Category Archives: Environment

Can President-elect Lopez Obrador pull Mexico out of slumber?

After decades of stagnation, corruption and deadly dependency on the United States, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is considered by many ordinary people, as well as by intellectuals, to be the last chance for Mexico.

His only hope is Obrador

Two important news developments are circulating all over North America: US President Donald Trump will not attend the inauguration of the Mexican left-wing President elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). And, yes, despite all tensions and disagreements, the new deal to replace NAFTA has been reached. It is called the USMCA – the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Paradoxically, if Obrador is to fulfill at least half of his electoral promises, it would inevitably lead to a clash between Mexico and both the United States and Canada. The US absorbs around 80 percent of Mexican exports. Various Mexican intellectuals believe that their country was, until now, nothing more than a colony of their ‘big brother’ in the north. Canadian mining companies are brutally exploiting Mexico’s natural resources, and united with local politicians and paramilitaries, are tormenting almost defenseless native people.

National Folcloric Ballet of Mexico marching, joining revolution

After decades of inertia and decay, Mexico is ready for dramatic, essential change which, many argue, will this time not arrive directly under red banners and through revolutionary songs, but with the carefully calculated, precise moves of a chess player.

Only a genius can break, without terrible casualties, the deadly embrace of the United States. And many believe that President-elect Obrador is precisely such leader.

‘Not a poker player, but a chess player’

Mexico is in a ‘bad mood’, despite the victory of a left-wing leader. Hope is in the air, but it is fragile hope, some even say ‘angry hope’. Decades of stagnation, corruption and deadly dependency on the US, have had an extremely negative impact on the nation.

John Ackerman, US-born, Mexican naturalized legendary academic at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico) explained during our encounter in Coyoacan:

This has been a long time coming. Throughout Latin America there has been great transformation, except in Mexico. Mexico has been the same since 1946 since PRI was created… Education, healthcare, serious commitment to social system, infrastructure; he promises to improve all this… in terms of working-class population, he expresses great interest in the union democracy, which could be a true vehicle of revolution … unions could be used to create democratic participation in the country.

We both agree that Obrador is not Fidel, or Chavez. He is pragmatic and he knows how dangerous the proximity of Mexico to the US is. Governments get overthrown from the north, and entire socialist systems get derailed, or liquidated.

Professor Ackerman points out:

Obrador is not a poker player, like Trump; Obrador is a chess player.

He is extremely well informed; on his own and through his wife, an accomplished Mexican academic from a prominent left-wing family, Irma Sandoval-Ballesteros. She will soon become Minister of Public Administration in the Obrador administration, which means she will fight against endemic Mexican corruption.  This will be, no doubt, one of the toughest jobs in the country.

The author and Irma Sandoval-Ballesteros

Among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries Mexico has the second highest degree of economic disparity between the extremely poor and extremely rich. According to the government, about 53.4 million of Mexico’s 122 million people were poor in 2016.

Crime is out of control, and so is corruption. According to Seguridad Justicia y Paz, a citizen watch dog NGO in Mexico, five out of ten cities with the highest homicide rates in the world are located in Mexico: Los Cabos (1), Acapulco (3), Tijuana (5), La Paz (6), and Ciudad Victoria (8).

Gang land, Tijuana

Some 460,000 children have been recruited by the drug rings in Mexico, according to the incoming Minister of Public Security of the Obrador government. As bodies are piling up and insecurity grows (recently, at least 100 dead bodies have been found in the state of Jalisco), the Mexican police continues to be hopelessly corrupt and inefficient. But it is now everywhere, ‘true reason for astronomic crime rate’, say many.

Misery everywhere

It is all elegance and style at one of an old hacienda, lost in time in the middle of jungle, in the State of Yucatan. Some twenty years ago I used to live very near this place, working on my novel, in self-imposed-exile. Even then, Yucatan was poor, conservative, and traditional. But there was pride and dignity even in the poorest of the villages.

Things changed dramatically, and not for the better. Now naked misery is everywhere. Just two kilometers from the hacienda Temozon, traditional rural houses have holes in the roofs, and many dwellings have already been abandoned. People are not starving; not yet, but that is mainly due to the fact that in Yucatan, there is still a great sense of community and solidarity.

Don Alfredo Lopez Cham and Dona Consuelo

Don Alfredo Lopez Cham lives in a village of Sihunchen. Half of the roof of his house is missing. He is blind in one eye. He is dirt poor. I asked him how things have been here, since I left. He just nodded his head, in despair:

You just saw my house, there… You can imagine how it is…I cannot fix anything. For years I did not have any work. And now I am old.

Senora Consuelo Rodriguez, his neighbor, jumps in. She is an outspoken, tough but good-hearted matron, always surrounded by a flock of chickens:

Look, he has really nothing! Here, we are trying to help those in need, but ourselves we have close to nothing. Few years ago, the government sent some people to help to fix our houses, but they never came back again.

In theory, Mexico has free education and health care, but in practice, it is just for those who hold government or good private jobs. President-elect AMLO  is promising to fix all that, but people all over the country are skeptical, including Senora Consuela.

If we get sick, we have to pay, unless we have insurance from our work. And most of us, here, don’t have any steady job.

Do people here have faith in the new government? She shrugs her shoulders:

We will see.

This is what I hear everywhere, from coast to coast of this enormous and potentially rich country, which is the 15th largest economy in the world. There is very little enthusiasm: the majority of people adopted a ‘wait and see strategy’.

Don Rudy Alvarez who has worked for more than 20 years at one of the luxury hotels in Yucatan, is only cautiously optimistic about the future.

Even we who have permanent jobs at the multi-national establishments, cannot dream very big. I can feed my family well, and I can send one son to study law at the university. But no bigger dreams. My family would never be able to afford a car or any other luxury. We hope that Obrador (AMLO) will change things. Here, many people feel that Yucatan has been sold to tourists as the ‘Mayan Disneyland’, with very little respect for our culture.

Mexico is the second most visited country in the Western hemisphere, right after the United States. But income from tourism very rarely brings a better life for local people.

Crime and drug wars are far from being the only concerns. In the center of the indigenous and historic city of Oaxaca, the armed forces are blocking the entrance to the Governor’s Palace. Why? The graffiti protesting against disappearances and extrajudicial killings of the activists, as well as forced evictions of indigenous people by the multinational companies.

Ms. Lisetta, who lives with many others, as a protest, in a tent right in front of the palace, explained:

For 9 years we have no home. Paramilitaries and the government forces came and threw us out of our dwellings, in San Juan Copala. Some people were killed, women raped, many disappeared. We are here to demand justice.

Recently, police came, broke my cell phone, and then injured my arm…

She showed me her bruises.

At night, live bands are playing old ballads, all over the city center. People are dancing, drinking and promenading. But displaced men, women and children living in the tents are brutal reminder of real Mexico, of true suffering of many poor and almost all native people.

Sra. Lorena Merina Martinez, Spokesperson of the Displaced Persons from the Autonomous Community of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca State.

I found Sra. Lorena Merina Martinez, Spokesperson of the Displaced Persons from the Autonomous Community of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca State. She spoke to me bravely, coherently and with passion:

In 2007, San Juan Copala declared autonomy and became autonomous municipality.  There was much peace and tranquility in our community. Then in 2009 the PRI-led government of Oaxaca started making noise as San Juan Copala is the ‘head’ of 32 communities of Trique District. The PRI-government did not want autonomy of San Juan Copala, thus unilaterally finished it in 2009. From 2010 we resisted for 10 months so that we could bring food to our children. They had blocked our roads. We didn’t have anything to eat anymore. They were killing our colleagues, but also children. Women were raped as they went looking for food and brought it back to their children. They cut off their hair as well. I am talking about the rape of a 65-year-old community member, for instance.  Another woman was gravely injured. The attackers and rapists all escaped.

