Category Archives: Environment

Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold

For tens of thousands of years the Arctic’s carbon sink has been a powerful dynamic in functionality of the Earth System. However, that all-important functionality has been crippled and could be permanently severed. According to new research based upon field observations conducted from 2003 to 2017, a large-scale carbon emission shift in the Earth System has occurred.

The “entire Arctic” now emits more carbon than it absorbs, a fact that can only be described as worse than bad news. “Given that the Arctic has been taking up carbon for tens of thousands of years, this shift to a carbon source is important because it highlights a new dynamic in the functioning of the Earth System,” says Susan Natali at Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts.1

The 14-year study showed annualized 1.66 gigatonnes CO2 emitted from the “entire Arctic” versus 1.03 gigatonnes absorbed. It’s a major turning point in paleoclimate history, a chilling turn for the worse that threatens 10,000 years of the wonderful Holocene era of “not too hot, not too cold.” Alas, that spectacular Goldilocks climate, a perfect environment for life on the planet, is now a remembrance of the past.

In time, it’ll bring in its wake difficult/challenging lifestyles across the board, across the planet, as life turns onerous and quite possibly worse.

When scientists researched permafrost over the years, they found a few isolated regions that flipped from carbon sinks to sources of emissions, but this new “research now shows the phenomenon has happened across the region as a whole.”1

Meanwhile, 25,000 people gather, as of December 2-13, in Madrid for the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference known as COP25. Only recently, the conference was forced to scramble in a move from Chile because of uncontrollable, unprecedented “protests in the streets.” The Chilean protests are mega-numbers of extremely angry citizens sparked into action by a simple increase in transport rates, proving that the world is once again a tinderbox similar to July of 1914.

The 25,000 attendees of COP25 should take heed of an entire city Santiago shut down by angry citizens one million strong. That nagging scenario may be as important as the climate data they analyze because Chilean mass demonstrations are merely a reflection of a worldwide phenomenon that has everything to do with the failure of neoliberalism, as it casts its dark shadow over climate mitigation.

According to Amnesty International: The past few months have seen a seemingly massive surge in protests globally. From the streets of Hong Kong to La Paz, Port-au-Prince, Quito, Barcelona, Beirut and Santiago, we have witnessed a huge wave of people taking to the streets to exercise their right to protest and demand change from those in power. Amnesty International has documented signs of abuse and violations at protests in Bolivia, Lebanon, Chile, Spain, Iraq, Guinea, Hong Kong, the UK, Ecuador, Cameroon, and Egypt in October alone.

Increasingly, people are frustrated by the abject failure of neoliberalism’s austerity measures that destroy social programs, including near total collapse and/or avoidance of proactive climate policies. Contrariwise: “Global governments plan to produce 120 percent more fossil fuels by 203o,” according to a new report by leading research organizations and the UN.2

Interestingly, one of the most celebrated crowning achievements of neoliberalism, Chile, the paragon of neoliberalism, has only served to emblazon in the mindset of the world a vast chasm of inequality as Chile is featured having one of the world’s worst levels of income inequality (OECD Economic Survey of Chile). A stark reminder that neoliberalism splits societies into “haves” and “have-nots” almost as effectively as monarchial precepts dating back 5,000 years to Egypt and Sumer.

The continuing failure of neoliberalism works against the best intentions of COP25 and the Paris climate accord of 2015. This failure is explained in a paper entitled “Globalization, Neoliberalism and Climate Change” by professor Liu Cheng, a world renown labor expert, professor of law and politics at Shanghai Normal University, to wit:

For thirty years, global and national economies have been guided by policies of neoliberal deregulation, often known as the “Washington Consensus.” Neoliberalism has been disastrous for workers in most countries, pitting workers against each other in a race to the bottom and making it all but impossible to protect working class interests. There is now a growing consensus that the Washington Consensus has been a failure.

There is also a growing global recognition that we are in the midst of an unprecedented climate crisis. Ready or not, that crisis is affecting every nation, every locality, and every worker. Its effects are already serious, and unless decisive global action is taken to counter it, they will soon be catastrophic. Neoliberal deregulation, by dismantling the means for public steering of society to meet social needs, has also made it nearly impossible to correct global climate crisis.

These twin realizations, the failure of neoliberalism and the climate crisis, will define the struggle for the interests of poor and working people for the next century. At the same time, the necessity to counter climate change may provide an opportunity to address the broader problems of neoliberal deregulation.

This article argues that it is only by rolling back neoliberalism that we can protect the rights of workers globally and solve the crisis of climate change.

As massive protests continue around the world, COP25 opens with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declaring the negotiations the “launch pad for significantly more action,” emphasizing the fact that the world’s largest emitters “are not pulling their weight.”

However, maybe COP25 needs to study the impact of neoliberalism as an overriding disincentive for climate change mitigation. After all, according to professor Cheng: Neoliberal deregulation, by dismantling the means for public steering of society to meet social needs, has also made it nearly impossible to correct the global climate crisis.

Therefore, COP25’s hundreds and thousands of scientific data and climate models are held hostage to neoliberalism’s scorched earth tactics. The only way for COP25 to dig out of this deep neoliberal hole is by open condemnation, thus alerting the world’s attention to the originator of climate change with a message “fix it.”

  1. Thawing Permafrost Has Turned the Arctic Into a Carbon Emitter,” NewScientist, October 21, 2019.
  2. Stephen Leahy, “Dangerous Levels of Warming Locked in by Planned Jump in fossil Fuels Output,” National Geographic, November 20, 2019.

Hooked on Orcas

Facts about orcas abound in Colleen Weiler’s brain, because her role is to lead policy research and engagement around what we call the Southern Resident Orcas (SROs).

Her job is with the Plymouth, Massachusetts-based US headquarters of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation non-profit, established 32 years ago in England.

Our name is what we do.

Protecting cetaceans involves direct action, lobbying lawmakers, public engagement and education/outreach to the public.

Her official title is Jessica Rekos Fellow for Orca Conservation and, for the past five years, her focus has been on orca recovery. Now headquartered in Newport, she has also been tracking the efforts of Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s Orca Recovery Task Force.

Fact: orca comes from the Greek and Latin, meaning jar.

Fact: The killer whale (ballena asesina) moniker came from some of the first commercial whalers — Basques — who hunted bigger whales but saw the orca in action taking on sharks, seals and other whales as prey.

I meet the former Flint resident — who garnered a zoology degree in 2006 from Michigan State University before finding OSU as home to her graduate work — at Panini Bakery just before she spoke to a group of 25 at the American Cetacean Society’s fall speaker series at the Newport Oregon Library.

She is at ease among fellow whale and marine ecosystem enthusiasts, and her talk is detailed, as she exudes the confidence of a woman who has been doing this work probably since she was nine years old.

191206_oct_CW with orca.jpg

“Free Willy” and Fast Forward

When Colleen was nine, she went to the local movie theater and saw the 1993 flick, “Free Willy” and got hooked on this emblematic species, Orcinus orca. At the end of the film, she recounts there was a “for more information on protecting whales please contact” blurb. It was called the Whale Adoption Project out of Massachusetts.

For $20 a year, the young Colleen adopted a humpback whale named Colt, who spent some of his time in the Gulf of Maine. That whale is still alive and still adoptable at her Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The underside and trailing edge of the humpback whale’s fluke have helped scientists and amateurs alike to identify whales. Many humpbacks can live up to 50 years with some known individuals reaching 70.

Colleen says both of her parents were both pretty environmentally aware (“recyclers”), and her father helped organize the county hazard waste recycling project. Her older brother is a K12 teacher in Michigan.

As an undergrad at MSU, Colleen was part of the Lyman Briggs College (an honors program) where she completed a marine biology/zoology undergraduate degree.

The Details are in the Policy Work

The search for graduate programs landed Colleen at OSU, where she entered the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences with a focus on marine mammal conservation.

She tells me that no one in her program at that point had pursued a graduate degree in policy emphasizing marine mammals. Serendipitously, she got to partner with the Alaska Whale Foundation as a research assistant.

That work she was initiating with AWF was looking at humpback whale distribution in Alaskan waters and ship traffic overlaying ship strike risk on the species while also looking at management measures.

Six degrees of separation defines a lot of what I do. I spent a few hours with Alaska Whale Foundation researcher/board member Fred Sharpe, PhD, at our own Sitka Center for Art and Ecology at the beginning of the year. Sharpe was the Howard L. Mckee Ecologist visiting scholar at Sitka. We talked about humpbacks — he has 26 years under his belt studying the behavior of humpback whales. His specialty is on the bubble-netting proclivity of Alaskan humpbacks. He looks at the connections of this ecotype’s behavior as signals of enduring bonds, complicated task specializations, team hunting and communal tool use.

For Colleen, her purview is now focused on the Southern Resident orcas. Unfortunately, one community within the “resident” ecotype (there are 10 identified ecotypes) is in trouble. Colleen discussed with naturalists the differences in these orca ecotypes with their varying size, pigment patterns, behaviors, acoustics, social grouping and diets.

Colleen was quick to point out that Michael Bigg, a Canadian whale researcher, “changed the game for orca long-term research” with his identification techniques — photographing dorsal fins and saddle patch patterns.

When you can identify entire generations of orcas and the births, deaths and family relationships, we can get an exact population count.

Matriarchs Rule

The compelling story of the orca goes beyond the cinematic drama of “Free Willy,” and their imprisonment and virtual torture at places like Sea World (see the documentary “Blackfish”). Mothers and grandmothers of the Southern Resident orcas are at the top of the pod, and the sons and daughters stay with the mother for life.

Colleen shows her audience an aerial shot of a grandmother and great-grandson from the Southern Resident ecotype. One big Chinook salmon is a nose length’s away before being snatched up by grandmother, who then shared it with her great-grand-kid.

In her more than hour talking to people at the library, Colleen clearly is dedicated to policy work, which she likens more to a series of marathons rather than sprints. “There is often no immediate benefit seen, no immediate gratification. Policy takes time, years.”

She and the nonprofit she works for are not thrilled with the poor policy measures and enforcement of certain life-sustaining laws to help the endangered Southern Residents once they hit Oregon waters.

“I would add we’re not thrilled with these issues throughout their range (not just Oregon),” she said. The federal government has been slow to implement recovery measures; and the current administration is doing its best to roll back every environmental protection law we have. Washington and Oregon are stepping up to fill those gaps, but environmental issues often fall at the bottom of the list for resources and enforcement effort.

She is an observer of the Washington Governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force, and the sometimes-Byzantine task force recommendations as well as the sometimes counter-productive work of so many agencies and stakeholder groups at the table are frustrating.

The bottom line is the 35-year-old Colleen Weiler is here to stay the course, and push through the entire process of getting the 73 orcas left from the Southern Resident community help in their recovery and sustainability as a population. One challenge is their range — they spend a lot of time in Puget Sound but their entire West Coast range reaches south to Monterey. They are very urban orcas and overlap with many heavily developed areas on the west coasts of Canada and the US.

It is a Fight on Many Fronts — One Killer Whale at a Time

Colleen doesn’t mince words, “The Columbia is the most hydroelectricity developed river system in the world.”

While the 150-page report from the task force highlights dozens of measures to mitigate the failing Southern Residents, Colleen can whittle down the fight for the orcas’ lives to many factors, but a monolithic one is the loss of salmon runs, down to 3 percent of their historical levels of 10 to 16 million of all salmon species coming back annually to the Columbia.

Salmon populations have to be restored to some higher measure of returns — the Four H’s destroying the Southern Residents’ food source, Chinook salmon, point that out: habitat, hydropower, hatcheries and harvest.

“They don’t go off menu,” Colleen said. That means each ecotype and population of killer whales has very specific dietary preferences — while overall, orcas collectively have around 140 species of prey to include sharks, seals, rays, octopi, dolphins, penguins and sea lions.

Orcas are one of the top marine predators, and it is actually the largest member of the dolphin family, Delphinidae.

They are found in every ocean in the world; thus, they are considered the most widely distributed of all whales and dolphins. With different foraging behaviors and diets, many killer whales deploy a coordinated hunting strategy, working as a team like a pack of wolves.

Hunters and fishermen once targeted killer whales. Historical threats to killer whales included commercial hunting (not in the US but in other countries), and, worse yet, culling to “protect” fisheries from killer whales.

What has particularly decimated the Southern Residents’ total census was the live capture of killer whales for aquarium display and marine parks. From 1962 to ’77, up to 307 killer whales were captured and removed from the wild. At least 47 were from the Southern Residents.

Colleen emphasized that 98 percent of the Southern Residents’ summer diet is salmon — 80 percent Chinook and 15 Percent Coho. With a crash in salmon in the mid-1990s, the Southern Resident Orcas also crashed. Abundant food equals nourishment, big bodies, lots of fat on their frame and fertility.

These different populations — the Southern and Northern Residents — do not interbreed or intermingle. When the Southern Residents are in the Salish Sea, the Northern Residents are in coastal waters. Their habitats never overlap, she said. This exclusivity of ecotype society has gone on for hundreds of thousands of years, where significant genetic differences in the populations occurred a long time ago.

Humanity’s Footprint

Colleen is quick to point out that she is “an observer” of the Task Force on Southern Resident Orcas so she can be a watchdog and keep things in perspective. While 18,000 public comments the first year of the task force is impressive, there is such a thing as task force fatigue.

It’s a big task force with state, federal, and local agencies, as well as NGOs, scientists, industry reps, and Washington state tribal nations.

Colleen said the 36 recommendations coming out of the November 2018 report are impressive. In a nutshell, increasing Chinook populations, reducing toxic contaminants and reducing vessel noise are at the top of the task force’s list of recommendations.

Controversy abounds. Whale watching outfits bucked the proposal to place a moratorium on whale watching. Consensus may be the goal for modern task force engagement processes, but that can also be the paradigm that hobbles action. If agriculture and barging interests on the Columbia River protest any talk of breaching those lower Snake River dams (which they did) — which are the cause of a large chunk of the salmon population declines — then everything gets tricky.

“As a whale person,” Colleen said, “I have learned a lot about salmon the past five years.”

Then there’s even controversy to get an added $10 recreational boater whale education endorsement for Washington state residents.

Add to the mix climate change, contamination from industries that produce PCBs, CECs (chemicals of emerging concern), forever chemicals and other toxics that can mess up reproductive, immune and endocrine systems, we then have a wicked brew of factors not only decimating endangered species, but other species.

For other whale species, another big issue hitting the radar of various industries in our neck of the woods, especially the Dungeness crab industry, is line entanglement. There are many regulations imposed on the Atlantic Coast for lobster traps, and reducing vertical lines by 50 percent is one proposed mandate to lower the number of entanglements with endangered North Atlantic right whales.

For us on the Oregon Coast, line entanglement affects our iconic Gray whales, but the requirement to reduce entanglement risk is driven by humpback whales, which have higher rates of entanglement than Grays and are ESA-listed, according to Colleen.

Orcas can become entangled, but currently this is not a pressing threat to the ecosystem changes, but all the other factors henceforth discussed do. The US Navy is harassing orcas (and other whale and dolphin species) just with their sonar testing in open ocean waters. Pier-side sonar testing in the Puget Sound is being proposed by the navy as part of their next seven years of training and testing activities in our area.

This could be another “hit” on the Southern Residents’ viability.

People at Colleen’s talk brought up recent sightings of two pods from the Southern Resident orcas — J & K pods — off Ballard near Seattle. Colleen said she saw images of some of them surfing on the wake of a barge.

Policy research turns from research into policy making, then legislation into enforcement — a long politically-charged process which still turns people like Colleen Weiler hopeful for these animals.

Orca Talk

Paul Haeder: Name a couple of environmentalism influencers in your life, and why and how those people influenced you?

Colleen Weiler:

• Sylvia Earle, for being an amazing pioneer in marine science and a strong, essential voice for conservation and protecting our oceans.

