone will try to understand what it means: that in the end, it’s the use of energy, the amount, that counts, far more than what kind of it. Our present economic system depends for its survival on our using ever larger amounts, and we have the drive to do just that; it will take a very serious effort to resist that drive, and even then there’s no guarantee the rest of mankind will do the same. But anything else, any well intentioned green initiative, is useless and futile and in the end pretty stupid, good only for some instant gratification for that part of the brain that seeks to “do good”, a cheating way to feel less guilty about destroying everything around us, for telling our kids we love them and then leaving them only with smouldering remains, empty rivers and oceans, undrinkable water, infertile soil and sky high mountains of plastic, steel and aluminum. And I don’t know that we can do better than that, but we can at least start by not fooling ourselves into some tempting illusionary comfort zone. Or we can just give up, that’s an option too.
Way to go Bill.
It looks as though the US stock market is in the process of topping out. But if you’d bet heavily on a bear market, each time you saw one coming, you’d be broke by now. We will wait to see what happens… Meanwhile, we are still puzzling over the miracle produced by the Fed. Uri Geller could bend spoons. The Fed bends the entire economy. Hardly a single price is unaffected. Hardly a single business plan or investment strategy goes forward without an eye on the central bank.
Jesus turned water into wine and multiplied loaves and fishes. But the Fed make the Nazarene seem like a two-bit shell game hustler. The loaves and the fishes couldn’t have had a market value of more than a few thousand shekels! Compare that to the Fed. It helped usher in $33 trillion worth of goods and services – out of nothing. Yes, dear reader, that is the total amount of purchases made over the last 30 years… on excess credit. We say “excess” because it is above and beyond the level of credit that had existed – relative to GDP – for many decades before. Roughly, from 1900 to 1970, the US had $1.50 for every dollar of output. Now, there is about $3.50 per dollar of GDP. The difference, over the last 30 years, is about $33 trillion.
Where did all that bounty come from? That is the question. Can something really come from nothing? Ex nihilo nihil fit (nothing comes from nothing). And yet $33 trillion worth of “stuff” seemed to have come from out of nowhere. It didn’t come from savings; the savings rate went down during this period. It didn’t come from earnings, either. Wages and earnings – in real terms – barely rose since the 1970s. How about from an increase in productivity or output? Nope. As we have seen, compared to output, this “wealth” grew much faster. That leaves only one possible source…
You may think banks lend out savings. Un un. In the modern fiat money-based economy, they create credit out of thin air. The money supply goes up when the banks see fit to make loans. And banks no longer set aside meaningful reserves against their loans. So, the limit to new credit is… well… limitless. This entire system is created by and presided over by the Fed – a public cartel of private banks. And that’s a worry. Because, as we put it last week, the Fed’s theory – that it can build real wealth by increasing credit faster than GDP forever – is “childishly naïve.” An old friend, Pierre Lemieux, wrote in with the following comment:
“The production of things is not done with money, but with real resources. If I see a car, I know it has been produced with steel, aluminum, plastic, labor, etc. That‘s the real side of the economy. We get on the financial side when we ask how this production was financed, that is, how people were motivated to release control of real resources. In most cases, they are motivated in doing so by receiving in exchange claims to other resources or consumer goods. Finance is the domain of the exchange of claims to real resources. The question, then, is in which circumstances does money (a very liquid claim on real resources) help production (by reducing transaction costs), hinder it or, as you point out, create gainers and losers?”
In a better world, credit depends on savings… which represent real resources. This restrains credit growth, because there are only so many real resources… and only so much savings representing them. But in the world created by the Fed, credit has no savings behind it. It is just notations in the banking system… with no effective limit on the quantity of credit available. That is how $33 trillion came to exist. It pretended to be real savings… representing real resources… which were then put to work to make the autos and houses that people wanted, but couldn’t afford. In other words, the system created new claims on resources… which drew resources into the real economy. Neither past earnings (savings), nor current earnings (output) supported this economic expansion. Instead, it was all a claim on future earnings.
Strange sudden change.