For ten months we resisted with no water, no food, no electricity as the PRI-government had cut us off from everything. The date of 16 September 2010 was when PRI-backed paramilitaries entered our community, first to the municipality building, and used big microphone to tell us to leave our houses. We were not given any time at all to leave. Because they saw smoke come from houses, which was basically because we were cooking, they were shooting at our houses and us. We just had to escape with nothing and were forced to find a way to survive with our children, with nothing at all, not even our id cards. We needed to make sure to escape with our children because we were warned that if we didn’t, then they would burn alive our children. By 18 September 2010, PRI-backed paramilitaries started entering our houses, burning and destroying them.  We fled as by then they had killed another community member who had been resisting forced displacement. This is when a group of women started demanding the State Government to intervene in our community. The State nor Federal Government ever intervened.  We demanded that something is done, so that we could safely return to our community. Since September 2010, we have been here.  But they have never done anything to let us return, nor to get rid of those who displaced us because they were the accomplice of those paramilitaries who made us forcibly displaced.

I asked her why it happened? Were multi-national companies involved?

Yes, there are mineral resources. The government wants to take charge of this community. We have very futile lands. Lots of water, vegetables, fruits. The government wants to suck everything from our community.

I recalled massacres in Chiapas, that I covered some two decades ago and later described, under different name in my revolutionary political novel Point of No Return  (Point of No Return – ebook).

At the Center of Photography Manuel Alvarez Bravoin Oaxaca, Mr. Leo (who only gave his first name), confirmed:

It is terrible what happened to those people. Imagine that you are at home, and suddenly someone comes, with armed forces, and kicks you out. But in Mexico it’s normal, and not only in this area. Multinational companies, particularly Canadian ones, are controlling around 80 percent of the mining in this country. People, particularly indigenous ones, are treated brutally. Mexico suffered terribly from the Spanish colonialism, but it often feels that things didn’t change much. We are not in full control of our country!

And the new administration of Obrador? Leo and his colleagues are only moderately optimistic.

We are not sure he would dare to touch essential problems: the dependency of this country on the North, and the horrendous disparities between the rich and poor, between the descendants of the Europeans and the majority, which consists of the indigenous people. Until now you can see it everywhere: Westerners and their companies come and do what they want, while the native people are left with nothing.

But many others remain hopeful. AMLO’s left-wing Moreno Party will soon govern in a coalition with PT (Partido del Trabajo) and the conservative Social Encounter Party. Again, it is unlikely that Mexico will follow the path of Cuba or Venezuela, but the Bolivian model is very likely. It could be a silent revolution, a change based on an extremely progressive and truly socialist constitution of the country, remarkably dating back to 1916.

A Mexican academic, Dr. Ignacio Castuera who teaches at Claremont University in California, explains:

I believe Obrador has to bring several factions together to implement some of what he wants to achieve. No individual alone can solve the problems of a nation. I hope many rally around him, if that happens then significant changes can be brought about. The long shadow of the US policies and corporations will continue to exert major influence.

*****

Construction of US-Mexico wall

In Tijuana I witness absolute misery. I visit multinational maquiladoras that pay only an equivalent of $55 USD per week to their workers. I manage to enter gangland, and I see how the US is building a depressing wall between two countries.

Sra. Leticia facing the wall

I spend hours listening to stories of Sra. Leticia, who lives just one meter away from the wall.

They are cutting across our land, and it harms many creatures who live here. It also prevents water from circulating freely.

All this used to be Mexico. North Americans had stolen several states from us. Now they are building this wall. I visited their country on several occasions. And let me tell you: despite all our problems, I like where I am, at this side!

Then, late at night, I listen to a man who knows his country from north to south, from east to west. We are sitting in a small café; sirens are howling nearby, another murder has just taken place. He faces me squarely and speaks slowly:

Mexico has its back against the wall. This situation cannot continue. This is our last chance – Andrés Manuel López Obrador. We will rally behind him, we will help him. If he delivers what he promises, great; then Mexico will change and prosper. If not, I am afraid that our people will have no other choice but to take up arms.

From the revolutionary days

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

• This is extended version. Essay was originally published by RT.

Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order

In order to meet the colossal challenges of the time, fundamental change to the socio-economic order is needed. The environmental catastrophe is the major issue, together with armed conflict, potentially nuclear. Both threaten the survival of humanity and the planet, and both are widely ignored by the men and women of power, whose short-term approach, obsession with ‘the economy’, and a nationalistic introspective view of the world is leading us to the precipice of disaster.

If humanity is to survive these interconnected crises and overcome other crucial challenges, including poverty, social injustice and the displacement of people, a totally new vision of the way society functions is required. At the root of much, if not all, of the chaos is the socio-economic model combined with inadequate, artificial forms of democratic governance. State and private institutions are interdependent monopolies of power that require radical democratization; deep-rooted systemic deficiencies must be addressed and altogether different values to those that are currently encouraged, inculcated.

Totalitarian Structures

Neo-Liberalism has infiltrated all areas of society and permeated life in virtually every corner of the world; it is a dysfunctional system that instead of serving human need is designed to provide wealth ‘beyond the dreams of Avarice for a privileged few,’ as Noam Chomsky puts it. Its very existence denies the manifestation of real democracy.

Flowing from this paradigm of injustice is extreme inequality leading to a wide range of social ills, high levels of unemployment – particularly among the young in many parts of the world – low investment in public services and, as the political/economic scientist C. J. Polychroniou, says, “rapidly declining standards of living, dangerously high levels of both public and corporate debt, a financial system that remains out of whack, and ecological collapse.” It is a decrepit global system propped up by the guardians of the status-quo, who are intellectually bankrupt, have no answers to the issues of the day but, desperate to cling on to power, use all their tools of control to resist change.

Within the existing forms political influence is concentrated in the hands of a tiny group of people and institutions — they run the corporate organizations and stock the governing executive, these are the wealthy and powerful — the ruling elite; corporations and their masters dominate this entitled ensemble; huge tyrannical institutions, unaccountable bodies with enormous power. As Noam Chomsky states, corporations are “one of the most tyrannical systems human beings have ever devised”. Control is concentrated at the top from where policy is made and orders are issued, managers pass on instructions and workers are expected to obey, conform, and be thankful to the beneficent company for buying their labor, albeit for a pittance compared to the pay checks of the boardroom. This is little more than wage slavery.

The raison d’être of the corporate world is to maximize market share and generate profits, irrespective of the impact on people or the environment. To do this they need the population to behave in ways consistent with their ideological approach to life, namely consumerism. Their persuasive message of pleasure and competition is spread to a weary populous via the communications industry, which they happen to own: the media, entertainment sector and advertising companies. These bodies color the social atmosphere, are responsible for setting the public agenda, facilitating collective discussion, and, together with education and (organized) religion are the principle outlets for mass conditioning, or what Walter Lippmann in Public Opinion (published 1922) called the ‘manufacture of consent’.

Corporate institutions actively work to curtail democracy and deny the establishment of a just economic system; they have tremendous influence over government policy and consistently obstruct environmental legislation. They operate in secret, have been granted extraordinary rights and access, and, as Chomsky says, have “complicated strategic alliances among alleged competitors” forming what some economists have called “Alliance capitalism big networks of tyrannical institutions basically running the world,” institutions which “have no right to exist any more than any other tyrannical systems,” and should be dismantled.