• My supervisor and mentor at WDC, Regina Asmutis-Silvia, for her years of dedication to protecting whales and dolphins and teaching me how to effectively advocate for them.

• My dad, who shared his love of the environment and passion for conservation with me.

PH: As illustrated in your talk at the library on September 21, there is sort of an analysis paralysis and task force fatigue. Can you articulate a bit on these, and how we as the public can overcome the real problem of becoming disengaged when so many other things tied to global heating and extinction and extermination are on our radar?

CW: Interest and engagement in the task force definitely seem to have declined in the second year, within the task force itself and from those following it. The topics the task force is discussing this year are big issues — climate change, ocean acidification and population growth — which can feel overwhelming. But addressing these topics is important not only for the survival of Southern Resident Orcas, but for us as well. They seem too big to deal with, but they are all interrelated, and we must start having these conversations and taking action now to protect the ecosystems that we all depend on — salmon, orcas and ourselves.

PH: Your opinion of keeping orcas captive at say places such as Sea World? I continue to hear this time and time again: “To say that keeping captive marine mammals contributes little or no information/research that will aid animals in the wild is simply untrue.”

CW: Most of the research conducted in captive facilities on the whales and dolphins held there is specific to captivity-related issues like husbandry and captive breeding and have limited applicability to wild, free-ranging whales and dolphins. The Southern Residents were gravely impacted by efforts to take individuals into captivity, and their population today is still trying to overcome the effects. For more about how captivity harms whales and dolphins, see our website.

PH: The sciences as illustrated at Hatfield are becoming much more multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary. Have you seen this trend in your own work? Point out the positives.

CW: Yes, there is growing effort in science and in conservation for more communication and coordination among different disciplines. For example, we work with many partner organizations on issues such as salmon recovery, water quality and reducing toxic contaminants. Bringing people and groups together who work on different issues that all relate to environmental health helps us learn from each other, highlights the connections between these issues and creates stronger positions and arguments for protecting our shared ecosystem.

PH: All those cooks in the kitchen allusion with the task force being so big. I know you are in policy as a marathon, Colleen, but how can you keep stakeholders, especially the public, engaged when time and time again, very little action comes out of long, extended task force session where there are so many special interests?

CW: We try to keep people involved and engaged by celebrating the victories, no matter how small or incremental they may seem, and by living our WDC mission statement — amazing people with the wonder of whales and dolphins and inspiring global action to protect them. Luckily, we work with species that are charismatic and can keep people engaged without too much convincing.

The task force is a long process, but it is the most concentrated and strongest effort that has been initiated for Southern Resident recovery since they were listed under the ESA. We recognize and emphasize that, note the progress that has been made, and are also realistic about the long journey ahead. There has not been “little action” out of the task force, there have actually been significant wins like the legislative and budgetary highlights I mentioned — but like many policy things it takes time to see the results of those changes. There’s not a lot of instant gratification, which can make it hard to keep the forward momentum going.

PH: What gets you engaged and excited about your job every day?

CW: Getting to work in conservation to protect whales and dolphins, which continue to amaze and inspire me the more I learn about them.

•••

Alien Invaders and the Ethic of the Earth

Imagine this rather typical SF scenario: alien invaders arrive on Earth. They are vastly superior in intelligence, technology, and most importantly, ethics. They quickly perceive that Earthlings are a dire mortal threat to the Earth’s biosphere. They reason that they must take decisive action soon, or else the Earth will meet its biological death. What are they to do?

First, they take up a consequentialist position and reason that eliminating a significant portion of the human population would immediately alleviate Earth’s acute environmental problems while saving countless numbers of species.

Second, they reason deontologically according to a “planetary ethic” that the biosphere of a planet and all the species that inhabit it are sacred and must be protected at all costs. If one species is destroying it, it must be destroyed before it is further able to inflict greater and lasting damage to it.

However, some aliens see the problem more complexly. They in their turn try to work out a maximally “virtuous” solution that will both ensure the continuance of the human race and the flourishing of the biosphere.

Of course, in this tale, most humans would root for the third option.

The question for us then is how do we get there?

If we adopt a mix of all three perspectives perhaps we will be closer to a solution.

If we accept some version of a “categorical planetary ethic” then we as a species have an absolute duty to both the biosphere and all its inhabitants. We have a sacred duty of care and preservation.

If this first premise is widely agreed upon then a number of possible restrictive actions follow:

1) Human reproductive freedom should/must be immediately limited to a rate of replacement and thus 0 growth. It is neither rational nor ethical that human population growth should be unlimited while the capacity of the biosphere to sustain such growth is not.

2) Human economic, political, scientific endeavors should be structured/organized in such a way as to produce the maximum benefit to the biosphere and its inhabitants. The source of all life takes precedence over particular lives and their parochial interests.

3) Humans should be educated and sensitized to their universal duty to the planet viewing themselves not just as “cosmopolitans” but as “defenders of the biosphere”.

4) Radical green politics should coordinate their policies on a voluntary, if urgent, worldwide foundation. Thus, Global governance should “green” with time.

These, of course, are just some basic ideas. The future of the Earth and not just humanity depends on both a change of consciousness and new ethical practices. We must leave our old nationalist, productivist, consumerist, paranoically competitive identities behind and become a new collectivity of planet loving “aliens” who have come to rescue us from ourselves.

Autumn 2019 Tour Reflections

The last of a series of gigs I’ve been doing over the past six weeks on the road was last night.  I don’t always manage to collect my thoughts on the experience into a blog post, but I will this time.

For a very long time now I have usually been doing two tours of this length or longer, every spring and every autumn.  Sometimes my lack of a blog post at the end is because I have no particularly new or trenchant observations to make about the places I’ve just been — at least not ones that are so distinct from the sorts of observations I made on my last pass through a given place.  Other times, I just don’t find the time.  It is frequently the case that the morning after my last gig on a tour, I’m flying home.  I tell myself I’m going to write in the plane, but then I usually find the conditions are too cramped, and the prospect of a nap and a couple of movies is more attractive, under the circumstances.  Then, getting home, I have several children to reconnect with after their father’s long absence, and the tour fades away from the sharpest parts of my memory, replaced with slides, swing sets and climbing walls.

The fact that I have two days free at the end of this tour to spend on a travelogue is part of the story of the tour, to be sure.  The length of the tour — a little over six weeks — was shorter than my usual two months.  This was intentional from the start.  Two months is too long to be away from young children, I decided a while ago.  But even filling these six weeks up with gigs proved to be a challenge, one which I failed to meet.

I don’t want to dwell on this depressing point, but it’s actually worse than it sounds.  Spending a week working on my upcoming album in Ireland was already part of the tour plan.  So really it was more a five-week tour.  Despite the fact that it had been about a year since I had been to any of the countries I toured in this time, I wasn’t even able to fill every available Friday and Saturday night with gigs.  In the end, I had 15 paying gigs, along with several protests to sing at, the album project, etc.  This was a good ten fewer gigs than I was originally hoping to have, and which I certainly could have fit in to my schedule, if they had materialized.

I won’t try to analyze why the tour went this way, because, thankfully, in Europe at least, this is not a trend, it’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.  If it happens again in the spring, I’ll call it a trend — and a devastating one at that.  If it is a trend, then it will be following in the wake of what has already happened in the United States, for me.  Despite the fact that around half of my listeners in the world are located in the US, according to all the online platforms where people find my music these days, and despite the fact that I live in the infamously artistic and theoretically progressive city of Portland, Oregon, I’m barely ever able to find anyone in the country who is able and willing to organize a gig that I can afford to do without losing money in the effort of getting there.

And while that trend also most certainly continues, that’s the last I’ll say about it.  Now, we move on from the “poor me” section of the travelogue, to other things.

Illinois

The tour began with a flight to St Louis, a night in a Motel 6, a rare phone interview with a community radio station the following morning, and a drive in a rental car several hours to the southeast, to Carbondale, Illinois.  Two organizers I’ve known for a long time, Anne Peterman and Orin Langelle, and the organization they have been spearheading for many years, the Global Justice Ecology Project, were part of a collective effort to attempt to rise to the occasion, in this age of flood and fire.

I can’t say, from my limited vantage point, how this extended weekend of workshops and meetings and such went, overall.  What was abundantly clear was the organizers had managed to bring together a collection of some real heavy-hitters from all over North America and a few from even further afield.  People who were or had recently been on the front lines of local, national and international campaigns of civil disobedience in defense of their threatened homes and homelands.  Water protectors from Lakota lands and from the bayous of Louisiana.  People trying to protect forests, forest people and forest economies in Brazil from massive corporations intent on assassinating leaders and razing everything around them for short-term profit, while doing it all with a bizarre eco-friendly fig leaf.  People trying to prevent logging and mining operations from destroying the last of the privately-owned forest lands, along with all the clean water in places like southern Illinois.

It was, for me, a reunion with many environmental activists I had not seen in ten or twenty years, who I used to see more often, when times were different, when there were student organizations with budgets to organize gigs of the sort that used to keep many of these activists on perpetual speaking and organizing tours, along with many like-minded musicians, such as me.  (Oops, I said I was done with that topic.)  Despite the many recent battles fought, we’re unquestionably losing, again and again, and the feeling of defeat among the ranks of those in attendance was pervasive.  I would rather say something different, and I know the organizers would surely rather I did, but that would be lying, and there’s no point in that sort of deceit.  There was little optimism anywhere to be found that weekend in what was once Shawnee country.  I was not there to attend meetings, and I did not attend any of them, but I was on the periphery of them enough to feel the treacherous, divisive winds of Extreme Identity Politics blowing from many directions, the toxic ideology of many lost people, particularly among the youth.  It’s nothing new, though the words change.  Me and many of my friends were similarly lost when we were young, suffering from the same lack of intergenerational coherency of radical thought that most of the US has been suffering from for most of the past century.  It’s also nothing new that in the absence of an optimistic, forward-looking social movement, we tend to turn in on each other.

In stark contrast to this air of defeat, strangely enough, was Mike Africa, Jr.  He and I were two of the musical guests for the weekend.  Sometime in the late 1990’s was the last time I had seen Mike, and it was from a distance.  It was in his home town of Philadelphia, and he was on a flatbed truck of some kind, part of a march in solidarity with death row prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal.  Someone pointed him out to me at the time.  “Those are Move kids,” I remember someone saying.

I was probably around thirty then, and Mike would have been around eighteen.  At that time, his parents had spent eighteen years in prison.  They would go on to spend 22 more years in prison between that day in Philadelphia and the next time I would see Mike, in Illinois, this time much more up close.

I spent most of two days talking with Mike, rediscovering his brilliant poetry and music, which, I learned, had been basically on hiatus since the last time I had seen him, so long ago.  After raising several children and ultimately, in 2018, seeing his parents finally freed from prison in Pennsylvania, Mike is ready to start touring again.  We talked about politics, life and history, but mostly we talked about the logistics of being an independent touring performer and how to attempt to make a living at it in the modern age, while remaining firmly connected to social movements — a tricky thing in so many ways (and I’ll leave it at that).  We quickly decided we should tour Europe together in the spring of 2020.

Aside from the logistical aspects — that I think I can interest people in Europe in organizing stops on such a tour, because Mike is a great hiphop artist with a fascinating life story that is, I can already report, of great interest to many people in Europe and elsewhere — what is also so compelling about Mike is the optimism in his words.  The importance of optimism in times like these cannot be overstated.  It’s the only thing that can change the world.  Not that optimism alone can change the world — just that without it, we’re surely doomed.

Germany

After my few days in Illinois, the tour took me to Germany, Ireland, Scotland and England.  I’ve noticed an increasing number of people on Twitter refer to themselves as “space travelers, like you.”  It seems appropriate to use a term that is evocative of another, fictional kind of travel, because space travel can often be a lot like time travel.

It’s not that Germany in 2019 feels exactly like traveling in time to somewhere else.  But it bears many similarities, along with the differences.  Singing at massive rallies organized by unions, that’s something I’ve never experienced in the US, which is a fairly common part of my experience of Germany (not that there were any on this particular trip).  Other things, like singing at a small protest through a sound system in solidarity with a Latin American country — in this case Venezuela — was an experience I used to have frequently in the US, but not since 2006 or so.  Singing at such a protest while someone was filming it, who then put the video up on YouTube, was an experience that has long since gone out of fashion in the US, in my little world.  It’s been years since anyone did that, that I can recall.  It used to happen almost daily.

In Freiburg, the Squatting Days series of events folks were having at the venerable KTS squatted social center beside the train tracks on the outskirts of the city were going to culminate in the squatting of a new building.  The organizers decided, if I was up for it, to change the plan for the concert, so instead of  having it at KTS, we’d do it at a newly-squatted building.

The building in question was a three-story structure with six two-bedroom apartments, very solidly built, as is typical in Germany.  Because of some kind of legal dispute involving the building, it had been vacant for years.  This band of squatters intended to change that, at least temporarily.  As it turned out, very temporarily.  The occupation lasted about a half hour before most of the occupiers, including me and my musical collaborator on the occasion, vacated the premises.  I am happy to say that it took several cops a very long time to look the foreign musicians up in their computers, which may very well have allowed a lot of squatters to casually leave the area without being noticed.

It was my first visit to the Hambach Forest, or what little is left of it, there beside the biggest coal mine in Europe, since Steffen Meyn fell to his death a year earlier.  More time travel — to two years earlier in the same place, or to the early 1990’s in California or Idaho.  The death of Steffen Meyn, combined with the rising activism around climate chaos that has been sweeping Europe and elsewhere in recent years, bears more and more resemblance to what we might call the heyday of what was known as the radical environmental movement in the US circa thirty years ago.  It also bears much of the same disconnect between punk, cop-despising treehuggers, and many average people who don’t understand their priorities.  These are not the Yellow Vests, or their German equivalent.  Many of them, like their Earth First cousins in North America, would not be embarrassed to admit that they prefer the company of squirrels to that of most people.  Their experiences with the police has not helped with their misanthropy at all.

Ireland

Although I have deep affection for humanity in every society in which I have encountered the species, very much including both Germany and Ireland, there are so many contrasts.  In Germany, as in the US and other countries with a deeply imperial imprint on the planet, to be a nationalist is to be a racist and a xenophobe.  In Germany, if you have too great an interest in the folk music of your region, you will draw suspicion from people who identify as left-wing.  Anyone who wears those traditional German trousers is assumed by any black-clad resident of Kreuzberg to be a closet fascist.

In Ireland, it may be a complex and fraught thing for someone from a Loyalist neighborhood in the northern Six Counties to have an interest in the Irish language or in Irish music, but for most anyone else on the island, having an abiding interest in your native language, your native music, your native country, and your native culture is to a very large extent wrapped up in the concept of Irish nationalism, which is itself completely historically wrapped up in internationalism and international solidarity.

The deep interest in Irish culture that is pervasive in Ireland has none of the flavor of identity politics that you’ll find throughout North America, and none of the genocidal intentions that can be lurking in the shadows — or often very much in the open — in German, US or British nationalism.  It is the nationalism of a people who have been told for centuries that they are not a people, or if they are, they are an inferior sort of people who should change, and stop speaking their language, singing their songs, playing their music, dancing their dances — for a long time, on pain of torture, imprisonment, death and/or exile.

Being there among my friends and within their communities, I feel like I can breath fully.  Which could be a strange thing to say, when you consider the fact that most of my friends in that part of Ireland have had friends and relatives tortured, killed or imprisoned for decades.  This is not so much history, as very recent, living memory, and also a simmering back-burner sort of present.  Rumors are everywhere, including in the press, that Loyalist militias are stockpiling weapons again.  Throughout the Cooley Mountains, where the album project was taking place, the metal signs are riddled with high-caliber bullet holes, along with the low-caliber ones.  (It’s easy to tell the difference.  The high-caliber bullets go cleanly through the metal, while the other ones just make dents.)