The largest U.S. banks can remain entangled with each other now that global regulators have loosened proposed limits on the financial web that led to investor panic in 2008 and prompted bailouts. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, which set out a year ago to block banks from relying too heavily on each other, changed course last week, opting to let firms preserve most derivatives and repurchase agreements among themselves. The panel revised formulas for evaluating exposure and used a broader definition of capital. Those tweaks spare about $1 trillion in deals at seven of the biggest U.S. banks that would have exceeded proposed limits, according to a November study by the Clearing House, an industry group.
The Basel panel of regulators from 27 countries has bowed to industry pressure before to weaken new rules. Liquidity standards and leverage ratios also were altered so the largest firms came much closer to being in compliance. “That seems to be the name of the game, fighting every rule to the ground,” said Anat Admati, a Stanford University finance professor. “The fact that the banks were so concerned with counterparty limits and fought them so hard shows how interconnected they are. That makes them too big to fail.”
To be continued.
China’s bad-loan ratio rose “significantly” in the first quarter, increasing risks for the nation’s banking industry, according to the nation’s largest manager of soured debt. The business environment this year has been “grim and complicated” as lenders face pressures on asset quality, liquidity and lending margins, China Huarong Asset Management Co. Chairman Lai Xiaomin said during an internal meeting on April 15, according to a statement today on the website of the Beijing-based company. China’s slowing economy has made it tougher for borrowers to repay debt, driving up banks’ sour loans for a ninth straight quarter as of December to the highest level since 2008, data from the banking regulator show.
New nonperforming loans amounted to more than 60 billion yuan in the first two months of this year, compared with 100 billion yuan for all of 2013, China Business News reported on April 9, citing people it didn’t identify. “The economic indicators we’ve seen so far are quite disappointing and repayment risks are rising across sectors from property to small businesses due to weak demand,” Rainy Yuan, a Shanghai-based analyst at Masterlink Securities Corp., said by phone. “Banks will be hit in such an operating environment but managers of bad assets like Huarong and China Cinda Asset Management Co. stand to benefit” because they can accumulate more sour loans, she said.
House for sale.
Italy’s two biggest banks are teaming up with a U.S. private equity house and a restructuring adviser to pool some of their bad loans into a vehicle that will provide fresh capital for the struggling companies. UniCredit and Intesa Sanpaolo are expected to announce on Tuesday that they have signed a preliminary agreement with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Alvarez & Marsal in an attempt to turn round some of their troubled corporate borrowers. The move is a rare example of European banks teaming up with one of the many private equity houses and hedge funds circling the continent’s financial system in search of opportunities to snap up assets from capital-starved lenders.
Investment bankers say this year’s asset quality review and stress tests that the European Central Bank is carrying out are likely to prompt more of the continent’s lenders to sell assets, something they have resisted until recently. Tuesday’s announcement is expected to say the four groups have signed a memorandum of understanding but are still working out many of the details, although the vehicle could house several billion euros of loans.UniCredit and Intesa are considering how much of their bad loan portfolio to shift into the vehicle and whether to contribute fresh funds themselves. UniCredit last month became the first Italian lender to set up an internal bad bank, housing €87 billion ($120 billion) of Italian loans, two-thirds of which are impaired. It said that nearly €55 billion of the loans would be run down by 2018.
PM Abe is going to look for money wherever he can find it.
Japan overhauled the world’s biggest public pension fund on Tuesday, appointing new committee members, in a push toward Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of a more aggressive investment strategy. The government announced a reshuffle of the Investment Committee of the $1.26 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), in line with Abe’s drive to have the fund make riskier investments and rely less on low-yielding government bonds. Global financial markets are keenly watching GPIF’s investment strategy as the fund, bigger than Mexico’s economy, is a huge investor and a bellwether for other Japanese institutional investors.
The new committee will play a leading role when GPIF sets its new investment allocation targets over the coming months. Abe has promised GPIF reform as an element of his growth strategy, the “third arrow” in his policy, following aggressive monetary and fiscal stimulus. Health Minister Norihisa Tamura, who appoints the GPIF Investment Committee members, shrank the panel to eight members from 10 as part of the overhaul. Two members retained their seats and one former member was brought back on. The panel retains a balance of academics and economists, with one representative each from the main trade union federation – whose pensions are at stake – and the biggest business lobby. But in a sign of Abe’s more aggressive strategy, three of the now eight members sat on the advisory panel that spearheaded a change in the fund’s strategy last year to achieve higher investment returns.