Over the last 30 years or so a worldwide protest movement has developed, huge numbers of people have united demanding socio-economic and democratic change, to be listened to by remote arrogant politicians and for a meaningful global response to the environmental crisis. In scale and scope the movement is unprecedented. People of all ages have come together expressing collective frustrations, demanding a new approach to living. The Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement were prominent expressions of the same underlying current for change, and, it could be argued, so were Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, albeit in a distorted, reactionary form.

Despite setbacks, an irresistible current of change is sweeping the world that will not be extinguished. The old forms must give way to the emerging ways of the time, the economic, political, social and in due time, religious forms that have crystallized and are incapable of responding to the needs of the many.

The 2008 financial crisis revealed some of the inherent flaws in the economic model, since when politics has become more polarized and reactionary, wages have been frozen, austerity has been enforced, punishing the poorest in society, and the financial system has been allowed to continue much the same. The lack of genuine change means that a second crash is a real possibility, indeed perhaps that’s what it will take to bring about the lasting systemic change that so many yearn for. As stated in the introductory literature for New Thinking for the British Economy, “the evident failings of our present economic system, and the growing political mobilization for change, suggest that we may be on the cusp of another major shift in economic thinking and policy.” A shift away from oligarchic systems of governance, and an unjust, unsustainable, environmentally abusive economic model, to a sustainable, participatory and just way of living.

The Age of Sharing

The same essential element in harmonious living and justice is absent from both the economic world and the political sphere: the principle of sharing. Placing sharing at the heart of a new economic paradigm would do more than any other single factor to bring about real change. It would completely alter the collective social atmosphere and allow for a range of other positive democratic ideals, such as social justice, tolerance and compassion, to manifest. Sharing of resources (including food, water and land), wealth/income, knowledge, skills, ideas, etc., sharing in the management of the institutions (state and private) that dominate society, and the bodies that one happens to work in or study at, and crucially sharing in the decisions and ideas that shape our lives; i.e., real participation.

In corporate democracies the right to vote and run civil society may exist, there may even be an independent judiciary, the observation of human rights (more or less) and unfettered (albeit monitored) access to information, but without social justice and meaningful participation it is not really democracy. It is an inadequate ideological construct, the nature and structure of which is set by those sitting within gilded offices of power, who limit its scope and control its expression; it is democracy owned by the corporate world entwined with the methodology of the market. As such its exponents are complicit in perpetuating injustice, maintaining concentrations of power, facilitating division and encouraging wage slavery. Participation is at best limited, competition, greed and personal gain over collective well-being are promoted and lived. Material success is held up as the aim of life, selfish tendencies are encouraged, feeding intolerance and division – all of which work to deny true democracy and stifle the good in humanity.

Real Democracy is meaningful participation in all socio-political/economic and business institutions. When this takes place positive aspects of human nature will begin to flourish and the structures that perpetuate the existing injustices will crumble under the weight of the good. Group participation, social responsibility and unity are essential elements in bringing about such a change and are key principles of the time, at the heart of which, and from which all else flows must be sharing, and for a range of reasons: sharing breaks down divisions and engenders trust, kindness grows and humanities inherent goodness can flower. Sharing is an expression and acknowledgement of our common humanity, cooperation takes place when we share, and as people cooperate they build relationships, form groups, exchange ideas.

Without sharing the corrosive patterns of the present will continue, as Chomsky puts it, “if we were to move towards [real] democracy we would say that there should be no maldistribution of power in determining what’s produced what’s distributed what’s invested and so on, rather that’s a problem for the entire community. In fact my own personal view is unless we move in that direction human society probably isn’t going to survive.”

This is a view shared by many; however, if one looks beyond the ugly theatrics of nationalism and fear an alternative vision of the future can be seen. A coalition of change is forming throughout the world and a shift in consciousness in underway. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is young people who are leading the way, they are less conditioned by the old order, have a powerful sense of social justice and freedom and care deeply about the natural environment.

We are at the beginning of the Age of Sharing, but it will not be gifted to us. Like movements of change throughout history it will be brought about by consistent coordinated action, by demanding change, by recognizing that we are all responsible for this world, and if we want a new and just society we have to build it.

Outrage at Prince William’s “Racist” Conservation Video

A video about Prince William’s recent conservation trip to Africa has been criticised for only including non-Africans’ perspectives on conservation and promoting a “white saviour” stereotype.


Prince William’s video has been accused of perpetuating “white saviour” stereotypes. © Kensington Palace

The video was released on Twitter on October 11, 2018 by Kensington Palace.

Dr. Mordecai Ogada, Kenyan ecologist and author of The Big Conservation Lie, said today:

This is a diagram of the new British Colonial paradigm. The kingdom of “conservation”. This is the only arena where the heir to the Throne can go around touring the colonies, and telling his subjects how they should be taking care of their own resources.

HRH Prince William should not pontificate to us about wildlife trade while the UK is the world’s number one trader in ivory. Kenya banned ivory trade a full forty years before the UK. The Duke is most welcome to come visit as a tourist, but he should kindly let us conserve what is ours in the way that suits us best.

Only one black person is shown speaking to camera in the film. While all the other contributors share their expertise on conservation, her contribution in the video relates only to the Prince’s leadership abilities.

A response to the video posted by Kensington Palace, click here for original thread.

The people interviewed in the video are:

Charlie Mayhew, CEO of Tusk, who comments on tackling the illegal wildlife trade and later also on Tusk’s work in Africa.

Dr Naomi Doak, Head of Conservation Programmes at The Royal Foundation, who discusses engaging the private sector in conservation efforts and later on how important the Prince’s contribution is to the people he met on his visit.

Dr Antony Lynam, Regional Training Director at SMART for the Wildlife Conservation Society, who talks about the Prince’s support for the use of SMART technology for conservation.

Finally, Patricia Kayaga, the only black interviewee featured in the video, is a student at the College of African Wildlife Management, which the Prince visited on his tour.
The sea of white faces in Prince William’s “financial task force for United for Wildlife” has also been criticized. © Kensington Palace

Charles Nsonkali, a representative of a Baka indigenous community organization in Cameroon, earlier released an open letter to Prince William and Prince Harry which said: “Conservationists seem to think that outsiders are the only people who want to look after nature and can do it effectively but this makes no sense to me.”

Survival International has been highlighting the covert racism endemic in big conservation in an intensive social media campaign over several weeks in the run up to the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, taking place 11th-12th October in London. Its video comparing conservation to colonialism was released this week.

Transcending Climate Change

San Francisco Dusk, 14 March 2018 (Photo by Manuel Garcia Jr. taken from a ridge crest due east of the Golden Gate Bridge)

Climate Change / Energy Transformation is a great challenge for us all. Approached with gusto, solidarity and creativity, it could be an exhilarating rebirth of everything and everyone we know – we can create Paradise if we choose to. If, instead, we shrink from this challenge, in denial, fear, timidly, submissiveness, without any spirit or confidence, then, yes, this formidable Earth-changing realty could drift into a long, enveloping, tedious, glacially-paced catastrophe for us, leading – who knows when – to our unglamorous individually unnoticed and lonely demise.

You have to realize that whether or when we “go extinct” is really beyond our control at any time; that rests in the hands of the greater geophysical, cosmic and chaotic power of Nature (which on Earth is certainly being prodded annoyingly by our puny yet persistent and mindless thermodynamic wastefulness). But, how we live as a species, and how we collectively express our awareness – and appreciation – of being alive, of being conscious, of being a human society: that is something we have complete control over for however long our species is graced with life.