Despite what to many might feel like an ever-present threat of violence, there is, for me, a much more powerful presence of a deeply felt identification by a people with their own culture, history and place.  A culture which at least some people on the island have managed to not only preserve, but which continues to evolve, to interact with other cultures freely, and to continually produce world-influencing content (to use a modern term) of all kinds.

I was in Ireland this time for one purpose — to make an album.  I had run into Pol Mac Adaim in the summer in Denmark, which is when he mentioned that he had access to a home recording studio in Ireland.  Given that the musicians I most wanted to make an album with live in Ireland and Scotland, and included Pol, and given the fact that Pol was making this offer out of a desire to promote what he calls folk music (which is not defined the same way by the music industry, let’s just say), it was an easy decision for me to make.

Lorna McKinnon, Kamala Emanuel and I landed in Dublin, rented a car, and headed north to Ma Baker’s Pub in the ancient Norman village of Carlingford, in County Louth, just south of the border with County Down, and what people refer to as the North, the Six Counties, the Occupied Six Counties, or Northern Ireland, depending on who you’re talking to.  It was after midnight by the time we managed to get there, and Pol’s gig was over.  We followed him home, deep into a network of narrow little roads, eventually ending at a house surrounded by forested hills and fields dotted with sheep, quietly munching the grass around them.  This would be where we’d spend six 13-hour days recording guitar and vocal parts for the album, for which Pol has since been laying down pipe and whistle tracks, in preparation for the final phase of the process, that of mixing and mastering.

The recording experience was magical.  Or at least that’s what seems like the most appropriate word to use, when the sum of the parts equal so much more than any mathematical calculation would ever deliver.  Lorna and Kamala’s months of work on creating complex vocal arrangements, combined with Pol’s insights and abilities as a producer and engineer, were together creating a musical experience that was nothing like what any of the songs could ever have accomplished with just my voice and guitar as vehicles.

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When we weren’t recording, we were often talking.  Pol is the only one among his brothers who has not spent decades in prison.  He and his siblings grew up in Ardoyne, a particularly hard neighborhood in Belfast to grow up in, surrounded as it is by often very hostile Loyalist neighborhoods.  The conversations, along with some refreshing of my knowledge of certain events in recent Irish history, led to a song that I finished soon after I left the island.

Scotland

The beautiful northern region of the larger island to the east, Scotland, is a place of many contradictions, all of which seem to be at the very forefront of people’s attention these days.  This is also very much the case lately in England.  Most of the fissures in society and politics are the same, but they play out somewhat differently.

Scottish society was recently riven by the question of Scottish independence, which the voters ultimately voted against.  Then came Brexit, which most Scottish people also voted against, but which they are now stuck with, along with Northern Ireland and, for obvious reasons of history, sovereignty, culture, trade, geography and politics, the rest of Ireland as well.  Brexit may not be itself a massive dividing issue in Scotland, since most Scots opposed it.  But what is almost as divisive in Scotland as it is in England in recent months is how you stand on voting for Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labor Party.

The issue in both Scotland and England is distressingly and confusingly not a simple left-right issue.  To dip into it a little:  most, but by no means all, Scottish left-wingers supported Scottish independence.  But even if they didn’t, they still are interested in political devolution, or local autonomy, whatever you want to call it.  So they’re interested in promoting Scottish political parties that will look out for the Scottish working class, among other things, naturally enough.

But many radicals in England have joined the Labor Party in the very recent past, because of the new leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, which many people in England are wildly excited about, quite understandably, since he represents the most left leadership to challenge the neoliberal status quo of the party, and the government overall, since the 1960’s, at least.  Scotland now has plenty of Labor Party organizers trying to convince people who would normally vote for the Scottish National Party or another Scottish party, to hold their noses and vote Labor.  They are viewed alternately as pragmatists or traitors, depending on who you talk to and how much they’ve had to drink.

The contradictions of life for many people in Scotland, for Scottish history, to some extent, seem to be fairly well represented in the family history of one young man I met in Dundee, at my first of four gigs in Scotland on the tour.  He was related to two of my songs.  One of his relatives was a factory worker in East Kilbride who refused to repair the Chilean Air Force jet engines.  And one going further back was a member of the Scottish military regiment that put down the Welsh uprising of 1831.

England

First of all, I need to share my favorite songs that I heard people sing while I was there.  I had opening acts at most of my gigs, many of whom seemed to think their main job was to depress the audience in preparation for my set.  In stark contrast to these depressing, preachy left-wing guys and sometimes gals who kept on opening for me in various places, the best musicians I heard in my travels were at the two open mics I played at, where I was the feature act.  Here’s one I had to record, after getting her to do it a second time, a brilliant song about gentrification in London, recorded with my phone at Archie Shuttler’s open mic at the Telegraph.

One of the other highlights of the tour on a musical level was hearing a musician I’ve now known for many years who is currently going by the stage name, Morning Crush, singing one of my songs on the streets of Kingston-Upon-Thames, where he can frequently be found busking.  He first heard my music when he was 14 — one of several folks I met at various gigs who first heard me when they were 14.

England, more than anywhere I’ve been lately outside of the US, is in some kind of convulsive state.  It’s infinitely exacerbated by the entirely servile media, from the Guardian to the BBC to the rampant Murdoch tabloid press and tabloid TV, which continually paint Jeremy Corbyn alternately as a clown, a terrorist sympathizer, an anti-Semite, or some other such nonsense.  As with the US media and bipartisan political establishment and its relationship with Bernie Sanders, the British media and establishment would prefer to have some form of fascism over having anyone in power who dares to talk about nationalizing industries like health care or — gasp — housing.  The need for people to have medical care and housing are massive industries — nationalize them, and anything could be next.  Which is true — and the rich are aware of this fact, unfortunately.

Complicating matters massively is, once again, Brexit.  The much-hated current Prime Minister, Boris Eton Johnson, has long been championing the Brexit cause, which most of the population of the UK voted for in 2016.  Although Corbyn and many other socialists have long been more interested in a government that serves the interests of the working class and the environment rather than banks and oil companies, whether it’s a government based in London or in Brussels, he has effectively been shoved into the Remain box, becoming the de facto representative of the European Union, an institution which is about as popular as Boris Johnson.

The widespread optimism that characterized England a year ago, the last time I traveled in the country, is gone.  The love of Corbyn among his base, the recent Labor Party converts from the left, and most of the Labor Party members, is still there, but the optimism that accompanied his unexpected election to party leader, that this might somehow be transformed into a Labor majority in parliament and a Corbyn-led government, is no longer.  Perhaps he’ll win in the upcoming general election, but if he does, it will be a surprise to the entire political spectrum in the UK, as it is currently constituted on paper.

Despite the glum mood, and the fact that so many people I know are canvassing for the Labor Party, starting just before I landed in Britain, all of the gigs that I had in England were really good.  Some of the venues were too small to fit everyone who wanted to come, partly because we’re losing some of the bigger venues.  The Islington Folk Club in London was packed as it always is, but since it was forced to relocate to a smaller space, packing the club now requires about a third as many people as it used to (and, of course, the gig pays much less than it used to as a result).

One of the new and very poignant experiences of playing in England on this tour involved the reactions by audiences to my new song about the pogroms in 1969 in the Six Counties.  There were various interesting aspects to the experience.  Audiences were always listening extra intently to that song.  Many times, applause afterwards was more sustained than usual, as if to quietly make the point, we understand.  Many English people thanked me for writing about this important subject, specifically.  Many people from Belfast, Derry or other northern Irish towns who were at gigs in England shouted their approval, talked to me after the show, and told me how moved they were, how important it was that this was being talked about, and how much they had suffered from discrimination in England over the decades that many of them had been living there.

Pol Mac Adaim had talked to me about how well the British establishment had kept the truth of the occupation of Ireland and other brutally occupied colonies of the empire hidden from the average British subject.  But, he added, some people know the truth.  The soldiers who occupied his country live there, and they know.  It was these ex-soldiers that I also kept meeting at every gig where I sang that song.  They’re everywhere, and many of them, even though in many cases they’re in their sixties and seventies by now, they’re still too traumatized by the experience to talk about it much beyond letting me know they were there, and thanking me for the song.  The remorse is palpable, though apparently unexpressable.

The last time I had been in London I sang at a vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Julian Assange was then essentially imprisoned.  Some great filmmakers present that day made some great clips on Twitter out of the event.  I contacted one of them to see if he wanted to do some kind of thing in front of Belmarsh Prison, where Assange is now being held, as they consider extraditing him to the United States.  I realized the best thing would be for me to write a new song for the occasion, and the resulting music video that came of this collaboration is already a highlight of my career, such as it is.  I’ll sign off with that, in case you missed it…

Capitalism’s Suicidal Trajectory can’t be ignored

If we make it out of the climate emergency, we may come to view the few decades usually described simply as the Cold War that followed the Second World War as halcyon days – at least relative to what we are facing now.

The Cold War was a power struggle between two economic empires for global domination – between the United States and its vassal states, including Europe, on one side, and Russia and its vassal states lumped together into the Soviet Union, on the other. The fight was between a US-led capitalism and what was styled as a Soviet-led “communism”.

That struggle led to an all-consuming arms race, the rapid accumulation of vast nuclear arsenals, the permanent threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD), military bases in every corner of the planet, and the demonisation by each side of the other.

Not much has changed on any of those counts, despite the official ending of the Cold War three decades ago. The world is still on the brink of nuclear annihilation. The arms race is still at full throttle, though it is now dominated by private corporations making profits from “humanitarian interventions” based on “Shock and Awe” bombing campaigns. And the globe is still awash with military bases, though now the vast majority belong to the Americans, not the Russians.

‘End of history’

After the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, we moved from a bipolar world to a unipolar one – where the US had no serious military rival, and where there was no longer any balance of forces, even of the MAD variety.

That was why US empire intellectuals such as Francis Fukuyama could declare boldly and, with so much relief, the “end of history”. The US had won, capitalism had emerged victorious, the west’s ideology had prevailed. Having defeated its rival, the US empire – supposed upholder of democratic values – would now rule the globe unchallenged and benevolently. The dialectics of history had come to an end.

In a sense, Fukuyama was right. History – if it meant competing narratives, diverging myths, conflictual claims – had come to an end. And little good has resulted.

It is easy to forget that the start of the Cold War coincided with a time of intense international institution-building, flowering into the United Nations and its various agencies. Nation-states recognised, at least in theory, the universal nature of rights – the principle that all humans have the same basic rights that must be protected. And the rules governing warfare and the protection of civilians, such as the Geneva Conventions, were strengthened.

In fact, the construction of a new international order at that end of the Second World War was no coincidence. It was built to prevent a third and, in the nuclear age, potentially apocalyptic world war. The two new superpowers had little choice but to recognise that the other side’s power meant neither could have it all. They agreed to constraints, loose and malleable but strong enough to put some limits on their own destructive capabilities.

Carrot and stick

But if these two empires were locked in an external, physical struggle with each other, they equally feared an internal, ideological battle. The danger was that the other side might make a more persuasive case for its system with the opposing empire’s citizens.

In the US, this threat was met with both carrot and stick.

The stick was provided by intermittent witch hunts. The most notorious, led by Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, searched for and demonised those who were considered “un-American”. It was no surprise that this reign of terror, exposing “Communists”, focused on the ultimate US myth-making machine, Hollywood, as well as the wider media. Through purges, the creative class were effectively recruited as foot soldiers for US capitalism, spreading the message both at home and abroad that it was the superior political and economic system.

But given the stakes, a carrot was needed too. And that was why corporate capitalism was tamed for a few decades by Keynesian economics. The “trickle-down” effect wasn’t simply a talking-point, as it is now. It was a way of expanding the circle of wealth just enough to make sure a middle class would stop any boat-rocking that might threaten the wealth-elite running the US empire.

War of attrition

The Cold War was a war of attrition the Soviet Union lost. It started to break apart ideologically and economically through the 1980s – initially with the emergence of a trade union-led Solidarity movement in Poland.

As the Soviet empire weakened and finally collapsed, capitalism’s internal constraints could be lifted, allowing Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to unleash unregulated neoliberal economics at home. That process intensified over the years, as global capitalism grew ever more confident. Unfettered, capitalism anticipated its ultimate fate in 2008, when the global financial system was brought to its knees. The same will happen again soon enough.

Nonetheless, Soviet collapse is often cited as proof of two things: not only that capitalism was a better system than the Soviet one, but that it has shown itself to be the best political and economic system human beings are capable of devising.

In truth, capitalism looks impressive only comparatively – because the Soviet system was appallingly inefficient and brutal. Its authoritarian leaders repressed political dissent. Its rigid bureaucracies stifled wider society. Its paranoid security services surveilled the entire population. And the Soviet command-style economy was inflexible, lacked innovation and regularly led to shortages.

The weaknesses and atrocities of capitalism have been much less obvious to us only because the culture in which we are so steeped has told us for so long, and so relentlessly, that capitalism is a perfect, peerless system based on our supposedly competitive, acquisitive natures.

Installing dictators

History, remember, is written by the victor. And capitalism won. We who live in the capitalist west only hear one side of the story – the one about vanquishing Communism.

We know almost nothing of our own Cold War history: how the US empire cared not a whit about democracy abroad, only about extracting other people’s resources and creating dependent markets for its goods. It did so by cultivating and installing dictators around the globe, usually on the pretext that they were necessary to stop evil “Communists” – often popular democratic socialists committed to redistributing wealth – from taking over.

Think of General Augusto Pinochet, who headed a brutal dictatorship in Chile through the 1970s and 1980s. The US helped him launch a military coup against the democratically elected left wing leader, Salvador Allende, in 1973. He created a society of fear, executing and torturing tens of thousands of political opponents, so he could introduce a “Shock Doctrine” free-market system developed by US economists that plunged the country’s economy into free-fall. Wealth in Chile, as elsewhere, was siphoned off to a US elite and its local allies.

This catastrophic social and economic meddling was replicated across Latin America and far beyond. In the post-war years, Washington was not just responsible for the terrible suffering its war machine inflicted directly to stop the “Communists” in Latin America and south-east Asia. It was equally responsible for the enormous number of casualties inflicted by its clients, whether in Latin America, Africa, Iran or Israel.

Military-industrial complex

Perhaps the US empire’s greatest innovation was outsourcing its atrocities to private corporations – the emergence of a military-industrial complex Dwight D Eisenhower, the former US army general, warned about in his farewell address of 1961, as he stood down as president.

The global corporations at the heart of the US empire – the arms industries, oil companies and tech firms – won the war of attrition not because capitalism was better, fairer, more democratic or more humane. The corporations won because they were more creative, more efficient, less risk-averse, more psychopathic in their hunger for wealth and power than Soviet bureaucracies.

All those qualities are now unimpeded by the constraints once imposed by a bipolar world, one shared between two superpowers. Global corporations now have absolutely unfettered power to drain the planet of every last resource to fuel a profit-driven, consumption-obsessed system of capitalism.

The truth of that statement was mostly unspeakable 16 years ago when one was ridiculed as a tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist for pointing out that the US had invented two pretexts – Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and its equally imaginary ties to al-Qaeda – to grab control of that country’s oil.

Now Donald Trump, the foolish, brash president of the United States, doesn’t even bother to conceal the fact that his troops are in Syria to control its oilfields.

Toothless watchdogs

The unipolar world that resulted from the fall of the Soviet Union has not only removed the last constraints on the US empire’s war-making abilities, the external battle. It has also had terrible repercussions for the internal, ideological battlefront.

Control of the media has grown ever more concentrated. In the US the flow of information is controlled by a handful of global corporations, often with connections to the very same arms, oil and tech industries so keen to ensure the political climate allows them to continue pillaging the planet unhindered.