A Shanghai court ordered the seizure of a Japanese ship owned by Mitsui OSK Lines as compensation for the loss of two ships leased from a Chinese company before the two countries went to war in 1937. The 226,434-ton Baosteel Emotion was impounded on April 19 at Majishan port in Zhejiang province as part of a legal dispute that began in 1964, the Shanghai Maritime Court and Mitsui OSK said in notices on their websites. The holding of the ship reflects strained ties between China and Japan amid a territorial dispute over an island chain and visits by Japanese politicians to a Tokyo shrine honoring that country’s war dead.
The move is the first time a Chinese court has ordered the seizure of Japanese assets connected to World War II, and could cast a pall over the countries’ trade, according to Shogo Suzuki, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester in the U.K. who studies China-Japan relations. “Many of the major Japanese companies like Mitsubishi or Mitsui have existed through back to the pre-war era and could all be implicated in one way or another,” Suzuki said. “Japanese companies can’t extract themselves easily at this stage so I think they’ll be quite worried.” Disputes have increasingly shifted to the courts, with a Chinese judge accepting a lawsuit last month against two Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Materials Corp. accused of using forced labor during the war.
Property-tax collections are rising at the fastest pace since the U.S. housing market crash sent government revenue plunging, helping end an era of local budget cuts. In cities including San Jose, California, Nashville, Tennessee, Houston and Washington, revenue from real-estate levies has set records, or is poised to. Local governments are using the money to hire police, increase salaries and pave roads after the decline in property values and 18-month recession that ended in 2009 forced them to eliminate about 600,000 workers and pushed Detroit, Central Falls, Rhode Island, and three California cities into bankruptcy.
“‘The money is flowing back, but it’s not like an open spigot,” said Rob Hernandez, deputy administrator of Broward County, Florida, where property-tax revenue is set to rise 7% this fiscal year, though it remains below earlier peaks. “It’s trickling in.” Some localities that were hit hardest in the real-estate collapse, such as Clark County, Nevada, haven’t yet rebounded but forecast improvement in the next fiscal year. Property-tax collections nationally rose to $182.8 billion during the last three months of 2013, when much of the money is due, according to a U.S. Census estimate last month. That topped the previous peak four years earlier, before the decline in housing values reduced revenue. That increase helped boost collections for the year by 3% over 2012. That was the biggest gain since 2009, when revenue climbed 9%.
Spending cuts in Greece caused a rise in male suicides, according to research that attempts to highlight the health costs of austerity. Echoing official statistics in the UK showing suicide rates are still higher than before the crisis, researchers at the University of Portsmouth have found a correlation between spending cuts and suicides in Greece. According to the research, every 1% fall in government spending in Greece led to a 0.43% rise in suicides among men – after controlling for other characteristics that might lead to suicide, 551 men killed themselves “solely because of fiscal austerity” between 2009 and 2010, said the paper’s co-author Nikolaos Antonakakis.
“That is almost one person per day. Given that in 2010 there were around two suicides in Greece per day, it appears 50% were due to austerity,” he said. Antonakakis, a Greek economics lecturer, said he had been prompted to look into a potential link between austerity and suicide rates after media stories and reports of friends of friends dying from suicide. Although there had been studies into the health effects of negative economic growth, there was a gap when it came specifically to spending cuts and health, he said. Antonakakis and his co-author, economics professor Alan Collins, said they were surprised at how many suicides appeared linked to austerity and how clear the connection was. [..]
Political economist David Stuckler and physician-epidemiologist Sanjay Basu pointed to soaring suicide rates, rising HIV infections and even a malaria outbreak in their book The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, published last year. But they argued that such costs were not inevitable and that, in some countries, countermeasures such as active labour market schemes had softened the blow from cuts. In Greece, however, HIV infection rose by more than 200% from 2011 as prevention budgets were cut and intravenous drug use grew as youth unemployment reached 50%. Greece also experienced its first malaria outbreak in decades after budget cuts to mosquito-spraying, the authors said.