So, really, the challenge is far beyond just finding exclusive escape routes from our deteriorating here-and-now to some minimally bearable new climatic future, for classes of today’s people who are favored by luck and wealth, and are anxious to gain comfortable personal salvations without having to undergo personal change. The actual challenge is to achieve our full human potential – individually and as a species – to transcend who we are today so as to make the rest of our indeterminate collective existence worthy of our finest enduring aspirations.

The Indy 500 Polar Ice Cap Marathon

Eureka! The Vavilov Ice Cap set unheard of speed records a couple of years ago in a massive “surge” and left climate scientists… well, speechless!

The Vavilov Ice Cap, located in the Russian High Arctic has, for years, cruised along at a speed of about 2 inches per day. But, along the way it was the recipient of an anthropogenic turbo-charged-CO2 infusion (scientists didn’t say that), setting all-time world speed records of 82 feet per day in a massive “surge.”

Hand-wringing scientists were aghast, confused. After all, ice caps are supposed to move by “inches,” not by 82 feet per day! Especially considering the mean average annual temperature at Vavilov Station of −16.5°C. Which is b-b-brittle cold.

Additionally, ice caps are very stable. The term “ice cap” refers to a specific type of glacier, a stable slow-moving glacier. That’s how it’s always been, until Vavilov hit the scene!

Vavilov Ice Cap is on October Revolution Island in the Arctic between the Kara Sea and Laptev Sea. It is a polar desert where frigid temps and dry weather should keep ice firmly tethered to bedrock. But, not Vavilov; it’s like a wild horse. As September 26, 2018, it is slipping/sliding at 15-35 feet per day, much faster than its long-term average of 2 inches. The Vavilov is 1,000 to 2,000 feet or 1/3rd of a mile thick, covering over 700 square miles.

Not only did Vavilov set all-time speed records but the scientists, after explaining they’ve never seen acceleration like Vavilov, raised a warning flag about the possibility that “other currently stable ice caps” may be more vulnerable than expected. Oh, really!1

They go on to say the rapid collapse of Vavilov has significant ramifications for glaciers in other polar regions, especially “those fringing Antarctica and Greenland,” where Sea Rise Monsters hang out.

Once again, similar to the same old story of scientists surprised by how fast things are happening, Vavilov caught them off guard: “Climate models don’t take this kind of surge into account.”2

Still, it’s important to realize that scientists have very limited historical data on glaciers in the world’s remotest locations, and without further study, the authors of the Vavilov report are reluctant to boldly claim that “climate change was/is the villain.” It’ll require considerable more study before drawing conclusions.

Yet, common sense would seem to indicate that some kind of warming is behind such an unusual shift in the speed. What else could it be? In time, more answers will become available. As for now, scientists are scratching their heads in disbelief.

Significantly, Vavilov breaks open a new dimension that should haunt the world’s major players. Previously, it was believed that large bodies of ice could only respond slowly to changing climate conditions. That’s dead wrong!

But then again, the entire Arctic is experiencing anomalous sea ice breakup of monstrous proportions. For example:

The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up, opening waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen, even in summer… a phenomenon scientists described as scary.3

Here are the gritty details: The Arctic sea north of Greenland has always, always, always been frozen rock solid, until now. Over the years, scientists labeled it “the last ice area,” a moniker that has now been crushed by global warming.

“Scary,’ wrote Thomas Lavergne, a scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, in a retweet of a satellite-gif of the blue water penetrating white ice and exposing hundreds of miles of the Greenland coastline. “In February, the Kap Morris Jesup weather station in the region is usually below -20C, but earlier this year there were 10 days above freezing and warm winds, which unlocked the ice from the coast.”2

Whoa! Something is horribly amiss: It’s “usually below -20C” but instead it was above freezing for 10 consecutive days in February, in the middle of winter at the North Pole, and just to top off how ridiculous the year has been, an enormous ice cap elsewhere in the Arctic is moving at 15-25 feet per day after surging 82 feet per day!

The world is upside down and awry! You’ve gotta wonder: What climatic event(s) could possibly rival the implicit dire forecast of an ice cap speeding towards collapse?

Postscript:

Our globe is under new dramatic environmental pressure: our globe is warming, our ice caps melting, our glaciers receding, our coral is dying, our soils are eroding, our water tables falling, our fisheries are being depleted, our remaining rainforests shrinking. Something is very, very wrong with our eco-system.

— Richard Lamm, American politician, writer, attorney

  1. “Unprecedented Ice Loss in Russian Ice Cap”, University of Colorado at Boulder, EurekAlert! September 19, 2018.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Jonathan Watts. “Arctic’s Strongest Sea Ice Breaks Up for First Time on Record”, The Guardian, August 21, 2018.

Food, Justice, Violence and Capitalism

In 2015, India’s internal intelligence agency wrote a report that depicted various campaigners and groups as working against the national interest. The report singled out environmental activists and NGOs that had been protesting against state-corporate policies. Those largely undemocratic and unconstitutional policies were endangering rivers, forests and local ecologies, destroying and oppressing marginalised communities, entrenching the corporatisation of agriculture and usurping land rights.

These issues are not unique to India. Resistance against similar practices and injustices is happening across the world. And for their efforts, campaigners are being abused, incarcerated and murdered. Whether people are campaigning for the land rights of tribal communities in India or for the rights of peasant farmers in Latin America or are campaigning against the fracking industry in the UK or against pipelines in the US, there is a common thread: non-violent protest to help bring about a more just and environmentally sustainable world.

What is ultimately fueling the push towards the relentless plunder of land, peoples and the environment is a strident globalised capitalism, euphemistically termed ‘globalisation’, which is underpinned by increasing state surveillance, paramilitary-type law enforcement and a US-backed push towards militarism.

The deregulation of international capital movement (financial liberalisation) effectively turned the world into a free-for-all for global capital. The ramping up of this militarism comes at the back end of a deregulating/pro-privatising neoliberal agenda that has sacked public budgets, depressed wages, expanded credit to consumers and to governments (to sustain spending and consumption) and unbridled financial speculation. In effect, spending on war is in part a desperate attempt to boost a stagnant US economy.

We may read the writings of the likes of John Perkins (economic hitmen), Michel Chossudovsky (the globalisation of poverty), Michael Hudson (treasury bond super-imperialism) or Paul Craig Roberts (the US’s descent into militarism and mass surveillance) to understand the machinations of billionaire capitalists and the economic system and massive levels of exploitation and suffering they preside over.

Food activists are very much part of the global push-back and the struggle for peace, equality and justice and in one form or another are campaigning against violence, corruption and cronyism. There is a determination to question and to hold to account those with wealth and power, namely, transnational agribusiness corporations and their cronies who hold political office.

There is sufficient evidence for us to know that these companies lie and cover up truth. And we also know that their bought politicians, academics, journalists and right-wing neoliberal backers and front groups smear critics and attempt to marginalise alternative visions of food and agriculture.

They are first to man the barricades when their interests are threatened. Those interests are tied to corporate power, neoliberal capitalism and the roll out of food for profit. These companies and their cheerleaders would be the last to speak up about the human rights abuses faced by environmentalists in various places across the world. They have little to say about the injustices of a global food regime that creates and perpetuates food surpluses in rich countries and food deficits elsewhere, resulting in a billion people with insufficient food for their daily needs. Instead all they have to offer are clichés about the need for more corporate freedom and deregulation if we are to ‘feed the world’.

And they attempt to gloss over or just plain ignore the land grabs and the marginalisation of peasant farmers across the world, the agrarian crisis in India or the harm done by agrochemicals because it is all tied to the neoliberal globalisation agenda which fuels corporate profit, lavish salaries or research grants.