For some time I have been documenting examples of the corporate media’s falsehoods in these columns, as you can read here.

But US elites have come to dominate too the post-war international institutions that were created to hold the superpowers to account, to serve as watchdogs on global power.

Now isolated and largely dependent on funding, and their legitimacy, from the US and its European allies, international monitoring agencies have become pale shadows of their former selves, leaving no one to challenge official narratives.

The combined effect of the capture of international institutions and the concentration of media ownership has been to ensure we live in the ultimate echo chamber. Our media uncritically report self-serving narratives from western officials that are then backed up by international agencies that have simply become loudhailers for the US empire’s goals.

A coup becomes ‘resignation’

Anyone who doubts that assessment needs only to examine the reporting of last week’s military coup in Bolivia, which overthrew the democratically elected leader Evo Morales. Corporate media universally described Morales’ ousting and escape to Mexico in terms of him “resigning”. The media were able to use this preposterous framing by citing claims by the highly compromised, US-funded Organisation of American States (OAS) that Morales’ rule was illegitimate.

Similarly, independent investigative journalist Gareth Porter has shown convincingly how the International Atomic Energy Agency, the body monitoring states’ nuclear activities, has come under the US imperial thumb.

Its inspectors produced gravely misleading information to help the US make a bogus case justifying Israel’s bombing in 2007 of what was claimed to be a secret nuclear reactor built in Syria.

The deceptions, it later emerged, included the IAEA violating its own protocols by concealing the results of the samples taken from the site that showed there was no radioactive contamination. Instead the IAEA highlighted one anomalous finding in a changing-room that was almost certainly caused by cross-contamination from an inspector.

Head-choppers humanised

Another stark illustration of how international agencies have been captured is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). It has played a central role in bolstering an unproven US narrative, echoed by the western corporate media, that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has been responsible for a spate of chemical weapons attacks on his own people.

That narrative has been vital to western efforts at justifying regime change in a key Middle Eastern state resistant to US-Israeli-Saudi hegemony in the region. The narrative has also been useful in “humanising” the head-chopping extremists of Islamic State and al-Qaeda – which were in control of the areas where these alleged attacks took place – making it easier for the west to support them in a proxy war to oust Assad, a battle that has created untold misery for Syrians.

But the OPCW is no longer the independent, respected expert body it once was. Long ago it fell under effective US control – back in 2003 when its first director-general, Jose Bustani, was forced out by Washington in the run-up to the attack of Iraq. That was when the US needed to manufacture a false pretext for invasion by suggesting that Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction. US official John Bolton even threatened Bustani’s children, so desperate was George W Bush’s administration to cow the agency.

In Syria, the post-Bustani OPCW has been the lynchpin of the US narrative spin against Assad. Basic investigative protocols have been discarded by the OPCW, such as the requirement of a “chain of custody” to ensure any samples handed to it can be properly attributed. Instead the OPCW has implicated the Syrian government in the alleged chemical attacks based on samples collected by Islamist extremists desperate to justify more western meddling against Assad to bolster their own rule in Syria.

The first real test of the chemical weapons narrative came last year in Douma, where the Islamists argued that they had again been attacked. That claim led to the US, Britain and France launching missile strikes on Syrian positions in violation of international law.

Days later the Islamists lost control of the city to Assad’s forces and for the first time OPCW inspectors were able to visit the scene of an alleged attack themselves and collect their own samples.

Douma findings distorted

The official report into Douma, published earlier this year, appeared to confirm the US narrative. It hinted strongly that the Syrian air force had dropped two bombs located by the OPCW and that those sites had tested positive for the chemical chlorine.

But thanks to two separate whistleblowers from the OPCW, one of whom was an investigator in Douma, we now know that the official report was not the one submitted by the investigators and did not reflect the evidence they unearthed or their scientific analyses of the evidence. It was rewritten by the OPCW officials in the Hague to suit Washington’s agenda.

The official report was, in fact, a complete distortion of the evidence. Investigators found that levels of chlorine at the supposed bomb sites were no higher than background levels, and less than found in drinking water – nowhere near enough to have killed Douma’s victims shown in photos produced by the Islamist groups.

The investigators’ findings suggested an entirely different narrative: that the Islamists in Douma had placed the bombs at the two sites to make it look like a chemical attack had taken place and thereby provide a pretext for even deeper western interference.

It was not difficult to understand why officials in the OPCW’s head office had decided to conceal their expert inspectors’ findings and submit to US intimidation.

The real findings would have:

  • undermined the official narrative unquestioningly attributing the earlier chemical weapons attacks to the Syrian government, in turn making a mockery of western claims to humanitarian concern in aiding and funding years of a devastating proxy war in Syria;
  • revealed the politicisation of the OPCW, and the corporate media’s supine treatment of the Islamists’ claims;
  • intimated at the collusion between western governments and Islamist groups that have been slaughtering non-Sunni populations in the Middle East and launching terror attacks in the west;
  • highlighted that the US-British-French military attack on Syria in response – a violation of Syria’s sovereignty – was not simply a war crime but the “supreme war crime”;
  • and bolstered the case for the Syrian government to be allowed to regain control of its territory.

Down the memory hole

The leaks from the OPCW whistleblowers paint a very troubling picture, where our most trusted international institutions can no longer be relied on to seek out the truth. They are there to serve the world’s sole super-power as it seeks to manipulate us in ways that accrete ever more power to it.

It is quite extraordinary that the mounting evidence that OPCW officials conspired in the falsifying of evidence to help the US empire overthrow another government is not considered news, let alone front-page news. There has been a complete media blackout on these revelations.

In an unguarded moment back in May when she heard about the first whistleblower, the BBC’s much-admired chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet responded to a Twitter follower that it was “an important story” and that she would “make sure programmes know about it”.

Six months and another whistleblower later, neither Doucet nor the BBC have uttered so much as a squeak about the discrediting of the OPCW report. This “important story” has been collectively plunged down the memory hole by the corporate media.

In this confected unipolar reality, we, the public, have been left compass-less, exposed to fake news not only from wayward social media sites or self-interested governments but from the large media “watchdogs” and the very global institutions supposedly set up to act as dispassionate arbiters of truth and justice. We have been returned to a world where might alone makes right.

Environmental destruction

Things are bad enough already, but all the evidence suggests they are going to get a lot worse. Capitalism’s problems go beyond its inherent need for violence and war to acquire yet more territory and open up new markets. Its economic logic is premised on endless growth, based on unremitting resource extraction from a finite planet.

That causes two major problems.

One is that as the west runs out of resources – most obviously oil – to fuel its endless consumption, resource extraction will become ever more difficult and less profitable. Markets are shrinking and the ramifications can now be felt at home too. Youngsters in the west have no hope of being as successful or wealthy as their parents, or even grandparents.

In a world of diminishing resources and no serious ideological or economic rival, Keynesian economics – the basis on which western elites won over their publics by enlarging the middle class – has been discarded as an unnecessary indulgence. We are in an era of permanent austerity for the many to subsidise the further enrichment of the already fabulously wealthy few.

But second, and much worse, capitalism is being exposed as a suicidal ideology. In its compulsion to monetise everything, it is polluting the oceans with plastic and choking the air with particulates. It is rapidly extinguishing insect life, the main barometer of the planet’s health. It is destroying habitats necessary for larger animals and for biodiversity. And it is creating a climate that humans will soon not be able to survive.

Capitalism isn’t unique in degrading the environment. Soviet economies were quite capable of it too. But as with everything else it touches, capitalism has proved to be uniquely efficient at destroying the planet.

Sinking boat

It is no longer just poor people out of sight in far-off lands who are being made victims of capitalism, though for the time being they are still the worst hit.

They are fleeing the lands we helped to degrade with our weapons, and the crop failures that resulted from the climate change our industries fuelled, and the poverty we increased through our resource grabs and addiction to consumption. But in our continuing arrogance we block their escape with tougher immigration policies and “hostile environment” strategies. We trivialise the plight of those we have displaced through our globe-spanning system of greed as “economic migrants”.

It is gradually becoming clearer – with the environmental emergency – that we are all ultimately in the same boat. It is only the supremely efficient propaganda machine created by the capitalist elite that still persuades too many of us that there is no way to get off the boat. Or that if we try, we will drown.

But the stark reality is that we are in a sinking boat – the sinking boat of capitalism. The hole is growing and water rushing in faster by the day. Inaction means certain death. It is time to be brave, open our eyes and search for dry land.

Should We Trust Science?

Scientists working on the issue have often told me that, once upon a time, they assumed, if they did their jobs, politicians would act upon the information. That, of course, hasn’t happened. Anything but, across much of the planet. Worse yet, science failed to have the necessary impact in significant part because of disinformation promoted by the major fossil-fuel companies, which have succeeded in diverting attention from climate change and successfully blocking meaningful action.”

— Naomi Oreskes, author of Why Trust Science? and professor of the history of science at Harvard University

There were 60 of us with four facilitators asking us deep questions about the best ways to protest, preserve, rehabilitate and reimagine Oregon’s rocky intertidal habitat.

“What does make a community resistant and resilient?” Steven S. Rumrill, Department of Fish and Wildlife shellfish program leader, asked us all.

In a nutshell, this breakout session was a microcosm of Saturday’s conference, State of the Coast at Salishan Resort.

Three other leads to this afternoon session titled, “Complex and Connected: Holistic Approaches to Management in the Nearshore” — Sarah Gravem, OSU Marine Ecologist; Dom Kone, OSU graduate student in Marine Resource Management; and Deanna Caracciolo, Department of Land Conservation and Development – challenged us to think about issues near and dear to not only the scientists, but to us lay persons. We held onto the anchor question: “What makes the Oregon Coast vibrant, healthy and a visitor destination.”

Rumrill posed key brainstorming questions:

1. What are the primary drivers of variability in rocky habitats?

2. What are the key stressors and threats to them?

3. What proactive steps can resource managers take?

4. Think of five words associated with holistic management of rocky shores.

Coastal Confab Inspires Next Generation

This was the sixth year in a row for the State of the Coast, but this past Saturday’s was the first sold out gig, according to Shelby Walker with Oregon Sea Grant, main sponsor of the Gleneden Beach soirée.

The all-day session included the requisite keynote – Bonnie Henderson, author of several books, to include “Day Hiking: Oregon Coast,” “The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast” and “Strand: An Odyssey of Pacific Ocean Debris.”

Even more compelling and intriguing — and dovetailed to the State of the Coast theme of looking into the future — 28 student researchers with their poster projects displayed in the Longhouse conference room, and the 10 student artists alongside their creative endeavors, with both groups being voted on by all the guests.

Projects tied to pollution, microplastics, the Pacific heat blob, hormone mimickers, ocean acidification and more are at the forefront of these highly motivated and interdisciplinary-steeped students from Oregon State University, University of Oregon, Portland State University.

 

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I spent time talking with Reyn Yoshioka from UO, as he explained the remarkable findings in his participation in Oregon Institute of Marine Biology’s BioBlitz in the Coos Bay area. We discussed how his team’s inventory of invertebrates would be ideal to present to city and county officials, as well as groups like Rotary clubs and chambers of commerce.

“The people with political and economic clout need to see not only the work you all do, but what really is at stake if anything threatens this incredible biodiversity,” I told many of the fledging scientists and artists.

Every single one agreed. Many asked me how they might connect to myriad other stakeholders and powerbrokers in their communities.

I introduced Reyn to OSU senior in arts Kenneth Koga, whose watercolors of various elements of a vibrant ecosystem bring the scientist’s eye in focus with a much broader scope beyond just the materialistic world and into the interpretation of nature through the artist’s lens. Reyn told me “it would have been cool” to have dancers, photographers, painters, sculptors and musicians as part of the biodiversity transect inventory.

The Arts Help Define and Contextualize Science

While we received quick teach-ins (one hour presentations of eight minutes each) from researchers looking at rocky habitats, the warm Pacific blob, Oregon’s five marine reserves, sea star wasting disease, threats to Gray, fin, blue and humpback whales on the West Coast, and the status of groundfish recovery, Marion O. Rossi, OSU Associate Dean of Liberal Arts, gave a quick snapshot of Republican Governor Tom McCall’s legacy in helping preserve our coastal habitats.

Author Studs Terkel asked McCall decades ago where the heroes of the political world are. “Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky,” McCall said. “ They are people who say, ‘This is my community, and it’s my responsibility to make it better.’”

Rossi and I talked about what better things might be done to bridge the divide between the sciences (and technology, engineering and math – STEM) and the arts.

Part of the conference included a rather telling – possibly debilitating – aspect of science and various stakeholders. I counted more than 21 agencies involved in just managing and setting plans for our rocky habitats. Unfortunately, there are many more agencies, bureaucracies, boards, quasi-legal, legislative, non-profit, industry groups with some sort of skin in the game tied to our coast.

Think of tide-pools, habitat for many juvenile species, kelp incubators, biodomes to invertebrates such as anemones and sea stars. One issue we tackled was the fact that we can love our coastlines to death; i.e., since we have so many visitors and local aficionados wanting to get into these areas, so many species are being trampled upon.

Ecological balance, keystone species and the entire web of life also were prominent discussion points for the speakers.

For instance, the wasting disease promulgated deeper response in coordinated research projects called STARS – Seastar Tragedy and Recovery Study. Sarah Gravem of OSU discussed the implications of this species’ decline most probably attributed to a virus as well as ocean conditions (warming) spurring the virus’ growth. In some areas along the Pacific Coast, there had been a 100 percent die-off of sea stars observed in 2018. Recovery has been slow.

The ecological consequences from this wasting disease hitting pisaster ochraceus that once was ubiquitous in our rocky shorelines (purple, orange, brown many-legged beauties) spurred a kind of domino effect.

• this predatory sea star feeds on the mussel Mytilus californianus and is responsible for maintaining much of the local diversity of species within certain communities

• compensatory predators come in when a die-off hits

• low sea star prey growth occurs upsetting the balance of the ecosystem

All these pieces to the marine puzzle make up the coast’s mosaic of life. With warming waters, the bull kelp die off, and then sea urchins populations explode and any sort of juvenile kelp that might attempt a foothold on rocky bottoms gets gobbled up by the armies of sea urchins.

Everything is connected in the coastal life in and around the sea.

Whose Oregon Is It?

The Oregon Coast Trail is a hiking trail along the Pacific Coast. The length depends on the use of ferries, and varies between 382 miles (615 km) and 428 miles (689 km). The trail is set out on the beach, paved roads and tracks.

– Traildino.com

“You know, the funny thing about aging is you can watch entire forests grow,” author Bonnie Henderson said. “Fifty years is a harvest rotation. I can say to the students here you will watch forests grow thanks to those with vision and persistence.”

The author made it clear that her love of the Oregon Coast Trail could have only been germinated through the auspices and hard work of forerunners like Governor Tom McCall who pushed the 1967 Oregon “beach bill,” making all beaches accessible to the public.

She went back farther, 1913, to Oswald West, the governor who made all Oregon’s public beaches highways for wagons, horses and cars. Fellows like state Parks chief Sam Boardman (retired 1950) increased the acreage for coastal parks almost 20-fold. Then Sam Dickens, a Kentuckian who ended up running the UO geology department, saw the value in knitting together all the trails in Oregon, along the coast.

The well-known Pacific Crest Trail is more than 2,600 miles long and takes five months to traverse in snow-free conditions. It’s a wild back-country affair, whereas the Oregon Coast Trail cuts through cities, highways towns and waysides. Henderson has traversed it many times.

She is fighting for more camping areas. She is also keen on her other position as communications director for the Northwest Land Conservancy, trying to get more land set aside for a reserve in Oswald Park near Cape Falcon. That’s a $10 million fund drive, of which the NWLD has procured half.