An opinion from Kashmir. We need some alternative views.
United States government has never given any credence to whatever appears in the alternate media – be it about 9/11 and the wars since, color revolutions, spying, torture, Syrian sarin gas attack, failed economy, jobs, growing domestic poverty and public anger, and so on. It always promotes its own narrative however contrary the facts may be or however impeccable the credentials of the contrary camp. One of the rather persistent themes highlighted by the alternate media over the past many years has been the decline in the US imperial power. But the USG, from President down to lowly State Department official, continue to see the world as their playing field. So does the Congress. In fact Congress has always been a step ahead – ever on lookout to force American laws and social norms worldwide.
In this background the candid admission by the Secretary of State John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the US “superpower” days are over comes as a big surprise. As Bloomberg reported, Kerry admitted that despite “enormous power” the United States “can’t necessarily always dictate every outcome the way we want, particularly in this world where we have rising economic powers — China, India, Mexico, Korea, Brazil, many other people who are players.” This is precisely what President Vladimir Putin had warned Washington in his famous 2007 Munich Speech when he said, “I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world.” Unfortunately it took 7 long years for the repository of global wisdom and leadership in Washington to realize this.
Nonetheless, this is a huge success for rest of the world given how arrogantly and unilaterally the US has been deciding world affairs post-Soviet Union, in the process turning Franklin Roosevelt’s dictum on its head by breaking peace not just at one place but everywhere in the world. But, is the admission of the “changed world” enough? Definitely not — neither for the rest of the world nor for the US itself — if the aim is world at peace. What is important is the acceptance by Washington that it is their own policies and actions founded on unbridled arrogance that forced the world to change. After all, as Putin put it, “There is a limit to everything.” Also, equally important is that Washington accepts that the US, too, has changed – it is broke economically, politically, socially and morally; it has lost credibility. It is not just others but even majority of its own people feel threatened by the USG.
Retired as Professor and Head, Department of Geology & Geophysics (which he founded in 2000), University of Kashmir, M. I. Bhat served for 20 years as a scientist at one of Indian premier research labs, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehra Dun.
The Russian Foreign Minister says the US should take responsibility for those whom they put in power instead of issuing ultimatums to Moscow. “Before giving us ultimatums, demanding that we fulfill demands within two or three days with the threat of sanctions, we would urgently call on our American partners to fully accept responsibility for those who they brought to power,” said Lavrov during a press conference with his colleague from Mozambique, Oldemiro Baloi. All attempts to isolate Russia will lead to a dead end because Russia is “a big, independent power that knows what it wants,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Russian FM also criticized statements from Western countries and Kiev’s authorities, which “invent possible and impossible arguments against Russia,” claiming that a large amount of Russian arms in the conflict zones proves Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs. He called the statements absurd as Ukraine has traditionally used Russian-made arms. “This statement is ludicrous. Everyone has Russian arms in Ukraine,” Lavrov said.
Meanwhile, he also said that TV outlets have reported that US arms were also found in Ukraine and illegal armed groups, not the Ukrainian army, were in possession of these American arms. Speaking about the crisis situation in eastern Ukraine and Kiev’s crackdown on the Donetsk region, Lavrov also said that Kiev authorities don’t want or maybe cannot control the extremists who continue to control the situation in the country. “The authorities are doing nothing, not even lifting a finger, to address the causes behind this deep internal crisis in Ukraine,” he said.
What is insider trading? A case pending before a federal appeals court could help define a financial crime that has been in the spotlight for the past few years. The outcome of the appeal, which centers on two former hedge-fund managers, could threaten some of the convictions won by prosecutors in their yearslong crackdown on insider trading. At issue in the appeal is whether, to be considered to have traded on confidential material information, a trader must have known the tip had been illegally disclosed in exchange for a reward.