It is the type of globalisation that has in the UK led to deindustrialisation, massive inequalities, the erosion of the welfare state and an increasing reliance on food banks. In South America, there has been the colonisation of lands and farmers to feed richer countries’ unsustainable, environment-destroying appetite for meat. In effect what Helena Paul once described in The Ecologist as genocide and ecocide.  From India to Argentina, we have witnessed (are witnessing) the destruction of indigenous practices and cultures under the guise of ‘development’.

And from various bilateral trade agreements and WTO policies to IMF and World Bank directives, we have seen the influence of transnational agricapital shaping and benefiting from ‘ease of doing business’ and ‘structural adjustment’ type strategies.

We also see the globalisation of bad food and illness and the deleterious impacts of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture on health, rivers, soils and oceans. The global food regime thrives on the degradation of health, environment, labour and communities and the narrowing of the range of crops grown resulting in increasingly monolithic, nutrient-deficient diets.

Whether it includes any or all of the above or the hollowing out of regulatory agencies and the range of human rights abuses we saw documented during The Monsanto Tribunal, what we see is the tacit acceptance of neoliberal policies and the perpetuation of structural (economic, social and political) violence by mainstream politicians and agricapital and its cheerleaders.

At the same time, however, what we are also witnessing is a loosely defined food movement becoming increasingly aware of the connection between these issues.

Of course, to insinuate that those campaigning for the labelling of GM food, the right to healthy food or access to farmers markets in the West and peasant movements involved with wider issues pertaining to food sovereignty, corporate imperialism and development in the Global South form part of a unified ‘movement’ in terms of material conditions or ideological outlook would be stretching a point.

After all, if you campaign for, say, healthy organic food in your supermarket, while overlooking the fact that the food in question derives from a cash crop which displaced traditional cropping systems and its introduction effectively destroyed largely food self-sufficient communities and turned them into food importing basket cases three thousand miles away, where is the unity?

However, despite the provisos, among an increasing number of food activists the struggle for healthy food in the West, wider issues related to the impact of geopolitical IMF-World Bank lending strategies and WTO policies and the securing of local community ownership of ‘the commons’ (land, water, seeds, research, technology, etc) are understood as being interconnected.

There is an emerging unity of purpose within the food movement and the embracing of a vision for a better, more just food system that can only deliver genuine solutions by challenging and replacing capitalism and its international relations of production and consumption.

Trump Trade Revealed: Another Rigged Corporate Deal

Since the Clinton era, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was created, global trade has been written by and for big corporations at the expense of people’s health, worker’s rights and the environment. Trump Trade – through the renegotiation of NAFTA – continues that approach.

In some areas, people might argue the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) makes improvements over NAFTA, although many details are still being withheld. From what we do know, overall, it is a step backward for people and planet. And it undermines the US’ relationship with Canada and Mexico, as Geoffrey Getz of the neo-liberal Brooking’s Institution writes, “Trump’s aggressive, threatening approach succeeded in eliciting modest concessions from two of its closest trading partners.”

Trump is claiming a political victory merely by reaching an agreement, but it is not a victory for people or planet, as will be described below. Trump Trade should be rejected. If we are to achieve a new model of trade that protects the environment, workers and democracy, we need to demonstrate that rigged corporate trade will be rejected every time it is brought forward. The time to organize to stop this agreement is now.

Energy and the Environment

Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) because a mass social movement made it unacceptable and it could not pass in Congress. Some of the provisions in the TPP are included in the USMCA.

Like the TPP, the USMCA contains polluter-friendly non-binding terms on the environment; e.g., the text “recognizes that air pollution is a serious threat to public health,” but includes no single binding rule to reduce air pollution.

The Sierra Club reports the USMCA takes a significant step backward from environmental protections included in the last four trade deals by failing to reinforce a standard set of seven Multilateral Environmental Agreements that protect everything from wetlands to sea turtles. The absence of environmental enforcement continues the failed corporate trade of the Clinton-Obama eras.

Trade agreements could be designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but climate change is not even mentioned in the USMCA. Greenhouse gas emissions will increase. The Sierra Club reports the deal’s lack of binding environmental standards allows corporations to evade US environmental laws by shifting jobs and toxic pollution to Mexico where environmental policies are weaker. It reinforces the US’ status as the world’s largest outsourcer of climate pollution.

Some keys to preventing greenhouse gas emissions are ‘Buy American’ and ‘Buy Local’ laws that provide incentives for locally-produced goods. The USMCA negates those laws, requiring that industries based in Canada and Mexico be given equal access to US government contracts.

The USMCA exempts oil and gas corporations that have, or may have, government contracts for offshore drilling, fracking, oil and gas pipelines, refineries, or other polluting activities from reforms to Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. These intensely polluting corporations would be allowed to challenge environmental protections in rigged corporate trade tribunals.

Trump Trade preserves a NAFTA rule that prevents the US government from determining whether gas exports to Mexico are in the public interest. This creates an automatic gas export guarantee, which will increase fracking, expand cross-border gas pipelines, and increase dependency on Mexican climate-polluting gas.

The USMCA gives corporations extra opportunities to challenge proposed regulations before they are final, and to repeal existing regulations. This makes it harder to put in place environmental regulations or rollback the pro-polluting regulations of the Trump era.

Food and Water Watch summarizes:

The energy provisions will encourage more pipelines and exports of natural gas and oil that would further expand fracking in the United States and Mexico. The text also provides new avenues for polluters to challenge and try and roll back proposed environmental safeguards, cementing Trump’s pro-polluter agenda in the trade deal.

Food and Health

The USMCA undermines food safety and health by making it more difficult to regulate and inspect foods. It limits inspections and allows food that fails to meet US safety standards to be imported. Food and Water Watch states that it requires the US to “accept imports from Mexico with less scrutiny than from other countries. The deal even creates new ways for Canada and Mexico to second-guess US border inspectors that halt suspicious food shipments, which would have a dangerously chilling effect on food safety enforcement.”

USMCA does not require Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL), nor dolphin-safe labeling and makes GMO labeling more difficult. It uses the requirement that food labels reflect ‘sound science’ to prevent accurate labeling.

USMCA serves Monsanto and other giant agro-chemical corporations by allowing unregulated GMOs, rolling back Mexico’s regulation of GMOs, and letting chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow keep data on the safety of their pesticides secret for 10 years. USMCA is designed for agribusiness, not family farmers and consumers.

Like the TPP, the USMCA increases the cost of pharmaceutical drugs through intellectual property protections that go “significantly beyond” NAFTA. USMCA gives pharmaceutical companies at minimum 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic drugs and protects US-based drug companies from generic competition, driving up the price of medicine at home and abroad.

Worker Rights and Jobs

The Labor Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Trade Negotiations (LAC) explained they do not oppose trade, but, “We oppose a set of rules made largely by and for global corporations that reward greed and irresponsibility at the expense of hardworking families across the globe.” They describe the USMCA as moving backwards from the original NAFTA in many areas important to working families:

including with respect to ‘Good Regulatory Practices’ (code for using this trade agreement to attack important consumer, health, safety, and environmental protections), Financial Services (providing new tools for Wall Street to attack efforts to rein in its continuing abuses), and affordable medicines (extending monopolies for brand name pharmaceuticals at the expense of affordability).

Similar to the environment sections, the labor sections do not provide enforcement mechanisms. Citizen’s Trade Campaign writes:

“There is a ground breaking labor annex that could help eliminate Mexican protection contracts and boost labor rights there — but only if currently absent enforcement mechanisms are added.”