With the snow season hitting the Sierras and rampant fires in California and Oregon, many people had to forego their Pacific Coast Trail adventure and ended up on the Oregon Coast Trail in 2017 and 2018.

She rhetorically asked how long people have been hiking and walking along the trail. Jorie Clark, OSU Geology and Geophysics department, has looked at the shoreline changes dating back 18,000 years when the oceans along the Pacific were 450 feet lower than today. It was around 6,000 years ago when the ocean hit the current level.

There were glaciers along the coast dating back 14,000 years, but also evidence of people from Chile up to Oregon, before the land bridge, who went along the so-called “kelp highway” where they found enough refugia to survive, Henderson told the crowd.

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Rejecting Cornell University — Art for Art’s Sake

Ram Papish apologizes to the group in his breakout session for a jump drive failure. He is wearing self-designed blue jeans with a collection of tufted puffins painted all over.

He currently lives and works out of Toledo, and his artwork is not only of interest to collectors. More importantly, he has worked with Oregon State Parks on 63 panels of interpretative work tied to our wonderfully varied ecosystems.

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All along the Oregon Coast, at waysides and other locales, these illustrated panels are set throughout the tourists’ pathway. Here are just a few of the illustrated large panels:

• Salmon Life Cycle

• Tidepool Explorer

• Sea Bird Island

• Tidepool Life

• Shorebird Stopover

• Mixing Zone

He tells the mostly young students in the session that he had to fight hard to become successful, and he said it was just last year when he began to feel somewhat secure in his artistic profession.

He has illustrated field guides, and in his early life he spent half the year as a guide in Alaska and then the other half as an artist – 15 years straight undertaking that lifestyle. He’s an avid photographer and he has worked sculpting into his life – with works including the walrus that sticks out of the wall at Hatfield Marine Science Center.

When I went to college, I didn’t think I could make a living at it. I sent out dozens of portfolios to publishers and children’s book publishers. I was really naïve.

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The introduction to art class at Cornell was a turning point in his pursuit: “The professor was basically trying to teach us how to be a snobby artist. I wasn’t going to have any part of that.”

Ram’s drive is to connect people to nature. He works mostly on commission, gigs assigned by Oregon State Parks, other agencies and publishers. His drawing avocation started when he was very young, and by age 14 he was designing dolls.

Questions abounded at his talk; he stated his interpretative panels follow the Rule of Threes –

It’s better to have less text. Over the years we went from textbooks on a stick to art pieces with no more than 300 words.

• three seconds to get the headlines

• 30 seconds to glance over the panel

• three minutes to read everything, including the captions

I ask him who his inspirations were. He rattles off Lars Jonsson and Robert Bateman. His number-one inspirator was a guy who wrote a book, Birds in Art. That was Larry McQueen, who ironically turned out to be living in Eugene where the young Ram lived. Ram saw his photo in the newspaper. It turned out Ram had been his paperboy from age 12 to 14. Ram introduced himself to McQueen and ever since he has been Ram’s inspiration.

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Our Collective Potlatch

There are many challenges to our coast – to the livelihoods of the people who make money off our coast’s marine resources. There are challenges to scientists who have to spend more time stumping for grants. There are many silos of people who are gatekeepers of information but fail to abide by transparency. Tourism and sustainable economies are debated weekly in city council meetings.

Unfortunately, for many coastal people, the elephants in the room are global warming, ocean level rise and ocean acidification and hypoxia. I’ve written about researchers diving deep into those topics.

But the bandwidth of the American public, lawmakers and industry is taken up by the stumbling blocks to progress – profits at any cost and doing business as usual for the benefit of a few rich people and stockholders.

The state of the coast, as seen at the Salishan Resort, is one tied to vibrant thinkers and activists; scientists and researchers; explorers and dreamers.

On the surface, some things look hunky-dory, but when we peel back layers as both naturalists and scientists, we see a more varied and complicated picture. The State of the Coast is a multivariant symphony of sometimes syncopated and discordant arias.

Music is in the eye of the beholder, but for our coast, the people dedicated to learning and sharing are really the bedrock for the rest of us who find some niche or dream or hope in this place.

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Maybe we need this sort of potlatch — the name given to most Northwest Coast celebrations – every month.

Imagine, State of the Coast as our potlatch, from the Nuu-chah-nulth “pachitle”’ (potlatch), which means “to give.” How much does the reader have to give to this vibrant and vulnerable coast? How much do you have at stake in ensuring future generations have a healthy coast?

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Note: Article first appeared in Oregon Coast Today, author’s copyright.

China’s vision for the future is “Give Peace a Chance”

China’s vision for the future is “Give Peace a Chance”. It is also the title of one of John Lennon’s most prominent songs. It became the anthem for the anti-war movement, at the time of the US-waged war against Vietnam. John Lennon was a peace activist. No wonder he was ostracized, considered enemy number one by the US establishment, was followed and surveyed by the FBI – and was eventually assassinated. October 9, 1940 is his birthday.

“Give Peace a Chance” is the key motto for China’s peace philosophy throughout her 70-years Revolution, often against challenging situations, especially in the last decade with almost permanent aggressions of one kind or another by the United States and their coopted allies in Europe. China is a tremendous challenge for the west, not only because of her sheer size and economic and technological advances, but also because China seeks peaceful cooperation and development around the globe.

The West does not seek Peace. Peace is bad for business. War is good and profitable, as such renown mainstream journals as the Washington Post have openly propagated in their op-ed columns time and again. Anecdotally, both world wars were initiated in the west. This is the premise under which the permanent western aggressions against the east, especially the leadership of the east, China and Russia, are being waged.

The motto of non-aggression and Peace – a Tao doctrine – prevails in China’s foreign policy as the top principle as of this date. And there is no indication that China will depart from this Peace dogma which has brought her internal stability, international recognition and has made China over the last decades one of the world’s foremost economies, as well as a leader in technological and environmental advances. This, despite constant western castigating for pirating western technology and destroying the environment. The demonization is like a propaganda tool to deviate the world’s attention from western capitalist disasters around the world. But China moves on, undisturbed, generously, with a vision for a common future for mankind all mankind, not just China.

On 1 October, China celebrated the 70th Anniversary of her Revolution. China’s vision began with the Chinese Revolution, when China’s leader of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong, declared the Independent People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949, succeeding the Republic of China (1912). In fact, China’s Revolution already began just after the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), at the end of WWII, with the Chinese Civil war (1945 – 1949), also called the War of Liberation.

The International Forum on “China’s 70-Year Development and the Construction of the Community with a Shared Future for Mankind”, 5-6 November in Shanghai, is part of the celebration. It is a forward-looking event with a Chinese vision for the future. To better grasp that vision for the future, here is a quick look at the past.

History with Foresight

Visionary Chairman Mao Zedong wanted to finally free the people of China from hundreds of years of western colonization and oppression, from the calamities of Opium Wars I and II (British imposed 1839-1842, and 1856-1860) and engaged the Chinese Communist Party (CPC – Communist Party of China) in an all-out confrontation with the Kuomintang (KMT), or the second phase of the Civil War (1945 – 1949).  The KMT, also called the Nationalist Party, was led by General Chiang Kai-shek, who succeeded KMT’s founder, Sun Yat-sen, after his death in 1925.

Chiang Kai-shek had the support of the United States, whose main objectives were stopping the “spread” of communism and maintaining continuous access to China’s riches, mostly in the form of natural resources, but also by exploiting the Chinese labor force. Washington ordered Chiang to break all relations with the Soviet Union and to eliminate the threat of a communist leadership in China. This led to a lingering on and off conflict from the 1920s onwards between KMT and the CPC (also considered the first phase of the Civil War).

Hostilities began shortly after the foundation of the KMT in 1919 which was ‘helped’ by the United States. While Mao and his Communist Party emerged as the winner of the Civil War in 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and his followers took over the Chinese Province of Taiwan, where Kuomintang is still the ruling party. China’s non-aggression against the occupation of Taiwan is one of the many demonstrations of China’s peaceful diplomatic approach to conflict.

The current President of the Republic of China, as Taiwan calls itself, although it is a part of China, is Tsai Ing-wen, a politician and professor, in office since 2016. He caters entirely to the interests of Washington and the west in general, even vying to buy independently – and totally illegally – weapons from the US. While part of the PRC, Taiwan enjoys a certain autonomy, again compliments of China’s non-belligerent approach to conflicts.

Today, Taiwan is still recognized by 14 countries out of 193 UN members as the official representative of China. This, despite the fact that the UN declared the People’s Republic of China already in 1971 as the official representative of China with one of the five permanent seats in the UN Security Council (UNSC). Countries recognizing Taiwan as official China, still bending over to please Washington, are becoming fewer and fewer, as China is emerging as the number one economy of the world; call it socioeconomy, because China’s advancements are not just measured by the western standards of linear economic growth, but promote distributive growth, encompassing also vast improvements of people’s quality of life.

Mao’s victory brought a new era to the Chinese people. With what he called the Great Leap Forward (1958 – 1962), Mao and the CPC led a social and economic campaign converting the rural agrarian areas into a socialist industrialized economy through communal farming or agricultural cooperatives. This 4-year effort was constantly attacked and disrupted by infiltrated anticommunist saboteurs at a high social and monetary cost for China. But it served as a learning phase. China’s flamboyant rise to the second (by some accounts the first) world economy, proved that the lessons helped defeat US interference then and today.

The ten-year Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) was Mao’s sociopolitical movement aiming at cleaning socialist China from infiltrated capitalist elements and influences. Then, and to some extent still today, China was full with so-called Fifth Columnists, a term coined during the Spanish Civil war, when General Franco’s Nazi-party, the “Falange”, were able to defeat the legitimately elected Republicans, because the “Falange” had what they called a “Fifth Column” clandestinely embedded among the Republican defense forces in Madrid. Today Fifth Columnists are everywhere. They come in all shapes and forms, including disguised as western NGOs, in every country that Washington and its western allies want to dominate and provoke ‘regime change’.  It was clear that the west, predominantly the emerging US empire, wanted to disrupt Mao’s revolution; they would not let China flourish under her own political, communist values and beliefs.

Foreign meddling in China’s Revolution came at a huge cost for China. As a consequence, Mao’s revolutions are often portrayed by the west as failures, the usual western tarnishing the success of other nations, of other socioeconomic systems, in order to hide the west’s own disastrous failures. From a Chinese and humanitarian perspective, Mao’s Revolutions have drastically improved the public education and health system, have eradicated endemic deadly diseases inherited from the western dominated colonial and KMT times and, foremost, poverty was largely eradicated. As of these days, about 750 million people have been lifted out poverty. Alleviation of poverty was an emphasis under both of Mao’s Revolutions. These Revolutions also taught valuable lessons to Chinese scholars and future leaders and have drastically advanced China towards food self-sufficiency which she reached by 2018.

It is thanks to these lessons that, after Mao’s death in 1976, his successor, Deng Xiaoping, led China through a far-reaching economic reform, including elements of a market economy, however, always under central government control, a principle that is maintained as of today. Deng called the new Chinese economic model “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, a principal that continues today. He helped develop China into the world’s fastest-growing economy, improving the lives of hundreds of millions of citizens. Deng also masterminded the return of Hong Kong from a UK colony to China in 1997, and Macau from Portugal in 1999. The transition was completed by Deng’s successor, Jian Zemin.

Deng retired in 1992. His successor, Jian Zemin, had several high-ranking positions in previous governments and was President of the PRC from 1993 – 2003. Jian opened China further for foreign investments and trade. He visited the US in 1997, where he met with President Clinton. Jian followed a non-confrontational foreign policy, like his predecessors, strengthened relations with western partners, especially the United States, and maintained at home an economic annual growth of at least 8%. This led to an explosion of wealth, but also initially to a less than optimal distribution of wealth, most of which concentrated along China’s eastern shores, risking conflicts with the lesser developed Chinese “hinterland”.

Hu Jintao followed Juan Zemin as China’s Paramount Leader from 2002 to 2012. Hu, as a rather modest leader, along with his Premier, Wen Jiabao, and his Vice-President, Xi Jinping, continued the policy of economic growth and development, achieving more than a decade of double-digit growth, however shifting the economy gradually more to non-consumption growth, fostering, instead, socioeconomic equality, aiming at building a “Harmonious Socialist Society”.

Hu was seeking a prosperous China, free of internal social conflicts and pursued internally and externally a “peaceful development policy” – with ‘soft power’ meaning a diplomatic approach to foreign policy issues, that was never confrontational. During Hu’s rule China increased its influence in Africa and Latin America, laying the groundwork for future closer relationships with these regions. Hu was also known for shared and consensus-based leadership. Hu was succeeded in 2013 by Xi Jinping.

The Vision

Enter the era of President Xi Jinping. He is a lawyer, chemical engineer, philosopher – and visionary. On 7 September 2013, President Xi Jinping gave a speech at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University, in which he spoke about ‘People-to-People Friendship and Creating a better Future”. He referred to the Ancient Silk Road of more than 2,100 years ago, that flourished during China’s Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24).

Referring to this epoch of more than 2,000 years back, Xi Jinping pointed to the history of exchanges under the Ancient Silk Road, saying:

They had proven that countries with differences in race, belief and cultural background can absolutely share peace and development as long as they persist in unity and mutual trust, equality and mutual benefit, mutual tolerance and learning from each other, as well as cooperation and win-win outcomes.

Xi’s vision may be shaping the world of the 21st Century. He designed and engineered the Belt and Road Initiative, loosely modeled according to the Ancient Silk Road, soon after assuming the Presidency in 2013. He launched this ground-breaking “project”, a fabulous idea to connect the world with transport routes, infrastructure, industrial joint ventures, teaching and research institutions, cultural exchange and much more. Enshrined in China’s Constitution, BRI has become the flagship for China’s foreign policy.

BRI is literally building bridges and connecting people of different continents and nations. The purpose of the New Silk Road is to construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets, through cultural exchange and integration, to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, ending up in an innovative pattern with capital inflows, talent pool, and technology database”.

During the 19th National Congress in 2017, BRI was included in the Chinese (CPC) Constitution as an amendment to promote the BRI’s objective of “shared interests” and “shared growth” which are major political objectives for China. This amendment to the Constitution for raising international cooperation through a multifaceted socioeconomic development endeavor is unique in China’s history. It fits precisely the theme of the present Forum, “The Construction of the Community with a shared Future for Mankind”.

The BRI is a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese Government, eventually with investments in more than 150 countries and international organizations – and growing – in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. BRI is a multi-trillion investment scheme, for transport routes on land and sea, as well as construction of industrial and energy infrastructure, energy exploration, cultural exchange and integration facilities, education and research institutions, as well as trade among connected countries; and, unlike WTO (World Trade Organization), BRI is allowing nations to benefit from their comparative advantages, creating a win-win situation. In essence, BRI is to develop mutual understanding and trust among member nations, allowing for free capital flows, a pool of experts and access to a BRI-based technology data base.

At present, BRI’s closing date is foreseen for 2049 which coincides with new China’s 100th Anniversary. The size and probable success of the program indicates, however, already today that it will most likely be extended way beyond that date. It is worth noting, though, that only in 2019, six years after its inception, BRI has become a news item in the West. Remarkably, for six years BRI was denied or ignored by the western media in the hope it may go away. But away it didn’t go. To the contrary, many European Union members have already subscribed to BRI, including Greece, Italy, France, Portugal, and more will follow as the temptation to participate in this projected socioeconomic boom is overwhelming.

Germany is mulling over the benefits and contras of participating in BRI. The German business community, like business throughout Europe, is strongly in favor of lifting US-imposed sanctions and reconnecting with the East, in particular with China and Russia. But the official Berlin is still with one foot in the White House and with the other trying to appease the German – and European – world of business. This balancing act is in the long run not sustainable and certainly not desirable. At present BRI is already actively involved in over 80 countries, of which at least half of the EU membership.