The appeal is being pursued by Todd Newman and Anthony Chiasson, two portfolio managers whose 2012 insider-trading convictions were a significant victory for prosecutors. The two men, free on bail pending the appeal, are seeking to have their convictions overturned. Their case is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan. Messrs. Newman and Chiasson were so-called downstream tippees—meaning they didn’t receive information on technology companies Dell Inc. and Nvidia Corp. directly from its source, but were one or more layers removed. The original trial judge told jurors that Messrs. Chiasson and Newman could be convicted of insider trading even if they hadn’t known that the person who leaked the information had done so in return for a “personal benefit.”
Lawyers for Messrs. Newman and Chiasson say prosecutors must show that their clients knew the tippers were somehow compensated for the tips and that the judge’s instruction was erroneous. The inside tips on which the pair traded were conveyed through a network of analysts before reaching analysts who worked for Messrs. Chiasson and Newman, the lawyers said in court documents. Their clients didn’t seek out or knowingly use inside information, they said. Prosecutors have said they need only show that people who used the tips were aware the tipper disclosed the nonpublic information in breach of a fiduciary duty when they traded on it. Even if the instruction was erroneous, the jury would have concluded the two men inferred the information was given in exchange for a reward, prosecutors said in court documents.
The sort of optimism we can do without.
Ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan this week, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker told CNBC he would be “shocked and delighted” if any progress was made on a much anticipated trade agreement between the two countries. Obama plans to visit Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines in a week long visit starting on Tuesday, hoping to win back some favor in the region after the cancellation last October’s visit amid budget wrangling at home which was broadly seen as a snub.
Many anticipate that the visit will help facilitate progress on the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The deal which has been under negotiation since 2010 aims to eliminate trade barriers between countries and boost trade relationships. The pact is seen as a crucial part of the U.S. government’s rebalance towards Asia, known as its ‘pivot.’ “I think it’s [this visit] largely symbolic,” Wicker, U.S. Senator for Mississippi and Republican Party member, told CNBC on Tuesday, in reference to Obama’s visit.
“We need the President to visit Japan every now and then to show our alliance but in terms of anything new, like progress on the trade agreement, I couldn’t be less optimistic about that,” he added. Negotiations on the TPP have come up against a number of stumbling blocks in recent years, predominantly from those working for Japan’s protected industries, like agriculture, autos and insurance. The opening up of these sectors would leave them exposed to the threat of foreign competition, a move which is being fiercely protested.
Scientists express dismay at an Associated Press/GfK survey that suggests skepticism of science is still strong. Only 20% of Americans believe in the Big Bang. Less than one-third of Americans said they thought climate change was real.We Americans adore science when it gives us the iPhone or that little robot that cleans our floors all on its own. But please, please don’t force us to believe big, fat scientific theories. We’re not ready for that. We’re still too young. We’re still too enthralled by Hollywood movies, fast food, and instant cures for our spiritual ills.
There’s no reason, therefore, to be surprised or pained by an Associated Press/GfK survey that suggests a mere 20% of Americans believe in the Big Bang.We need a little more convincing to believe a random bang in outer space was the beginning of our Earth. We’re still happy to think it was the waft of a wand by an old man in a gray beard. To change our minds, we want evidence. We want proof. Oh, alright, sometimes we just want a good slap. But this survey delved deeper into our convictions about science. Less than a third of the 1,012 alleged adults surveyed last month thought climate change was a real thing caused by real humans.
A mere 27% would stand behind the peculiar notion that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Naturally the minute the AP contacted scientists to seek their opinion, they heard mostly the gurgling of angry craniums. Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley, who managed to win a Nobel Prize in medicine last year, offered: “Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts.” Oh, Randy. I’ve had girls tell me they love me and that it’s an actual fact. It turned out to be a temporary actual fact.
Anthony Leiserowitz of the Yale Project on Climate Change Commission was equally hurt. He said the poll indicated evidence of “the iron triangle of science, religion and politics.” Naturally, I am tempted to ask him for the scientific proof behind such an assertion. Still, this isn’t the first survey that suggests Americans aren’t impressed by scientists’ claims to righteousness. A few months ago, a Pew survey revealed that 33% of Americans positively reject evolution. Which might explain why so many Americans never change at all.
