Friday, January 18, 2013

575 Gigatons

Five-hundred-seventy-five gigatons is how much carbon dioxide we can put into the atmosphere without the Earth’s temperature going over 2º C (3.6ºF). The total carbon stored in the ground is about five times that much. In other words, 80% of known reserves of fossil energy has to stay in the ground if we’re not to exceed that number.

Australia has recently sweltered in a heat wave so intense its weather service had to add two colors to its temperature map to represent temperatures over 50ºC (122ºF). High temperatures and brisk winds have spawned vast wildfires there. Hurricane Sandy brought the lowest barometric readings ever recorded in the Northeast and had hurricane force winds that stretched for about 950 miles. Sixty percent of the contiguous US is experiencing drought; about half of that is categorized severe, extreme or exceptional.

The extreme weather we are now experiencing is the result of ‘only’ 0.8ºC so the impact of a 2ºC increase has to be daunting if not almost incomprehensible. And yet we are not only headed in that direction but our emissions are actually accelerating. Whereas we, the world, need to reduce our emissions by 5% a year to save ourselves, emissions rose by 3% last year, the fastest rise ever!

China is opening a new coal-fired power plant every week. By 2020 it will double its coal consumption. (This is not without its immediate environmental consequences – Beijing of late experienced extreme pollution levels.) It’s also damming every river in the country and is the world’s largest producer and consumer of solar installations, but that doesn’t change the fact that its emissions are rising very fast as a result of its high growth rates. It’s not the only culprit, new coal plants are opening all over the world, including here in Cambodia. And in total contradiction to common sense, the consensus in the financial community is that China needs to wean itself from exports and encourage its people to consume more. The elite who run the world are living in a 20th century bubble and are completely divorced from reality.

The US media has been gushing uncontrollably of late about how fracking is opening up large new reserves of oil and gas and the country may be self-sufficient in ten years. That is mostly hype since yields from fracking wells fall precipitously after the first year – 60 to 90% in most wells, but regardless, that fossil fuel needs to stay in the ground to save the world, and that would be true even if fracking didn’t cause permanent groundwater contamination. The idea that permanent loss of groundwater is a worthy tradeoff for 5 or 10 years of cheap fossil fuel is ludicrous, stupid and insane, but that’s exactly what’s happening.

To make it clear where the US stands on climate change, at the recent Doha climate conference it worked its damnedest to scupper, stymie, put a spanner in the works to prevent any meaningful global action on climate change. (It was also beyond ironic - but telling of the political world’s real attitude towards climate change - that the conference was held in Doha which has the highest per capita emissions in the world.) Obama has made clear that doing anything serious about global warming is less important than dealing with unemployment, etc. And yet… the economic conversion necessary to tackle the climate problem would be the best way to put people to work. Mr. Compromise doesn’t understand that the climate is not negotiable, that it cannot be fixed with a political compromise. It’s a real-world engineering problem which portends certain catastrophe if not dealt with immediately and is not at all like making sausage.

I greatly admire those activists who’re putting their life into trying to make a difference, and I guess, by writing this, I’m doing it too in my own limited way, but still it’s hard not to feel pessimistic. Regardless, we need to be apprised of what’s happening, active in trying to change the paradigm and aware of the consequences of continuing on our present path… even if we can’t do anything about it. In this case we are, by being active, working for our own personal salvation even if the world, as we know it, is doomed.

And a short comment on packaging…

100% Ain’t What it Used to Be

I always liked V-8 juice; good taste, 100% vegetable juice. There are juice companies here in Asia that do veggie juice but they always add fruit to the mix. Orange juice is added to carrot, Apple juice added to green veggies, etc.  So occasionally (because it’s relatively expensive) I’d buy a can of V-8… until I discovered 100% ain’t what it used to be. Underneath the easy-to-read words, 100% vegetable juice, in script that is partially obscured, that you might not notice right off, it says, with added ingredients. How ingenious to create something that’s 100% and not 100% at the same time!

I recently bought a container of grated parmesan cheese made in America. On the front it says 100% real cheese in one place and 100% grated parmesan cheese in another. On the list of ingredients, however, it says powdered cellulose added to prevent caking. Somehow the powdered cellulose (most likely ground up wood) doesn’t count as part of the 100%. All the more reasons why I try to avoid any type of packaged food produced in America… not that I trust foodstuffs produced in Asia (honesty in packaging from China?) but when it comes from the US, it’s almost certain to be tainted.