As the Labor Advisory Committee states, “Unenforced rules are not worth the paper they are written on.”

Summarizing the impact of USMCA, Citizen’s Trade Campaign states:

Mexican workers will continue to be horribly exploited, American jobs will continue to be outsourced, the environment will continue to be degraded and the wages for workers in all three NAFTA countries will continue to decline.”

Corporate Trade Tribunals

A major area of concern has been ISDS, trade tribunals where corporations can sue governments if new laws or regulations undermine their profits. ISDS empowers corporations to attack environmental and health laws in trade tribunals made up of three corporate lawyers and receive monetary judgments worth billions from tax dollars. The USMCA reduces but does not eliminate the unjustifiable and indefensible ISDS settlement mechanism, which privileges foreign investors over communities regarding access to justice.

After three years, ISDS would be eliminated with Canada and dramatically scaled back with Mexico with some unacceptable exceptions. After that, US and Canadian investors would use domestic courts or administrative bodies to settle investment disputes with another government. Are there workarounds to this ISDS reform that protect investors; e.g., will domestic courts seize assets within their country to repay investors, as a US court did for a Canadian mining company this year?

Regarding Mexico, the new process is designed to protect oil and gas industry investors from the privatization of Mexico’s oil and gas sector. Global Trade Watch writes, “several additional sectors were added, including railways and infrastructure. . . followed by an open-ended list, which could provide problematic flexibility for investors to argue that their investments qualify.” In other words, what looks like ISDS reform contains a giant loophole for corporations to continue to sue governments.

Under NAFTA, corporations can receive exorbitant awards for “expected lost profits.” Under USMCA, investors can only be compensated for losses that they can prove on the “basis of satisfactory evidence and that is not inherently speculative.” How this is interpreted is up to the courts.

USMCA Continues US Imperialism and Corporatism

Popular movements in Mexico urge the incoming government to reject USMCA in an Open Letter To Andrés Manuel López Obrador And The Legislators Of MORENA. They decry the secret nature of the negotiation and the agreement as an attack on Mexico’s sovereignty. They argue the agreement will “further open up our economy for the sole benefit of the large U.S. transnational corporations, with an even greater subordination of our government to the dictates of U.S. foreign policy and its measures of internal security and migration.”

The letter describes the election of MORENA and Obrador as the people voting “to expel the oligarchy that has governed us, along with their paid servants.” The incoming government was given a clear mandate that includes rejecting corporate trade agreements. To create the transformation promised in the election requires Mexico to have full control of its resources and wealth to ensure the well-being of the population, with full rights and liberties. They see rejection of USMCA as a “first step toward reclaiming our nation.”

They urge incoming President Obrador to see this as part of the “mafia of power” that he ran against. They describe how Trump pressured the weakest negotiator, Mexico, with the right wing Peña Nieto administration, and used that to threaten Canada with exclusion and 25% tariffs if they did not agree.

Roger Jordan writes, the new agreement is an act of corporate imperialism by the United States:

Under the new deal, both Mexico, a country historically oppressed by US imperialism, and Canada, a lesser imperialist power that has long been a key US ally, made significant concessions in the face of US demands that the continental pact be refashioned to make it an even more explicit US-led protectionist trade bloc.

As the US struggles to retain power as a global empire, UMCA shows that “through ‘America First’ economic nationalism and the ruthless assertion of its interests against ostensible allies and rivals alike,” it will do what it must “to prevail in the struggle for markets and profits.”

Just as the TPP was President Obama’s attempt at economic domination of Asia, USMCA is part of President Trump’s economic war against China, which has already included “tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.” Jordan explains how USMCA sent a message to China, writing:

It grants the US effective veto power over any attempt by Canada or Mexico to negotiate a free trade pact with a ‘non-market economy,’ a clear reference to China. This includes the right to transform USMCA into a bilateral agreement, excluding the third member if it has ratified such a free trade deal.

Stop Corporate Trade

There is still time to stop USMCA. Leaders are expected to sign the deal on December 1 at the G-20 meeting. Then President Trump has 60 days to report to Congress on changes to US law that are required by the agreement. Within 105 days of the agreement being signed, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) must complete a study of the agreement’s economic impact. Congress will have to pass legislation to implement USMCA.  After Congress receives the final bill from the president, it has 90 days of being in session to act on it under Fast Track rules. It is unlikely that all this can be accomplished before the 2019 legislative session.

Now that we know more about the contents of the new NAFTA, we need to mobilize to stop its ratification and implementation by Congress. If we are to win a new model of trade that raises the bar on protection of workers, the environment and democracy, we must show, as we did with the TPP, that rigged corporate trade will be stopped by a popular movement.

Fare-less Transit Is Not Free

Free public transit could combat both economic inequality and climate disturbances. And, if paid for by fees on automotive junkies, fare-less transit could be part of a serious challenge to private-car-centred transit/urban planning.

At Toronto’s first mayoral debate Saron Gebresellassi called for fare-free transit. By detailing a bold proposal the left-wing candidate steered  the other candidates to bemoan ballooning fare costs and suggest eliminating some of them.

Gebresellassi’s plan also garnered significant media attention. In “Making Toronto  transit free isn’t realistic now. But it’s a terrific idea” Toronto Star columnist Edward Keenan offered an informative rundown of the argument. But, as is wont in the dominant media, Keenan (implicitly) downplays the climate crisis and importance of ditching the private automobile. Rather than a long-term objective, free public transit should be viewed as a short-to-medium term tool for shifting away from our dependence on ecologically, socially and health damaging cars. Of instant benefit to those with the least, free transit would immediately drive price-conscious individuals towards less environmentally and socially damaging buses and trains.

While Keenan downplays the need for urgent, bold action on countering the automotive/climate crisis, he correctly states that making the Toronto subway (and some streetcars) free would exacerbate the rush hour crush. Making it free outside rush hour, however, would spread the ridership crunch out until new subway and streetcar lines are built. For their part, buses can be added quickly and eliminating fares will speed them up. Expanding ridership should also grow support for giving buses the right of way.

Eliminating transit fares is not radical. During times of high pollution Paris and some other large European cities have removed fares. The mayor of the French capital, Anne Hidalgo, recently expressed interest  in making transit free permanently and she launched a study into its feasibility. The book Free Public Transit: And Why We Don’t Pay to Ride Elevators details dozens  of cities that have expanded transit ridership by eliminating fares.

While not radical, fare-less transit is not free. It would be an enormous failure if it only cost what the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) currently raises from fares ($1.2 billion  minus the not insignificant cost of gathering and enforcing fare payment). As the TTC expands to displace ever-greater numbers of private cars, free transit would certainly cost magnitudes more.

But there are many ways to finance it. Greenpeace Germany has suggested placing a levy on car manufacturers to pay  for eliminating transit fares. In France employers with 11 or more employees pay a small tax devoted to transit.

Some of the billions of dollars currently spent on roadways – $3.6 billion  for example on rebuilding a Gardiner Expressway that should be torn down and the land used for  co-op/social/rental housing – could be directed towards free transit. Toronto could also repurpose  some of the 27.4%  of the city presently devoted to free roadway to moneymaking ventures (another 13 per cent of Toronto is parks and open spaces — a share of which goes largely unused because of the unpleasantness of adjacent traffic filled roadway). A more straightforward way to incentivize public transit while deterring private car travel is to earmark congestion fees to the TTC.

A more novel option would be to replace requirements for businesses/public institutions/developers to offer parking with an equivalent contribution to a free transit fund. Toronto  currently prescribes a specific number of parking spaces for every new residence as well as for a “bowling alley”, “bus station”, “adult entertainment” site, etc. The cost of complying with these bylaws could fund significant mass transit.