The focus of the Keystone XL debate has shifted from a fierce lobbying war in Washington to Lincoln, Nebraska, where the state Supreme Court has been asked to weigh a legal challenge to the pipeline. The U.S. State Department, which is responsible for reviewing whether the project is in the nation’s interest, said April 18 that it would delay making a recommendation until legal questions about the way the route was approved through the prairie state are resolved. That could spare President Barack Obama from having to decide on a project that splits supporters of his in the environmental and labor movements before an important congressional election in November.
“Once again, the administration is making a political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country,” Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said in an e-mail. “It’s clear the administration needs to grow a set of antlers, or perhaps take a lesson from Popeye and eat some spinach.” If the seven-member state Supreme Court upholds a lower court decision, TransCanada Corp., the Calgary-based company that wants to build Keystone, will need to apply to the Nebraska Public Service Commission. The commission by law has seven months for its pipeline reviews. “Effectively, this likely postpones the decision until after the U.S. mid-term elections,” Robert Kwan, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said in a research note yesterday.
A new study finds that using biofuels made from corn harvest residue could actually increase carbon dioxide emissions in the short term, contrary to both popular belief and U.S. government environmental strategy. According to the report, published over the weekend in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, using biofuels made from corn stover — stalks, leaves and cobs left over from corn harvests — can increase greenhouse gas emission by about seven percent more than gas in early years. That’s because removing the residue from the field, also takes carbon out of the soil where it’s needed. Phys.org explains the scientists’ methodology:
The researchers, led by assistant professor Adam Liska, used a supercomputer model at UNL’s Holland Computing Center to estimate the effect of residue removal on 128 million acres across 12 Corn Belt states. The team found that removing crop residue from cornfields generates an additional 50 to 70 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule of biofuel energy produced (a joule is a measure of energy and is roughly equivalent to 1 BTU). Total annual production emissions, averaged over five years, would equal about 100 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule — which is 7% greater than gasoline emissions and 62 grams above the 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as required by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.
This means, per the researchers, that these types of biofuels shouldn’t be considered a renewable fuel as it is defined by a 2007 energy law, even though they are beneficial in the long run. Which means that the U.S. government, which funded the study and has poured billions into the cellulosic biofuels, or plant-derived biofuels, might have to change course — if they accept the legitimacy of the research. According to the Associated Press reports, however, that’s not happening:
The biofuel industry and administration officials immediately criticized the research as flawed. They said it was too simplistic in its analysis of carbon loss from soil, which can vary over a single field, and vastly overestimated how much residue farmers actually would remove once the market gets underway. “The core analysis depicts an extreme scenario that no responsible farmer or business would ever employ because it would ruin both the land and the long-term supply of feedstock. It makes no agronomic or business sense,” said Jan Koninckx, global business director for biorefineries at DuPont.
DuPont is set to open a $200 million biofuel facility this year, so the company’s global business director might not be totally objective in assessing gains from biofuels. Last year, a DuPont-funded assessment found that their biofuels would be 100% better for the environment than gas. To be fair, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had previously found that corn-based biofuels could stand up to the 2007 law’s standards if farmers leave enough residue on the fields. According to EPA spokesperson Liz Purchia, the study “does not provide useful information relevant to the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol.” But the AP found last year that the EPA’s research into corn-based ethanol was faulty. And Liska stands by his team’s work. “I knew this research would be contentious,” he said, adding that “If this research is accurate, and nearly all evidence suggests so, then it should be known sooner rather than later.”
In an era in which our political system is dominated by plutocracy, grassroots social movements are essential for progressive change. But too often our movements find themselves at loggerheads over the seemingly conflicting need to preserve our environment and the need for jobs and economic development. How can we find common ground?
The problem is illustrated by the current proposal of the Dominion corporation to build a Liquefied Natural Gas export facility at Cove Point, Maryland, right on the Chesapeake Bay. Seven hundred people demonstrated against the proposal and many were arrested in three civil disobedience actions. But an open letter on Dominion letterhead endorsing the project—maintaining it will “create more than 3,000 construction jobs” most of which will go “to local union members”—was signed not only by business leaders, but by twenty local and national trade union leaders.