To counteract the pressure to join BRI, the European Union, basically run by NATO and intimately linked to Washington, has initiated their own ‘Silk Road’, to connect Asia with Europe through Japan. In that sense, the EU and Japan have signed a “free trade agreement” which includes a compact to build infrastructure, in sectors such as energy, transport and digital devices. The purpose is to strengthen economic and cultural ties between the two regions, boosting business relations between Asia and Europa. It is an obvious attempt to compete with or even sideline China’s BRI. But it is equally obvious that this response will fail. Usually initiatives taken in ill-fate are not successful. And China, non-belligerent China, is unlikely to challenge this EU-Japan competitive approach.

China’s New Silk Road is creating a multipolar world where all participants will benefit. The idea is to encourage economic growth, distributed in a balanced way, so as to prioritize development opportunities for those most in need. That means the under-developed areas of western China, eastern Russia, Central Asia, Central Europe, reaching out to Africa and the Middle East, Latin America, as well as to South East Asia and the Pacific. BRI is already actively building and planning some six to ten land and maritime routes, connecting Africa, the Middle East, Europe and South America (see map, above).

The expected multi-trillion-dollar equivalent dynamic budget is expected to be funded by China, largely, but not exclusively, by the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), by Russia and by all the countries that are part of BRI and involved in singular or multi-country projects.

Implementing BRI, or the New Silk Road, is itself the realization of a vision of nations: Peaceful interconnectivity, joint infrastructure and industrial development, as well as joint management of natural resources. For example, BRI may help with infrastructure and management advice resolving or preventing conflicts on transboundary water resources. There are some 263 transboundary lake and river basins, covering almost half the earth’s surface and involving some 150 countries. In addition, there are about 300 transboundary aquifers serving about 2 billion people who depend on groundwater.

Water resources, life depends on them. If these resources are not properly managed, by, say, one or several parties taking advantage of the other users, a conflict is born. Often such conflicts can become violent. BRI may turn this source of potential hostilities around into a source for peace. Water is among the most shared resources on earth, and as such it may serve as an instrument for peaceful connectivity.

The Chinese government calls the Silk Road Initiative “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future”. With freshwater resources rapidly diminishing for ready use in the public domain, because of industrial and human pollution and privatization, management of water resources and transboundary water, in particular, may be constructed into a “Shared Future for Mankind.” The Belt and Road Initiative may provide the guiding principles for this shared future of life’s essential resource – water.

Today, “Give Peace a Chance” is more relevant than ever. And China is a vanguard in promoting peaceful development across the globe. During the Cuban Conference “For a World in Equilibrium” of January 2019, one of the Chinese representatives said very unequivocally in his presentation, “we are building bridges between people and nations to connect the world peacefully”. Undoubtedly, he is right and was referring to President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road.

The same can unfortunately not be said about the West which is, instead, building walls, predominantly the US, followed by her European vassals, either physical walls, or walls by conflicts, wars and – walls by “economic sanction”, by which they strangle and kill people en masse. Whenever a government does not share the US neoliberal doctrines, or refuses to bend to their dictate and efforts to plunder a country of natural resources, it is first subject to atrocious sanctions, then to military intervention with the goal of regime change. All that is possible because the western world is run by the fiat dollar system, under which all international transactions have to transit through an American bank, foremost a Wall Street bank. That’s how they block transfers, confiscate and steal money in banks all over the world.

In Venezuela sanctions started soon after President Hugo Chavez was elected as President in 1998. They were severely enhanced under Obama in 2014, and President Trump squeezed the country even more in 2017. In August 2019 Trump tightened the noose of economic strangulation to the maximum, “the most that any country has been sanctioned”, he proudly proclaimed, blocking and confiscating government accounts, including national reserve accounts and gold all around the western world. They are seizing Venezuelan assets in the US and internationally, intercepting ships and otherwise interrupting trade, for example, blocking crucial medication and food stock from entering the country, while also threatening sanctions on countries that are trading with Venezuela.

According to Venezuelan officials, the financial losses since 2017 amount to at least 130 billion dollars. These funds represent goods and services, the absence of which compromises not only well-being but real lives of Venezuelans. The 130 billion dollars could amply supply food and medication for Venezuelans to live well and for hospitals to function with the necessary medication and equipment. In addition, the US was directing mercenaries and members of the government opposition to sabotage the countries electric system, which caused days — in some regions weeks — of black-outs, a disaster for hospitals depending on electricity for refrigeration and lighting of operating theaters. Indeed, a recent study by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, concluded that sanctions of the US and their European allies may have cost the lives of up to 40,000 Venezuelans. But Venezuela will not cave in and will survive, largely thanks to the support from China and Russia.

At this time it could also be mentioned the 60 years blockade of Cuba, the US instigated wars on Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Vietnam, the civil wars in Central America, Central Africa, the hostilities towards North Korea – and, of course, the constant aggressions vis-à-vis China and Russia – and much more. All for eradicating any “threat” of socialism that might spread as a positive alternative to boundless turbo-capitalism which is currently running the western world.

But enough about the west and its drive for world hegemony in flagrant disrespect of international law and Human Rights. It just goes to illustrate a few examples to juxtapose the west and the east, foremost China in alliance with Russia, whose approach is a multipolar socioeconomic development scheme, generous and peaceful, connecting people through trade and through BRI.

“The future is in the East” – so goes a progressive axiom. It is also my strong belief. By the East is meant China, Russia, most of Central Asia; now all represented by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), or the Shanghai Pact. SCO is a Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance, the creation of which was announced on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai, China by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The Pact was signed in June 2002 and entered into force in September 2013. SCO’s headquarters are in Beijing

Today, the SCO counts 8 members, including the members India and Pakistan. Iran and Mongolia are on a “waiting list”, on the verge of becoming members. Turkey, already a dialogue partner, is increasingly vying gaining SCO access, either through association or full membership. And this, despite the conflict it may create with Turkey’s NATO partners, mainly the US. Clearly, were Turkey to join the SCO, exit from NATO would be imminent – and disastrous for NATO, perhaps the stumbling block that would bring NATO down. Especially, since popular anti-NATO pressure from Italy to Germany, Greece, Spain and Portugal is steadily growing. Turkey is also the most strategically located NATO partner between East and West; between Europe and Asia, controlling the Bosporus, access to the Black Sea.

The SCO has also several observer and dialogue partners which eventually, it is assumed, may become full-fledged SCO members. The SCO is also called the alliance of the east and is considered a security pillar in more ways than one: SCO members account for almost half of the world population and for about one-third of the world’s economic output. In other words, this eastern alliance is politically and economically autonomous and to a large extent detached from the western dollar based “sanction-prone” economy.

The SCO, a visionary Chinese initiative of the early 2000s, was overlaid and expanded in 2013 by another brilliant Chinese Initiative, the BRI. May also be added to this powerhouse another association of countries, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), primarily a trading partnership. The members are located in central and northern Asia, and include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. The treaty was formally established in January 2015.

This block of eastern countries and associations is seeking against all odds, a multi-polar world, a world of Peace and Prosperity for All – a big challenge given the current socioeconomic disequilibrium – but feasible with mutual respect and a will to cooperate, to apply the forces of synergy and solidarity, as is inherent in the Belt and Road approach. The stakes are high. As Russia’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Lavrov pointed out during the 74th UN General Assembly, in September 2019: “The West ignores reality by trying to prevent the formation of a multi-polar world by imposing its narrow “liberal” rules on others”, “but” he added, “Western dominance is on the wane, ‘we’re liberals, so everything’s allowed’ just isn’t working anymore.” These words are the basis for a strong pillar and union of eastern associations.

Outlook and Vision

Economy

China has registered during the past decades a phenomenal economic growth rate, at times exceeding 12% per year. Today it has been on purpose reduced to about 6%, so as to allow a better distribution of the growth benefits, and also spread wealth more horizontally to create greater equality of well-being.

In figures and facts:

China’s GDP measured in US-dollars amounts to $14.2 trillion (nominal; 2019 est.), which corresponds to $27.3 trillion in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP; 2019 est.). This corresponds to US$ 10,153 / capita, in nominal term (2019 est.), to US$ 19,520 / capita measured by PPP.

Compare this with the US GDP of US$ 21.345 trillion in nominal terms (2019 est.) and $64,767 / per capita (2019 est.) This makes China the world’s second largest economy in nominal terms, expected to exceed the US by 2026. However, when comparing the two GDPs by their PPP values, China is number one; having surpassed the United States in 2016.

Measured by PPP, China is already today de facto the world’s largest economy, because the only figures that have any significance in economic production and consumption, are those that reflect the output’s purchasing power

Examples of Economic Efficiency

New Airport in Beijing: In only 4 years China built by far the world’s largest airport in Beijing, Daxin International Airport. It was ready for China’s 70th Birthday on 1 October 2019, when it was inaugurated by President Xi Jinping. It has been operational the week after inauguration. This airport, an architectural wonder, covers some 700,000 m2 (almost 100 football fields) and carries passengers by fast train in 20 minutes to the center of Beijing. It is expected to accommodate in 2021 already 45 million passengers and can easily be expanded to receive and serve 100 million passengers as the need requires. This airport is a sign that China is capable of realizing extraordinary achievements. It signals a visionary future.

China’s Rapid Urbanization: When in 2017, Beijing was faced with a housing shortage for low-wage migrant workers, they built 100,000 low-rent apartments in twelve months. The speed of China’s infrastructure development, the rapid urbanization, providing millions of new subsidized housing for migrant workers, is a model that has worked and is being replicated throughout China. In fact, it pays off socially and economically. People who do not have to worry about shelter, are healthier and live and work better. China has been building homes for a million people — the entire housing stock of San Francisco — every month since 1950. This policy aims at and creates well-being among the workers, among the people, and is at the same time a solid tool for China’s economic development – and people’s happiness. China’s successful and rapid housing development is being closely watched by Australia, as her major cities, Sydney and Melbourne face similar problems.

Trade

China has been the world’s largest exporter of goods since 2009. Official estimates suggest Chinese exports amounted to about $2.1 trillion in 2017. The total annual value of the country’s exports equates to approximately $1,500 for every Chinese resident. Since 2013, China has as well become the world’s largest trading nation.China is also a significant importer and accounts for about 10% of total global imports, i.e., about US$ 1.7 trillion, leaving China as a net exporter with a trade surplus of about US$ 400 billion.  Trade war with the US  see below.

Monetary Policy

China’s Yuan, is a solid currency, backed by China’s economy and by gold. In 2017 the Yuan was admitted into the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) basket of reserve currencies, which constitute the SDR or Special Drawing Rights. The SDR basket consists of five currencies and their respective weights are: US-Dollar $41.73%, Euro 30.93%, Renminbi (Chinese Yuan) 10.92%, Japanese Yen 8.33%, British Pound 8.09%. The Yuan is clearly undervalued in the SDR basket, as it is rapidly replacing the dollar as reserve currency. Treasurers around the globe realize that the US-dollar is fiat money, backed by nothing, whereas the Yuan is a solid currency, based on a solid economy, plus backed by gold.

The decline of the US dollar as a world reserve currency means that the US dollar hegemony is fading. This is inadmissible for the US. Therefore, Washington along with the major western allies, are considering to abandon the key reserve role of the dollar and replacing it with some kind of an SDR, in which the dollar would maintain a prominent role, but its Ponzi-scheme characteristics would no longer be openly visible.

The current US debt to GDP ratio is about 105%. However, what the General Accounting Office calls “unmet obligations” amounts to about 700% of GDP (net present value – total outstanding obligations discounted to today’s value). According to former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, responding to a journalist’s question, “we will never pay back our debt; we will just print new money”. This is a dangerous pyramid, or Ponzi-scheme, of which most governments are aware, and yet many of them hold on to the dollar as key reserve currency. With the yuan rising, this may change rapidly. In fact, the conversion from dollar to yuan as reserve currency has already started.

Regarding the western foreseen reserve basket to “save” the dollar, it is not clear yet what the other currencies and their respective weight in the new “Reserve SDR” would be, but let’s assume the same five currencies. The Yuan, if still in the reserve basket, would probably still be under-valued. If so, this might be a good reason for China to exit the Reserve SDR and continue with the Yuan by its own economic and monetary value as a reserve currency. The Yuan has made its reputation of stability and does no longer need the backing of a (western coined) SDR to prove its strength as a reserve currency.

The War on Tariffs

In June 2018, US President Trump started an unprovoked Trade War with China, then expanded it to other countries, including his European allies. But it is most ferocious with China. As usual, China’s response was not hostile. Retaliation, yes; but still an approach of seeking negotiations and compromise. In reality, the US market for China may be important, but not that important to be humiliated as was the case with the American bulldozer approach to impose not just tariffs, but tariffs that were nothing but a new form of economic sanctions.

The real meaning and purpose behind these tariffs was not reducing China’s exports in the first place, but harming the Yuan, as it was gaining strength and, as mentioned before, gradually taking over the US-dollar’s role as world reserve currency. Some 20 years ago the US dollar accounted for more than 90% of all reserve assets in nations’ treasuries around the globe. Today, that percentage has shrunk to less than 60% and is fading rapidly. Much of the lost territories by the US dollar was made up by the Chinese Yuan. And as the importance of the Yuan rises, the US hegemony of the world’s economy, resources and people will fade. This does not go down in Washington without a fight.

Future Economic Growth

China, in the near future, will most likely keep to a “modest” growth rate, around 5% to 7%, concentrating on horizontal distributive growth, with a focus on improved public well-being for all, universal access to affordable housing, basic infrastructure, water supply, sanitation, public transportation, rural higher education, as well as internal cultural exchange and harmonization. Two areas of economic development, ”horizontal growth”, may be singled out; (i) Artificial Intelligence (AI), and (ii) Environmental Improvement.

Technological Innovation

China is a Power House of new technologies and no doubt the world’s number one in Technological Innovation. Just to mention a few, not in order of priority:

  • Rapidly progressing robotization of construction and manufacturing, as well as of medical interventions, like surgeries and localized cancer treatment;
  • 3-D construction of serving a myriad of sectors, including manufacturing in the medical sector, medical equipment, human body replacement parts, production of construction materials – and more. China predicts in 20 to 30 years everybody (in China) will have access to individualized 3D building capacity;
  • Face recognition technology, making traditional ID and bank account access cards obsolete and identity protection more secure;
  • High-speed train systems, a domain where China has bypassed Japan and is the world’s number one; i.e., the high-speed railways Shanghai Maglev and Fuxing Hao CR400AF/BF;
  • A new generation of garbage recycling into building material, fertilizers, fuel as a source of energy, and more;
  • Architecture and building efficiency, only two examples, (i) the new Beijing Daxin International Airport, the world’s largest, built in just 4 years, with a capacity of more than 100 million passengers per year, and a superb architecture; (ii) the “Birds Nest” – the stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics which will also be used for the 2022 Winter Olympics; it was built in less than 5 years and is an architectural masterpiece, and
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) – see below.

China’s ambition: Everything is possible – and China has already proven that it can be done

Artificial Intelligence (AI). China is also moving rapidly towards leadership in Technical Innovation for Artificial Intelligence, with plans to invest considerable resources into research. In 2017, the State Council (CCP) issued a “Next Generation Intelligence Development Plan”, including a US$ (equivalent) 2.1 billion AI industrial park. By 2025 the State Council predicts China to be a leader in AI research and predicts that China’s AI core industry will be worth some US$ 60 billion, amounting to about US$ 700 billion equivalent, when accounting for related industries. By 2030, the State Council expects China to be the global leader in development of AI.

Environmental Improvement. China has made leaps in improving her environment, by far exceeding efforts of western countries. China’s environmental policies are developing BRI at home and abroad in shades of green. New parks with trees and areas for recreation are emerging in every major city in China. According to an expert at the School of Regulation and Global Governance of the Australian National University, Beijing has improved its air quality by 30% in the last five years.