Unlike education, healthcare, housing, etc., transit shouldn’t be promoted as a (at least broadly defined) social right. While less damaging than a private automobile ride, a 30 km oil powered bus journey emits substantial greenhouse gases and there are various social downsides to long commutes/sprawl. (Making Go Transit free, for instance, would encourage exurban dispersal and even daily commutes to Hamilton or Kitchener.) For environmental, health, safety, noise and cost reasons walking and cycling should be prioritized wherever possible.

But free transit should be promoted as an equality-based, short to medium-term solution for mitigating the climate crisis. Kudos to Gebresellassi for pushing the issue to the forefront.

Drought-Laden Rainforests

The world’s rainforests are under attack at a rate of 2.5 acres per second. Global warming and clear-cutting for growing palm oil and raising cattle are some of the biggest annihilators. The repercussions are devastating. For example, one of the consequences is harmful alteration of hydrological cycles for major grain-growing regions of the planet. But, that’s just the start of trouble.

Disrupted hydrological cycles, which are only now being disclosed by new research, are one example amongst many of the after-effects of stressed-out ecosystems as a result of (a) global warming, (b) turbo-charged climate change, and (c) the persistent human footprint. The awful truth is that ecosystems across the world are stressed-out like never before. But, nobody sees it.

Uncommonly stressed-out ecosystems occur most prominently where nobody lives, nobody sees, Antarctica, Tibetan glaciers, the Arctic, Siberian permafrost, Colorado River Basin, Alaskan permafrost Andes’ glaciers, Patagonia, Totten glacier, East Siberian Arctic Sea, ocean plankton, the Amazon rainforest. Who lives anywhere near those hot spots of ecosystem disruption?

Over time, the breakdowns turn more powerful, more dangerous, as a discordant world fails to come to grips with distinct risks of several tipping points simultaneously flaring up all at once. Such a horrific scenario could strike with the impact of a 7.5-mile-wide asteroid. The last time that happened 65 million years ago it was sayonara in a flash of geological time. If dinosaurs couldn’t handle it, well, as for Homo sapiens… hmm.

As a suggestion, maybe a world conference on “Impending Ecosystem Collapses” should be held, similar to Paris 2015, but titled: How in the hell did we let this happen? With a sub-conference titled: No-holds-barred capitalism’s infinite growth syndrome clashes with ecological preservation. Or, how about: Would capitalism-lite be better? Or, how about: Starting all over again?

Eliminating excessive amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere would be a good start, a big leap forward to curing a lot of ills, and should be combined with reforestation and an enforceable order to stop cutting down rainforests with reckless abandon. According to Global Forest Watch: “Deforestation in crucial tropical rainforests has doubled since 2008.” Much of it is illegal and linked to corruption.

“A growing body of evidence indicates that the continuing destruction of tropical forests is disrupting the movement of water in the atmosphere, causing major shifts in precipitation that could lead to drought in key agricultural areas in China, India, and the U.S. Midwest.”1

Not only is there a problem with the hydrology cycle, but also three 100-year droughts (the ones that are supposed to happen once every 100 years!) hit the Amazon Rainforest like clockwork 2005-2010-2015 over the past 10 years. That’s unprecedented. As far as science knows, it has never happened before! It’s kinda like an out-of-body experience, hovering over blackened tree stumps as far as the eye can see.

Three droughts within a decade should take your breath away. If it doesn’t, it’s because of a failure to tune in to the overbearing Great Acceleration, aka: human footprint, overrunning planetary resources. Therefore, a key determinate for society’s longevity will be whether ecosystems, such as the rainforests, hang in there without cascading into irretrievable impracticable no-go oblivion.

Subsequent to the 2005 Amazon rainforest drought:  ‘The biggest surprise for us was that the effects appeared to persist for years after the drought,’ said co-author Professor Yadvinder Malhi from the University of Oxford. ‘We had expected the forest canopy to bounce back after a year with a new flush of leaf growth, but the damage appeared to persist right up to the subsequent drought in 2010.2

Another big problem: One season of drought can reduce the CO2 absorption ability of the Amazon for years to come. But, three back-to-back-to back droughts! Whew – triple ouch! Over time, it becomes impossible for the world’s great rainforests to combat global warming. Instead of serving as a “sink of CO2,” the forests “emit CO2,” happening now. Try that one on for size Mister Runaway Global Warming. Hmm- fits like a glove.

According to a study by NASA, the Amazon drought, over a three-year span, lost 270M metric tons of carbon per year. It’s not supposed to work that way, folks. Part of the problem is global warming itself. A warming atmosphere shifts moisture away from the rainforest, which is the wrong direction!

Also, droughts self-perpetuate additional drought conditions, as a considerable portion of the rain that falls in a rainforest comes from water vapor that the trees release through their own leaves. But, dying leaves don’t release much water vapor, which shrinks the hydrological flow variability.

A recent study3  says:

Our work suggests that there is a possibility for even longer droughts, perhaps lasting multiple seasons or years, setting the stage for fires that could clear swaths of the rainforest.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that after the 2005 drought the most affected parts of the Amazon Rainforest lost 35 inches rainfall in years following.4

As it happens, ongoing destruction of rainforests represents one of the major impacts of the Great Acceleration or the human footprint eclipsing nature. Already, early glimpses of that footprint are found stamped onto the backsides of three unprecedented 100-yr. droughts.

Rainforest decimation is but one of many ecosystem perils that should land on the desks of every world leader: “Urgent – Do Something!” And, oh yeah, while your at it maybe put in a good word for clean renewable energy.

In lieu of today’s inordinately compressed timeline of climate change (many scientists say stuff is happening 10xs faster than ever before), risks of widespread collapsing ecosystems are now more pronounced than at any time since the discovery of fire. It’s not too difficult to point a finger at the prime movers and shakers; i.e., excessive greenhouse gases like CO2 and the pitched battle over infinite growth. Infinity is a lot.

All of which brings to light the highly controversial Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, 2006 (more relevant today than back in the day). The British government requisitioned the high-powered study to calculate the economics of climate change. The landmark 700-page report, stated: “Climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.”

The Stern Review also ticked off a handful of consequences, assuming a “worst-case basis” and “business as usual,” meaning no effort by the nations of the world to rein-in greenhouse gas emissions. Some of the mentions include, sea level rise possibly as high as 10-15 feet (remember- “worst-case basis”) in a few decades, Florida, NYC, and London likely flooded at various stages, and massive water-food shortages throughout the world, assuming temps run up 2C-5C during the century. And assuming “business as usual.”

Additionally, according to the report: Deforestation is responsible for more emissions than the transport sector, and a number of studies suggest “Amazon rainforest could be vulnerable to climate change, with models projecting significant drying in this region.” (a prophetic statement 12 years ago)

In sum, and relevant to all of the above, according to Mauna Loa Observatory as of September 23, 2018 Atmospheric CO2 registers 405.5 ppm versus 381.82 ppm twelve years ago.

As an aside, following the asteroid collision 65mya within a period of 100,000 years, CO2 increased at rate of 0.2ppm/yr taking temps up 5C. Today we’re at “2.3 ppm/yr or the highest growth rate ever seen in modern times,” according to Carl Edward Rasmussen, University of Cambridge, September 2018.5 That’s more than 10xs.

Apologies to Sir Nicholas Stern, as contrary to admonitions in his 700-page report, free-market globalists have cranked up the dial for CO2 up-up-and-away, forever more! Infinite growth!