In the struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been described as the “Birmingham of the climate movement,” pipeline proponents have been quick to seize on the “jobs issue” and tout support from building trades unions and eventually the AFL-CIO. In a press release titled “U.S. Chamber Calls Politically-Charged Decision to Deny Keystone a Job Killer,” the Chamber of Commerce said President Obama’s denial of the KXL permit was “sacrificing tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs in the short term, and many more than that in the long term.” The media repeat the jobs vs. environment frame again and again: NPR’s headline on KXL was typical of many: “Pipeline Decision Pits Jobs Against Environment.” A similar dynamic has marked the “beyond coal” campaign, the fracking battle and EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act. Those who want to overcome this division must tell a different story.
One starting point for that story is to recognize the common interest both in human survival and in sustainable livelihoods. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, if God had intended some people to fight just for the environment and others to fight just for the economy, he would have made some people who could live without money and others who could live without water and air. There are not two groups of people, environmentalists and workers. We all need a livelihood and we all need a livable planet to live on. If we don’t address both, we’ll starve together while we’re waiting to fry together.
A new study just published in the journal Biomedical Research International reveals that despite the still reputation of agrochemicals being relatively harmless, formulations like Roundup herbicide are far more toxic than regulators have previously revealed. So – either they already knew this and refused to share it with the public, or some of them just had no idea how powerfully debilitating these chemicals could be when used together. Many regulatory agencies administer tests to look at isolated chemicals to determine in what parts per million they become toxic to humans and the environment. Far too many chemicals are used than the agencies have the capability and funds to actually test for any length of time to determine their true interaction with other chemicals already in the environment.
But this study goes even further, and determines that RoundUp – and its combined chemical ingredients – are 125 times more toxic than glyphosate alone. Isolating a chemical completely loses the synergistic effect of the compound interactions that take place between multiple chemicals, and therefore does not give an accurate picture of what the chemical(s) can do. Any biologist or chemist could tell you this. The study, titled “Major pesticides are more toxic to human cells than their declared active principles,” looks at the ‘inert’ chemicals, or the adjuvants, in 9 major chemical groups that are used globally in agricultural practices due to Big Ag monopolies: 3 herbicides, 3 insecticides, and 3 fungicides.
“Pesticides are used throughout the world as mixtures called formulations. They contain adjuvants, which are often kept confidential and are called inerts by the manufacturing companies, plus a declared active principle (AP), which is the only one tested in the longest toxicological regulatory tests performed on mammals. This allows the calculation of the acceptable daily intake (ADI)—the level of exposure that is claimed to be safe for humans over the long term—and justifies the presence of residues of these pesticides at “admissible” levels in the environment and organisms. Only the AP and one metabolite are used as markers, but this does not exclude the presence of adjuvants, which are cell penetrants.”
Hard to say what’s going to come out of this one. How bad are the lies so far?
Katsutaka Idogawa, former mayor of Futaba, a town near the disabled Fukushima nuclear plant, is warning his country that radiation contamination is affecting Japan’s greatest treasure – its children. Asked about government plans to relocate the people of Fatuba to the city of Iwaki, inside the Fukushima prefecture, Idogawa criticized the move as a “violation of human rights.” Compared with Chernobyl, radiation levels around Fukushima “are four times higher”, he told RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze, adding that “it’s too early for people to come back to Fukushima prefecture.” “It is by no means safe, no matter what the government says.”
Idogawa alleges that the government has started programs to return people to their towns despite the danger of radiation. “Fukushima Prefecture has launched the Come Home campaign. In many cases, evacuees are forced to return. [the former mayor produced a map of Fukushima Prefecture that showed that air contamination decreased a little, but soil contamination remains the same.]” According to Idogawa there are about two million people residing in the prefecture who are reporting “all sorts of medical issues,” but the government insists these conditions are unrelated to the Fukushima accident. Idogawa wants their denial in writing. “I demanded that the authorities substantiate their claim in writing but they ignored my request.”