A study of the University of Chicago demonstrates that Chinese cities have reduced the concentrations of fine particulates in the air on average by 32% between 2014 and 2018.

The Chinese people and government are putting utmost importance to protecting the environment and ecosystems. Green development makes for improved public health, but is also attractive for investments.

China has a three-year “green” plan to improve air quality and tighten regulations. Air quality is one of the key environmental issues besetting China. In that sense, the government is accelerating the electrification of vehicles and has pledged that by 2030 all new cars will be powered by electricity.The government is also tackling drinking water quality and shortages, as well as improving urban and rural sanitation. These are longer-term propositions. Cost estimates for China’s overall environmental programs are not readily available but may easily reach into hundreds of billions of US-dollar equivalents over a ten-year period.

Conclusion

A few years ago, China, Russia and other SCO countries started trading among themselves in their local currencies with a non-western monetary transfer system, using mostly the Chinese Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS). It is out of control of the western SWIFT transfer system, thereby escapes the sanctions regime of the US. Gradually, the SCO and associated countries are detaching themselves from the western dollar-based fiat system.

In terms of trading, the SCO countries, mainly China, control most of the Asian markets, even making rapid inroads into Japan and Australia, and are evermore present in Latin America and Africa. Before long Europe will see the light and turn eastwards. It would be a wise decision. Dealing first within the confines of the huge Eurasian landmass, including the Middle East and parts of Africa – has been the logical way of trading since the Ancient Silk Road, more than 2,000 years ago.

China has a great visionary future that had already begun 70 years ago, and was enhanced six years ago with President Xi Jinping’s launching of the Belt and Road Initiative. BRI will continue spanning the globe for the next at least 50 to 100 years, spreading development in a multi-polar world, stressing equality and well-being for all. BRI investments may be counted in the multi-multi trillions and will be funded by China and the participating countries, with a socio-economic return that cannot be expressed in sheer monetary terms, as investments will also bring unfathomable social benefits, poverty reduction, improved health, higher and better education and, generally improving people’s well-being.

The bright side of this initiative is the Chinese philosophy of non-aggression, of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and of promoting peaceful economic coexistence and development around the globe.

China’s determination to develop with a “green” economy, a “green” BRI and a horizontal distributive growth that emphasizes equality and inclusion is a landmark model for the world to embrace. It is a model to construct a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind.

• First published in Global Research

Incinerating Logic: Bush Fires and Climate Change

Despite the Internet, connectivity, and linking technologies, distance has not shrunk the Australian sense of self, an often provincial appraisal of the world seen in slow motion and stills.  Whether it’s the “flower revolution” or Michel Foucault, trends and ideas are often delayed, and seem almost cutely anachronistic by the time they make landfall down under.  Wedded to the insatiable urge to reap, rent and remove from the earth, and you have the ultimate myopic: Australia, the exceptional country, outside the stream of history and, dare it be said, the inconveniences of science.

With some 11,000 scientists warning that planet Earth “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency”, some sense of it was registered on the Australian political scene, if only barely.  The “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” published in BioScience does not shy away from the language of catastrophe and emergency.  “Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations… we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament.”  Climate change had not merely arrived but bulldozed itself into recognition, “accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

The authors and signatories suggest that, “An immense increase of scale in endeavours to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis.”  Public debates on the subject of climate change had mostly focused on global surface temperature, a clearly inadequate approach that avoids “the breath of human activities and the real dangers stemming from a warming planet.”

Areas of urgent redress were also suggested.  Energy efficiency and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels are high on the list.  “We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly.”  The call for a change of language is encouraged: rhetoric of GDP growth and affluence needs to be replaced by sustainability “and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.”  Not exactly music for the muscular fossil fuel lobby.

Another song sheet that would not have impressed the fossil fuel industries was an event that barely disturbed the press releases.  This month, the National Electricity Market in Australia received a contribution from wind, solar and hydro energy amounting to half of the total energy production.  Rooftop solar contributions came in at 23.7 percent, with wind (15.7 percent), large-scale solar (8.8 percent) and hydro (1.9 percent) bringing up the rear.

With the release of the report, Australia braced itself for the incinerating fury of bush fires that have arrived earlier this season.  The state of New South Wales is anticipating what the Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons describes as “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”.

The warnings were already pressing through the policy pipeline in the last decade.  The National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management’s 2004 report to the Council of Australian Government warned that, “Fires’ frequency, intensity and size are expected to increase under climate change as temperatures rise, rainfall variability increases, droughts become more severe and ecosystem dynamics alter, resulting in changed biomass fuel loads and types.”

The authors of the report go on to suggest that “projected hotter, drier and windier conditions associated with climate change caused by greenhouse warming would extend the period of fuel drying and increase rates of fire spread.”

Earlier this year, former NSW Fires Chief Greg Mullins and 22 other emergency honchos warned Prime Minister Morrison of the dangers that would face Australia this summer, suggesting that the government meet to discuss some form of action against risks of conflagration.  The meeting has yet to take place, leaving such politicians as Adam Bandt, the Greens MP for Melbourne, certain that Morrison “bears some responsibility and must apologise to the communities impacted”.

Various Australian politicians, as then, were having none of it.  Charged with the task of keeping a plunderer’s lifestyle in perpetuity, the well-fed pigs in clover, the following words of the BioScience report sit uncomfortably with members of the Morrison government.  “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.  The most affluent countries are mainly responsible for the historical GHG emissions and generally have the greatest per capita emissions.”

The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack preferred some tea and sympathy in responding to the victims of the fires, not policy and prognosis.  “They don’t need the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time when they are trying to save their homes.”

McCormack’s primary target was the Green party itself, which he accused of fiddling politically while Australia burned.  “That’s what Adam Bandt, and the Greens, and Richard Di Natale, and all those other inner-city raving lunatics – and quite frankly, that’s how he was carrying on yesterday – that’s what they want, we’re not going to go down that path.”

Other politicians have adopted a similar approach: the now is what matters, and never mind previous failings and future disasters.  NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian provided the stellar example.  “For any of us on the ground, speaking to people traumatised, speaking to people fighting fires for weeks… know exactly what the priorities should be, and that is saving life and property”.  Climate change, in other words, was something for another day, another slot in the packed meeting schedule.

Morrison reiterated the position.  He was “focused on the needs of the people”.  He spoke of having “firefighters out there saving someone else’s house while their own house is burning down, and when we are in that sort of situation, that is where attention must be.”

Mayors from the areas most affected by the recent conflagration have been crankily unimpressed by the platitudes.  Climate change literature, they surmise, is being assiduously avoided by the government.  The unfortunately named Carol Sparks, Mayor of Glen Innes, site of two deaths over the weekend, suggested that McCormack needed “to read the science, and that is what I am going by, is the science.” Forget, suggested the mayor, the politics here.  Science had imposed its cold, objective hand on the matter.  Mid Coast Mayor Claire Pontin was similarly riled, notably by suggestions that fires were the staple of Australian life and landscape.  “We’ve not had situations like that. Fifty years ago, this would never happen.”

There are few incentives for humanity to adapt than through the infliction of catastrophic conditions.  Pandemics, world wars and existential risk have done their bit in propelling change.  But luxury produces complacency; well fed bellies induce sloth.  Come the writing of humanity’s extensive biography of preying on the planet, Australia and its political classes will have much to answer for.

In the Eye of the Eagle: From Strict Catholic School to Adventures in Rainforests

A slow, tacking flight: float then flap. Then a pirouette and it has swung on to a different tack, following another seam through the moor as if it is tracking a scent. It is like a disembodied spirit searching for its host…” — description of the strongest of all harriers, the goshawk, by James Macdonald Lockhart in his book, Raptor: A Journey Through Birds

We’re watching a female red-tail hawk rejecting the smaller male’s romantic overtures barely 50 yards overhead.

There it is. Ahh, the male has full extension. So does his girlfriend. I see this every day from here. This courting ritual . . . testing each other’s loyalty. Watching them in a talon lock, spiraling down, now that’s an amazing sight.

I’m with Chris Hatten on his 10 acres overlooking the Siletz estuary along a gravel road. Saying he lives for that typical red-tail hawk behavior would be an understatement. His passion for raptors has taken him to many parts of the globe, and those trips involved exhilaration, danger, risks to his life, and the trials and tribulations of living primitively in tropical zones which Westerners sometimes deridingly call undeveloped countries or third world nations.

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 Wild Harpy eagle being recaptured and treated after being shot in leg, northern Guatemala.

We are traipsing around his property where Chris is ninety percent finished with a two-story 1,400 square foot home, a modern efficient house he’s been building for two years from a kit out of Lynnwood, Washington.

He told me he’ll never do that again – building a full-sized house.

The 42-year-old Hatten got a hold of my name when he found out I write about Oregon coastal people with compellingly interesting lives. He is in the midst of witnessing adjoining land (more than a hundred acres) to his property about to be clear-cut – forested hillside owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group, part of John Hancock Insurance (now owned by a Canadian group, Manulife Financial).

When he first bought the land eight years ago, representatives of Hancock told him that the company had so much timberland it would take years, maybe a decade, to get to this piece of property.

We discuss how Lincoln City and Lincoln County might prevent a clear cut from the side of the hill all the way down to Highway 101. “It’s amazing to witness in this coastal area — that depends on tourism — all this land clear-cut as far as the eye can see.”

The red-tail hawk pair circles above us again, while a Merlin flits about alighting on a big Doug fir.

When he first saw the property — an old homestead which was once a producing dairy farm — Chris said two eagles cawed above where he was standing, which for a bird-man is a positive omen and spiritual sign of good health. He calls his place “The Double-Eagle.”

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Hands on bio blitz Northern Brazil.

Non-Traditional Student Backpacks into Jungles

He’s not living in the house, per se, but rather he has a tent he calls home. “I feel suffocated inside four walls. I want to hear animals, hear the wind, be on the ground.” He’s hoping to rent out the house.

His current kip is set up near a black bear den, where mother bruin and her two cubs share an area he is willing to stay away from. “The mother bear and I have an understanding. We don’t bother each other.”

He’s part Doctor Dolittle, part Jim Fowler (from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), and part John Muir. My own intersections with blokes and women around the world like him have put me eye-to-eye with pygmy elephants in Vietnam, great hammerheads off Baja, king cobras in Thailand, schools of barracudas off Honduras, and a pack of 20 javelina chasing me along the Arizona-Mexico border.

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Jaguar rescue northern Belize.

Hatten’s wildlife adventures indeed take it up a few notches.

“When I finished high school, I wanted to follow my dreams.” That was at Saint Mary’s in Salem, a school that was so constricting to Chris he had already been saving up dollars for a one-way ticket out of the country.

He had started working young – aged 8 – picking zucchini and broccoli in fields near where his family of six lived. “You feel invincible when you are young. You’re also more adaptable and more resilient.”

He ended up in Malaysia which then turned into trekking throughout Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, East Timor, and even down south to Darwin, Australia.

Those two years, from age 17 to 19, are enough to fill two thick memoirs. Upon returning to Salem, he applied to the National Park service and bought a one-way ticket to Alaska, working the trails in small groups who lived in tents and cleared trails with 19-Century equipment – saws, shovels, picks, pry bars.

With his cash stake growing, he headed back south, by mountain bike, along the Prudhoe-Dalton Highway. He hit Prince George, Vancouver Island, and stopped in the Olympics.

He then worked summers and attended Chemeketa College in Salem.

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Finding small spot fire Colombia River Gorge, Oregon, working for U.S.F.S.

Homeless-but-inspired at Evergreen State College

He wanted to study temperature rainforests, so he showed up unannounced hoping for an audience with a well-known scientist and faculty member — Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, who is an expert in temperate forests and sap maples. Chris had read the book she co-authored, Forest Canopies.

Before showing up to Evergreen, Chris had developed a sling-shot contraption to propel ropes into forest canopy. He barged into Nadkarni’s office with his invention. She was surprised Chris wasn’t already student, but she quickly made sure he enrolled in the environmental studies program.

Spending his last dollar on tuition, Chris resorted to sleeping in a tent and inside his 1988 Honda Civic while using campus rec department showers. He told me he received free produce on Tuesdays when the farmer’s market would pass out vegetables and fruit after a day’s sales.

Another faculty member, Dr. Steve Herman, motivated Chris to really delve into ornithology. Chris recalls coastal dune ecology trips, from Olympia in motor pool vans, all the way into the southern reaches of Baja. “We looked at every dune system from Baja all the way back north to Florence.”

The ornithologist Herman was also a tango aficionado, and Chris recalled the professor announcing to his students many times, in the middle of dunes in Mexico, it was time for some tango lessons. “He told us there was more to life than just science.”

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Educational Harpy eagle to take into classrooms Panama city, Panama, has one blind eye, could not be released into wild.

Adventures and Misadventures of a Bird Fanatic

My life’s work has been to produce scientists who will seek to protect wildness. But I also just really enjoy teaching people about birds. I’ve been lucky to get to do that for a very long time.

— Steve Herman, Evergreen State College faculty emeritus Steve Herman, 2017

Chris laments the lack of real stretches of wilderness in Oregon, most notably along our coast. These are postage stamp areas, he emphasizes, around Drift Creek, Rock Creek, Cape Perpetua, but “it’s abysmal.”

We have the Cascades in Washington and the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, and lots of wilderness in Alaska. But really, nothing along the Pacific in Oregon.

After camping in the forest around Evergreen College, Chris still had the travel bug bad. On one foray, he went to Thailand, studying the mangrove forests there. He traveled with Thai army anti-poaching teams who went after poachers. He came across poachers’ camps, witnessed firefights and saw a few poachers laid out dead. “The captain gave me a pistol and one bullet. He said the torture would be so bad if I got captured by tiger poachers that I’d beg for a bullet.”

He’s worked on the island of Hawaii with the USGS focusing on a biocomplexity project looking at how mosquitoes are moving higher and higher because of global warming. The consequences are pretty connected to other invasives – pigs introduced to the islands several centuries ago – disturbing the entire natural ecosystem.

Pigs chew down the ferns, and places that have never seen pooled water before are now wet troughs where mosquitoes can now breed.

Those insects carry avian malaria, and alas, endangered honey creepers can’t adjust to the mosquitoes like their cousins elsewhere who have evolved over millennia to just rub off the insects. The honey creeper is being decimated by this minor but monumental change.

Peregrine Fund

Right after matriculating from Evergreen with a bachelor’s of science, Chris ended up in Panama, working throughout Central America rehabilitating, breeding and introducing Harpy Eagles – the biggest forest eagle in the world with a wingspan of six and a half feet – into their native jungle habitat.

These are massive birds. They dwarf our American bald eagle, for sure. My job was to follow them when the fledglings were grown and released.

He acted like an adult Harpy who catches prey and puts it in the trees for the youngster to eat and learn some hunting skills. Frozen rats, GPS backpack transmitter fashioned on the birds, and orienteering throughout Belize and Southern Mexico were his tools.

It sort of blew me away that here I was living the dream of studying birds in a rainforest.

Territorial ranges for these birds spread into Honduras and south to Colombia. Wild Harpies eat sloth, aunt eaters, howler monkeys, even giant Military Macaws.

He ended up in the Petén, Tikal (originally dating back 2000 years), one of Central America’s premier Mayan archeological and tourist sites.

His role was to study the orange-breasted falcon, a tropical raptor which is both endangered and stealth. “We got to live on top of pyramids off limits to anyone else,” he says, since the bird was using the pyramids as nesting and breeding grounds.

He recalled tiring of the tourists down below repeating the fact that one of the Star Wars movies was filmed here – “I got tired of hearing, ‘Wow, is this really where Yavin 4,  A New Hope, was filmed? We’re really here.’”