Food labeled organic is usually a good bet, but now that major corporations have taken over the larger organic food producers they’ve started pestering the FDA to loosen organic standards so they can legally adulterate their ‘organic’ products. Since Obama recently appointed a Monsanto hack to head an important FDA office, that loosening is very likely to happen.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bin Laden Strikes Back From His Watery Grave

In Pakistan recently nine health workers who were administering polio vaccines were killed by the Taliban. For several years now, Pakistanis in general and the Taliban in particular have been skeptical about the honesty of the program, believing that it was a Western base for spying and a conspiracy to make them impotent amongst other evils. As a result of those murders the program was halted.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in which Polio is endemic (Afghanistan and Nigeria are the others) and great progress has been made over recent years bringing down the yearly total of infections from around 20,000 to about 50.

Pakistani suspicions about the program were confirmed when it was revealed that the CIA used a fake vaccination program to try to get information about Bin Laden’s whereabouts. While the doses administered were real enough, immunization only comes with three doses and they only did one so the program was a total scam. It was unconscionable for the CIA to set up the fake program and even worse for the Pakistani doctor they used to run it. The doctor was given a 33-year sentence, which the US strenuously objected to, for collaborating with the CIA. The sentence was well-deserved, since it’s not only the health workers who’ve subsequently paid with their lives, but also the tens, hundreds or thousands of children who may eventually suffer from polio because they were denied access to the vaccine. Polio kills or permanently maims an individual within hours of being infected.

In the end result, they got no useful information from the fake program, but did manage to jeopardize the lives of many innocents. When you come right down to it, America’s action was the equivalent of murder, but since it’s only Pakistani children who’ll die or be crippled, it’s clear they don’t count for much. Whatever it takes to kill Bin Laden, right?

There’s a popular new movie, Zero Dark Thirty, about the capture of Bin Laden which bills itself as based on a true story. However, the major theme of the film, and which takes up the first 45 minutes of action, is the efficacy of torture in gaining useful information on his capture. That was a total lie since no useful information was gained from torture. When confronted by that fact the director of the film said, It’s just a movie. Just a movie which tries to make torture cool, useful and acceptable when it had nothing to do with the capture of Bin Laden.

As I understand it, there’s also a popular TV program in which terrible terrorist acts are thwarted at the last minute by the use of torture. Torture is never justified. As far back as the 18th century, the prohibition of ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ was enshrined in the 8th amendment in the US Bill of Rights. The routine use of torture insures that innocent people will be abused, not to mention that the torturers themselves become dehumanized. No matter, it’s now the American way along with motherhood and apple pie.

Torture is not the only part of the abrogation of basic human rights that has been embraced by the American people and their government. The US now assumes the right to assassinate anyone, anytime in anyplace, including American citizens, it thinks is a bad guy. Forget the right to a fair trial and presenting of evidence; that’s so 18th century. And if innocent civilians get caught in the crossfire, well that’s the price of war.

America’s drone strikes have been a lot more successful lately, since the definition of insurgent/terrorist was changed. It used to be that a person had to be individually identified as a bad guy to be targeted, now every man killed in a drone strike between the ages of 18 and 35 is automatically assumed to be an insurgent.

In the latest killing innovation the CIA has begun signature strikes. Previously, they only targeted known bad guys; now, activity that’s merely suspicious is enough to get blasted to smithereens. That is how 11 girls aged 10 to 17 were murdered in Pakistan recently. They were out before dawn collecting firewood when they were taken out by a drone pilot sitting in a comfortable chair in front of a computer monitor thousands of miles away. Those of you dependent on the mainstream media probably didn’t hear about that incident, they’re only Pakistanis, after all.

Twenty American children killed as a result of a crazed gun culture and it’s the top news for weeks; eleven Pakistani kids killed by US drone strikes and it barely rates a mention in the US media. Well, there’s a war going on and collateral damage is inevitable, so they say. Still, it’s not hard to understand why an overwhelming percentage of Pakistanis hate America. And why Bin Laden couldn’t have asked for a better outcome to his death.