Once again, Idogawa alludes to the nuclear tragedy that hit Ukraine on April 26, 1986, pleading that the Japanese people “never forget Chernobyl.” Yet few people seem to be heeding the former government official’s warning. “They believe what the government says, while in reality radiation is still there. This is killing children. They die of heart conditions, asthma, leukemia, thyroiditis… Lots of kids are extremely exhausted after school; others are simply unable to attend PE classes. But the authorities still hide the truth from us, and I don’t know why. Don’t they have children of their own? It hurts so much to know they can’t protect our children. “They say Fukushima Prefecture is safe, and that’s why nobody’s working to evacuate children, move them elsewhere. We’re not even allowed to discuss this.”
George Orwell warned that “the logical end of mechanical progress is to reduce the human being to something resembling a brain in a bottle”. This is a story of how it happens. On the outskirts of Sheffield there is a wood which, some 800 years ago, was used by the monks of Kirkstead Abbey to produce charcoal for smelting iron. For local people, Smithy Wood is freighted with stories. Among the trees you can imagine your way into another world. The application to plant a motorway service station in the middle of it, wiping out half the wood and fragmenting the rest, might have been unthinkable a few months ago. No longer.
When the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, first began talking about biodiversity offsetting – replacing habitats you trash with new ones created elsewhere – his officials made it clear that it would not apply to ancient woodland. But in January Paterson said he was prepared to drop this restriction as long as more trees were planted than destroyed. His officials quickly explained that such a trade-off would be “highly unlikely” and was “very hypothetical”. But the company that wants to build the service station wasn’t slow to see the possibilities. It is offering to replace Smithy Wood with “60,000 trees … planted on 16 hectares of local land close to the site”. Who cares whether a tree is a hunched and fissured coppiced oak, worked by people for centuries, or a sapling planted beside a slip-road with a rabbit guard around it?
As Ronald Reagan remarked, when contemplating the destruction of California’s giant redwoods, “a tree is a tree”. Who, for that matter, would care if the old masters in the National Gallery were replaced by the prints being sold in its shop? In swapping our ancient places for generic clusters of chainstores and generic lines of saplings, the offsetters would also destroy our stories.
There is a tendency for humans to perceive ill occurrences as unconnected events, rather as the Biblical plagues of Egypt: water into blood, frogs, lice, wild animals or flies, deceased livestock, boils, storms of fire, locusts, darkness and death of the firstborn. Scientists now believe that these events really happened, but they were in fact all results of a single cause: not the wrath of a punitive God, but climate change. Modern humans are aware of contemporary global menaces: a changing climate, peak oil, a dodgy economy that could collapse at any moment, and the extinction of honey bees, but relatively few of us know that the world’s productive soils are also under threat.
What has been most noticeable is that the price of food and fuel has increased markedly over the past decade, during when we have also experienced an economic crash. We fear another such shock, even amid whispers of “growth”, which can only be expected to be of a slow stuttering kind, since we cannot significantly grow our rate of production of resources. Thus, the price of a barrel of crude oil has more than trebled since 2004, while global production has practically flat-lined at around 75 million barrels a day over that same period, leading to the view that we have reached the ceiling of our oil supply.
Given that all components of human civilization are inextricably linked to petroleum, either as a chemical feedstock or a fuel, if we cannot elevate our production rate of oil, nor can we grow the global economy. The troubles of the human condition, however, are more fundamental, since we are steadily using-up Mother Earth’s bestowal to us of fertile soil. This has been dubbed “peak soil” in analogy with “peak oil”, and while the two phenomena are not of the same kind, they are connected, as indeed are all the elements listed in the title of this article: soil, land, water, climate (change), honeybees, oil and food. Alice Friedmann wrote, in the context of the unsustainable nature of growing land-based crops and producing biofuels from them.
“Iowa has some of the best topsoil in the world, yet in the past century it’s eroded from an average of 18 inches to less than 10 inches (Pate 2004, Klee 1991). When topsoil reaches 6 inches or less (the average depth of the root zone in crops), productivity drops off sharply (Sundquist 2005). Soil erodes geologically at a rate of about 400 pounds of soil per acre per year (Troeh 2005). But on over half of America’s best crop land, the erosion rate is 11,000 pounds per acre, 27 times the natural rate, and double that on the worst 7% of cropland (NCRS 2006), partly because farmers aren’t paid to conserve their land, and partly because hired farmers wrench every penny of profit they can on behalf of short-sighted owners.”