Imagine respecting this ancient Mayan capital, and studying amazing raptors as the antithesis of goofy tourista comments.

No 9 to 5 Working Stiff

He tells me that his idols are people like Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. While he went to school in a conservative Catholic setting where his peers were mostly farm kids —  and some were already pregnant and married (before graduation), his family was not of the same stripe.

“We were like the people in the movie ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’’’ he says with a laugh. His parents took the brood to the Oregon Coast a lot, and that 1976 yellow VW van’s starter was always going out. “I remember we had my sister and mom blocking the intersections in places like Lincoln City while we pushed the van to get it started.”

He’s got a brother, Steve, an RN in Portland, and another Portland-based brother, Mark, owner of a micro-car shop. His older sister, Amy, is a newspaper journalist in Grand Junction, Colorado – a real lifer, with the written word coursing through her blood. She’s encouraged Chris to write down his story.

Their mother went to UC-Berkley, and has been a public education teacher for over 25 years. Their father (divorced when he was 12) got into real estate but is now living in New Zealand.

That one-way ticket to Singapore that got him into Southeast Asia, ended with him running out of money after a year, but he was able to get to Darwin, Australia, by paying a fishing boat in East Timor to get him down under illegally. He spent time picking Aussie Chardonnay grapes to stake himself in order to see that continent.

He was blown away by the kangaroo migration, a scene that involved a few million ‘roos kicking up great clouds of red dust. He ended up going through Alice Springs to see the sacred Uluru (formally known as Ayers Rock). He met undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and Greece while making money picking oranges.

We talk about some frightening times in our travels, and per usual, the worst incidents involved criminals or bad hombres, not with wildlife. For Chris, his close call with death occurred in Guatemala where he, his female supervisor (a Panamanian) and another raptor specialist were confronted by men on horses, brandishing machetes and leading tracker dogs.

“’We’ll let you live if you give us the woman.’ That’s what they gave us as our option.” The bird team went back into the jungle, the two male researchers buried their female companion with leaves, and then Chris and the other guy took off running all night long.

The banditos chased them through the jungle. He laughed saying they ran virtually blind in places where eyelash vipers (one bite, and three steps and you’re dead), coral snakes and tropical rattlesnakes lived in abundance.

“It’s a very creepy feeling being hunted by men with dogs.” Luckily, the female team member headed out the opposite direction, with a radio. All in a day’s work for environmentalists.

That’s saying, “all in a day’s work,” is ominous since we both talk about how most indigenous and local environmental leaders in so many countries have been murdered by loggers, miners, oil men, ranchers, and coca processors (many times executed by paid-for military soldiers).

Never Return or There Will Be Tears

Two telling quotes from world-renown traveler and writer, Paul Theroux, strike me as apropos for a story about Chris Hatten:

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.

You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.

We talk about a crackling campfire being the original TV, and how being out in wilderness with 5 or 10 people for an extended period gets one really connected to working with people and counting on them to be friends and support.

“It’s tough going back to places I’ve been,” he says with great lamentation. In Borneo, a return trip years later discombobulated him. “The rainforest is being plowed over daily. I couldn’t tell where I was walking miles and miles through palm oil plantations. It was as if the jungle had been swallowed up.”

What once was a vibrant, multilayered super rich and diverse place of amazing flora and fauna has been turned into a virtual desert of a monocrop.

This reality is some of the once most abundant and ecologically distinct places on earth are no longer that. “This is the problem with any wildlife reintroduction program. You can breed captive animals like, for instance, the orangutan but there’s nowhere to release them. Everywhere is stripped of jungle, healthy habitat.”

The concept of rewilding any place is becoming more and more theoretical.

We climb the hill where the clear-cut will occur. Chris and I talk about a serious outdoor education center – a place where Lincoln County students could show up for one, two or three days of outdoor learning. We’re serious about reframing the role of schools and what youth need to have in order to be engaged and desirous of learning.

That theoretical school could be right here, with Chris as the lead outdoor/ecological instructor.

All those trees, terrestrial animals, avian creatures, smack dab on an estuary leading to a bay which leads to the Pacific is highly unique – and a perfect place from which to really get hands on learning as the core curriculum.

We imagine young people learning the history, geology, biology, and ecology of where they live. Elders in the woods teaching them how to smoke salmon, how to build a lean-to, how to see outside the frame of consumption/purchasing/screen-time.

Interestingly, while Chris has no desire to have children, he has taught tropical biology/ecology to an international student body at the Richmond Vale Academy on the island of Saint Vincent (part of the Grenadines).

Koreans, Russians, Venezuelans, Peruvians and Vincennes learned organic farming, bio-fuel production, solar power design, how to grow passion and star fruit. There is even a little horse program in the school, founded by two Danes.

Chris said that the local population is taught about medicinal plants, recycling and responsible waste disposal. “Everything used to be wrapped in banana leaves in their grandparents’ time. Now there is all this single-use plastic waste littering the island.

Like the dynamic rainforest that once carpeted the Central Coast – with herds of elk, wolves, grizzlies and myriad other species – much of the world is being bulldozed over, dammed and mined. Wildlife leave, stop breeding, never repopulate fractured areas where human activities are the norm.

But given that, when I asked Chris where he might like to go now, he mentioned Croatia, his mother’s side of the family roots. He may have swum with 60-foot-long whale sharks and kayaked over orcas, but Chris is still jazzed up about raptors – maybe he’d end up on the Croatian island of Cres which is a refuge for the spectacular griffon vulture.

“Nature has a purpose beyond anything an extraction-based society puts its monetary value on trees. We have to show young people there is value to natural ecosystems beyond extracting everything for a profit.”

One-Minute Q and A

Paul Haeder: What is your life philosophy?

Chris Hatten: Make the best use of your time. Time is short.

PH: How do we fix this extractive “resources” system that is so rapacious?

CH: We need to value forests for the many multitude of services they provide, not just quick rotations. Forests are not the same as fields of crops.

PH: Give any young person currently in high school, say, in Lincoln County, advice on what they might get out of life if they took your advice? What’s that advice?

CH: Get off your phone, lift up your head, see the world for yourself as it really is, then make necessary changes to it and yourself.

PH: What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve experienced — what, where, when, why, how?

CH: I have had very poor people offer to give me all they had in several different countries. Strangers have come to my aid with no thought of reward.

PH: In a nutshell, define the Timber Unity movement to say someone new to Oregon.

CH: They are people who mostly work in rural Oregon in resource extraction industries and believe they are forgotten.

PH: If you were to have a tombstone, what would be on it once you kick the bucket?

CH: “Lived.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2013-03-15-the-free-horse_0409.jpg

Running in step, at sunset on the beach with horse St. Vincent and Grenadines

Ignoring Climate Catastrophes

The planet is coming apart at the seams right before the eyes of scientists at work in remote fringe areas of the North where permafrost crumbles and collapses. It’s abrupt climate change at work in real time, but the governing leaders of the world either don’t care or don’t know. If they did, there would already be a worldwide Climate Marshall Plan to save civilization from early warning signals of utter chaos.

Across 9 million square miles at the top of the planet, climate change is writing a new chapter. Arctic permafrost isn’t thawing gradually, as scientists once predicted. Geologically speaking, it’s thawing almost overnight.1

After all, collapsing permafrost is the leading edge of cataclysmal global warming as it precedes additional catastrophes that follow one after another, and then another. All of which happen unannounced, known as abrupt climate change events.

The modern world’s First Near-Catastrophe, the Ozone Hole (1980s), was luckily avoided 40 years ago (more on this fascinating story later). It was the planet’s closest brush with nearly total extinction ever since the Permian-Triassic event took down 95% of all life 252 million years ago.

Meanwhile, the concern is whether cascading permafrost will end up as the world’s Second Near-Catastrophe, meaning it gets attended to, or will it lead to something much worse, as in “catastrophes that follow one after another, and then another?”

Cherskiy, Russia, which is home to the Northeast Science Station at 69°N, far above the Arctic Circle, is a year-round base for an international research station that studies Arctic biology and climate change. It is 60 miles inland from the East Siberian Sea (another high risk area in the Arctic).

In January of 2018 something unheard of happened at Cherskiy. The topsoil that has maintained frozen permafrost for eons was not refreezing like it had every year for as long as records were kept. Whereas, January in Siberia is normally so brutally cold that human breath can freeze with a “tinkling sound” that locals refer to as “the whisper of stars.”

“Three years ago, the temperature in the ground above our permafrost was minus 3 degrees Celsius (-27 degrees Fahrenheit),’ Sergey Zimov (an ecologist) said, ‘Then it was minus 2. Then it was minus one. This year, the temperature was plus 2 degrees.”2

The aforementioned example of abrupt climate change in Siberia is a beckoning out of the North, warning that the past 10,000 years of the Holocene era, earmarked by a Goldilocks Wonder World “not too hot, not too cold,” has ended, as excessive heat tears apart regions of the planet, piece by piece. Thereby sounding the alarm and threatening comfy lifestyles in every country in existence today, but is it a warning signal with a short fuse or a long fuse?

Human-generated greenhouse gases have kicked nature into high gear, competing with humanity by emitting tons of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, even in the winter in Siberia above the Arctic Circle. It’s earth-shattering news that should cause sleepless nights for world leaders, but it doesn’t alarm them. Otherwise, they’d already be taking emergency measures. They’re not!

As it happens, world leadership is sacrificing their constituencies on the altar of fossil fuel profits and a brand of capitalism that recklessly consumes everything in sight. Therefore emphasizing consequences such as Alaska’s North Slope has seen temperatures spike 11°F in 30 years as temperatures hit 90°F 240 miles above the Arctic Circle, challenging Florida’s balmy weather.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change struggles to keep up with ever-faster climate change disaster scenarios that unfold right under their noses, the world’s leadership looks like a herd of deer frozen in headlights. Meanwhile, the risks of excessive global warming, or heat, is not properly understood by the public in the following ‘double-scary’ context:

Large abrupt climate changes have repeatedly affected much or all of the earth, locally reaching as much as 10°C change in 10 years.3

That description of abrupt climate change (10°C in 10 years) by Richard B. Alley, Evan Pugh Professor, Penn State University, is based upon paleoclimate data. However, that same risk is not considered by the IPCC or included in scientists’ models, thus it qualifies as one of the least expected climate events. But, it has happened in the past… more than once!

Frankly, society can’t handle 10°C in 10 years, whether “locally,” as stated by Dr. Alley, or universally.

Which prompts the daunting notion of what happens when nature is “goosed up” by the sudden advent of the Human Heat Machine: 7,500,000,000 people, 1,400,000,000 cars, 22,500,000 commercial vehicles, 3,500,000 heavy trucks, 425,000 buses, 39,000 commercial and military airplanes, 62,500 power plants, 996,000,000 cattle all simultaneously emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, as CO2 emissions set new records year after year after year?

In all, 80-90% of the above-listed statistics occurred in only 70 years, whereas it took modern humans nearly 200,000 years to reach two billion in population. Today, it’s the Great Acceleration at work as post WWII 5.5 billion newbies forage the planet, all within one lifetime. Amazing!

As a result, we are the biggest experiment the planet has ever encountered. Meanwhile, scientific knowledge that establishes “a firm link” between  (1) carbon dioxide emissions and (2) excessive global heat brings forth far-reaching unknowns for today’s carbon dioxide-fueled world. As such, the climate status/integrity of the planet has become a gamble, a crapshoot.

For example, the temperature/CO2 relationship over the past 400,000 years is saw-toothed as demonstrated so clearly in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006): When CO2 hits a high of 280 ppm, temperatures, like clock-work, increase by 5°C (hot cycle) and when CO2 hits a low of 180 ppm, like clock-work, temperatures decrease by -5°C (cold cycle) every 100,00 years over the past 400,000.

Although temperature change (the wild card) is all about timing, meaning does it take centuries or decades or years for temperature to react to CO2 levels in the atmosphere? In that regard, Dr. Alley’s “10°C in 10 years” is not encouraging, but nobody knows for sure what will happen tomorrow.

Speaking of which, today’s CO2 at 410+ ppm has powered through nature’s rhythmic cycles of 180 (low) to 280 (high) over the past 400,000 years. Now what?

Assuming global warming reacts accordingly, one possible scenario:

In a 4°C world, in which local temperature increases of 5 to 10 degrees will affect many areas, the impact on food production may be catastrophic.4

Today’s collapsing permafrost is eerily similar to the circumstances that surrounded the world’s First Near-Catastrophe, the notorious Ozone Hole, as explained in chapter 5 “The First Near-Catastrophe” of Ian Angus’ profoundly brilliant and indispensible book. The world has already faced that First Near-Catastrophe and luckily got through it.

Similar to ignoring abrupt climate change today, back in the 1970s-80s, no one predicted the speed and magnitude of the steep decline in levels of ozone because of damage by CFCs produced by DuPont ever since the 1930s. In fact, back in the day, NASA had predicted that ozone levels might decline 5 to 9 percent by 2050. But, surprise, surprise, surprise! Ozone levels dropped by 60% by the mid 1980s. Scientists were dumbfounded! And scared!

Without the protective ozone layer, 10-20 miles above Earth, which absorbs most of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, life literally burns to a crisp.

In a masterful-less stroke of good luck, a handful of scientists brought the impending disaster of the ozone hole to the attention of the world community.  If not for the British Antarctic Survey that worked on a shoestring budget of $18,000/year, the world wouldn’t have known of the threat to all humanity. Since 1957, they monitored the ozone layer from the Halley Bay Observatory in Antarctica but never suspected human-generated chemicals would attack and destroy the ozone layer.

For 50 years the CFC industry was able to avoid a ban on sales of CFCs due to an absence of hard scientific data showing a decline in ozone levels. In 1979, DuPont officials said:

No ozone depletion has ever been detected despite the most sophisticated analysis… All ozone depletion figures to date are computer projections based on a series of uncertain assumptions.5

Similar to CO2 in the atmosphere today:

CFCs had been entering the atmosphere in ever-increasing amounts since the early 1930s. The pre-1980 measurements from Halley Bay undoubtedly included their effect on the ozone layer above Antarctica, but in 1979, what had been a gradual linear process crossed a tipping point, becoming rapid and nonlinear.6

Thus, giving birth to an Abrupt Climate Change event that could have destroyed life on Earth. Thankfully, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed in 1987. It saved the world from sure-fire destruction, blind-sided by its own chemical devices.

After reviewing the history of CFCs and the ozone layer, Paul Crutzen (Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist) commented:

I can only conclude that mankind has been extremely lucky.7

Now: Is permafrost collapse the Second Near-Catastrophe or something worse?

Hopefully, the answer is not “something worse” because dissimilar to the Ozone Hole crisis, which was solved by a handful of companies and industries implementing a technical fix and banning CFCs, the process of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions is universal, requiring decades of transforming the global economy, a gargantuan task when compared to civilization’s First Near-Catastrophe.

Similar to the Ozone Hole, which hit a tipping point 40 years after CFCs began emitting, collapsing permafrost first happens by inches, then by feet, then by portions of miles, when it is finally recognized as exceeding a tipping point, likely what’s happening today in Siberia, and throughout the far reaches of the Northern Hemisphere where massive levels of permafrost cover 25% of the hemisphere buried in frozen soil for eons, holding more than twice the amount of greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere.

Permafrost collapse is as alarming, maybe more so, as the Ozone Hole threat, but only a handful of scientists see it and believe it. Sound familiar?

  1. “Arctic Permafrost Is Thawing Fast. That Affects Us All”, National Geographic, September 2019 Issue.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Alley, Richard B., “Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises”, Washington D.C. National Academy Press, 2002.
  4. Angus, Ian, “Facing the Anthropocene”, Monthly Review Press, 2016, p. 102.
  5. Ibid, p. 84.
  6. Ibid, p. 85.
  7. Ibid, p. 87.