“Biz as usual” prevails.

What was it Sir Nicholas Stern said about the “worst-case basis”?

Postscript:

Every tree in the forest is a fountain, sucking water out of the ground through its roots and releasing water vapor into the atmosphere through pores in its foliage. In their billions, they create giant rivers of water in the air – rivers that form clouds and create rainfall hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

But as we shave the planet of trees, we risk drying up these aerial rivers and the lands that depend on them for rain. A growing body of research suggests that this hitherto neglected impact of deforestation could in many continental interiors dwarf the impacts of global climate change. It could dry up the Nile, hobble the Asian monsoon, and desiccate fields from Argentina to the Midwestern United States.

— Fred Pearce, eminent UK author and science journalist

  1. Fred Pearce, “Rivers in the Sky: How Deforestation Is Affecting Global Water Cycles”, YaleEnvironment360, July 24, 2018.
  2. Malhi, et al, “Effects of Drought in the Amazon Persist Years Later”, Oxford University, 2018.
  3. “Amazon Outlook —Continued Warming, Multiyear Droughts,” Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, July 10, 2018.
  4. Yan Yang, et al, “Post-Drought Decline of the Amazon Carbon Sink”, Nature, 2018.
  5. Carl Edward Rasmussen, University of Cambridge, September 2018.

Charting a Jagged Course through the Apocalypse

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop

— Economist Herbert Stein

Those who live in the reaches of the Arctic Circle tend to convey the same humbling lesson: Mother Nature calls the shots and survival depends upon preparing for her mood swings. It’s an adage that will take on increasing relevance as history unfolds because disaster has been baked into our future. Decades ago a whole series of events was set into motion and it may be too late to break their momentum. Civilization will be tested as large swathes of the globe become uninhabitable. While it might be tempting to seek refuge in the form of denial or nihilism, doing so won’t prevent what’s coming down the pike.

It’s Much Worse than You Think   

The indicators are hard to miss. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached levels not seen for nearly a million years. Roughly half of India’s population (which tips the scales at over a billion) currently faces extreme water scarcity and within two decades India’s demand for water will likely rise to twice the available supply. Moreover, by the end of the century scientists assess that population centers across the Middle East will confront “temperature levels that are intolerable to humans.” Which is a polite way of describing a death trap. One that will probably snap shut even if emissions are somehow kept within internationally agreed upon levels.

At some point our system’s requirement for infinite economic growth will hit the limits of a finite planet. As the ensuing collision transpires there will be widespread famine, mass migration, and disease. Thus setting the stage for military conflict on a global scale. People rarely go gently into the night when their backs are thrust against a wall. For instance, it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising if Pakistan and India end up in a nuclear war over water rights to the Indus river system.

This kind of regional clash can spread like a contagion, dragging larger actors into the fray. Daniel Ellsberg, who briefed the Kennedy administration on President Eisenhower’s nuclear war plans, believes that it’s a miracle there hasn’t already been a nuclear war. Given the veritable litany of close calls, he asks “Could we survive another 70 or 100 years without nuclear winter?” To which Ellsberg responds “It’s unlikely.” Other high-ranking Pentagon insiders share Ellsberg’s assessment. Former Defense Secretary William Perry claims that “The likelihood today of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than during the Cold War.”

According to one official who studied the topic at length, economically crippling the United States would only take something in the ballpark of a half dozen sub-megaton nuclear devices detonated in strategically vital cities. The core subset of such targets includes financial hubs (e.g. New York, Chicago, and San Francisco), ports (e.g. Los Angeles, Savannah) and cities with internal waterway access (e.g. Toronto). A strike of this nature is well within the reach of current nuclear powers.

Hope as a Form of Procrastination

Most Americans shrug and quietly hope that experts like Ellsberg and Perry are wrong. But hope can sometimes make things worse. By postponing a much needed reality check. What if it’s too late? What if, as Ellsberg warns, we’ve dramatically underestimated the likelihood of nuclear war? What if civilization is about to perform an epic face-plant, leaving only feudal vestiges of the economy and infrastructure?

Enter John Mosby, the nom de plume of a Special Forces alumnus who has cultivated a keen interest in the decline of empires. Mosby’s insights about survival are drawn from a combination of academic research, piles of military documents, and his own first-hand participation in what he mordantly labels as “nation-building” operations. Mosby is an army veteran who has seen with his own eyes what happens in a country when the state ceases to function.

We’re All Rick Grimes Now 

The future that Mosby envisions isn’t for the faint of heart. In the aftermath of a collapse he expects that the United States would give way to “historically typical failed-state neo-tribalism.” Afghanistan is a textbook example. A destination that the Department of Justice refers to as “largely lawless, weak, and dysfunctional.” In other words, hungry country where groups of farmers struggle to eke out a living amidst mafia-style networks and despotic warlords.

In a setting like this it’s only natural that communities would band together for their common defense. Evolution has programmed us to do so. This, according to Mosby, will be vital for survival. As a lone individual you’ll succumb to the environment. Presumably starve to death or perhaps get run over by a pack of marauders. Only as a member of a larger community do you stand a chance. When the going gets tough, the tough posse up.

This emphasis on social collaboration is noteworthy because it contrasts sharply against the stereotype of the lone survivalist. Crouched down in a basement with their freeze-dried food and ammunition. In fact, Mosby predicts that the billionaire crowd is unlikely to survive over the long run despite their high-end designer bunkers. Mosby concedes that “to some degree, the patrician classes CAN buy their way out of some trouble.” However, once society has been steamrolled by calamity, Mosby asserts that “the masses of people will start looking for leadership, towards people who can offer them security in the form of food and protection.”

The oligarchs, with their self-justifying philosophy of radical individualism, are unlikely to acquire this degree of trust. Because it’s not something you can buy. Mosby says that “It is about being the person who puts the tribe before himself.” He concludes “the super-rich probably don’t have that ability.” The financial strip mining of the middle class that followed the events of 2008 stands in testimony.

The bad news is that tribalism is hardly a utopia. Mosby observes that it will be characterized by “continuous endemic violence” and that — given the state of modern armaments — it will result in “catastrophic losses to all parties involved.” Again, Afghanistan comes to mind. Where the typical life expectancy is approximately 50 years. A place so hazardous that it has garnered a reputation as the graveyard of empires.

Or consider Great Britain after the Romans finally lost their grip in 410 A.D. With the Romans gone the island quickly passed into a dark age where it was relentlessly invaded by northern tribes. Wave after wave of conquering Angles, Saxons, and Vikings. Life was uncertain. Death was everywhere. Something as basic as red meat was a luxury that few could afford. The aftermath of a nuclear exchange will almost certainly result in comparable instability and deprivation. Suffice it to say, in the wake of such a catastrophe there will be a sizable contingent of survivors who’ll wish that they’d simply perished at ground zero.

Out of the Ashes

In spite of the gloomy desolation of the post-apocalypse, there’s still a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. History will not end. Yes, it’s true, civilizations fall. But after a rocky transition period new ones emerge from their remains. And as centuries pass fiefdoms unite and fledgling nations are born. While the Romans left England to fend for itself, the turmoil of Britain’s lost years gradually gave way to the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. The rule of monarchs, which persisted for millennia, was supplanted by rule of law.

In due time established ideologies like socialism and capitalism will be abandoned for doctrines that produce better results. Technology will continue to progress and yield ever more fearsome weapons. Confronted with near term extinction the human species will be obliged to learn from its mistakes and evolve beyond destructive tendencies. Otherwise Mother Nature will relegate the human race to Darwin’s wastebasket and dutifully move on with new experiments.