Saturday, October 22, 2005

"Do the Dance" 2005 by Elizabeth Murray Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

“Rhythm is one of the principal translators between dream and reality.”
Edith Sitwell
Next Week's Headlines! (They're Here Somewhere)

Tim Grieve at salon's War Room does a nice job of summing up many of the conflicting speculations on just what's going to happen when Patrick Fitzgerald announces his findings in the Plame affair.

It should happen in the coming week, since his grand jury's term runs out Friday. Of course, he could ask for a new grand jury if he's not satisfied with what he's got. But assuming he's about to lay his cards on the table, here's what Grieve says about the various theories (in an edited version.)

Here's the latest:
It's not the crime, it's the coverup. After a brief absence, the New York Times checks back in with a report suggesting that Fitzgerald isn't concerned so much with Valerie Plame's outing as he is with what may have been attempts by Rove and Scooter Libby to cover their tracks. The Times says that Fitzgerald is weighing charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements. Rove and Libby "have been advised that they may be in serious legal jeopardy," the paper says, but it adds that other White House officials could still be indicted, too. The paper notes that the public still doesn't know the identity of the official who first leaked Plame's identity to Robert Novak -- but that Fitzgerald does.
[This by the way is different than a Times story last week, which said it wasn't known whether Fitzgerald knows...]

No, it's the crime. The Wall Street Journal
says the questions Fitzgerald has been asking suggest that he's looking at charging someone with leaking classified information. Lawyers and other sources tell the Journal that Fitzgerald may be "piecing together a case that White House officials conspired to leak various types of classified material in conversations with reporters -- including Ms. Plame's identity but also other secrets related to national security."

It's about Dick Cheney's feud with the CIA. In a Los Angeles Times report, Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger say that Cheney has fought with the CIA since he served as secretary of defense for George H.W. Bush, and that his long-standing "tussle" for the agency is at the center -- at least in part -- of Fitzgerald's probe. "Understanding Cheney's long relationship with Libby, and their shared doubts about the CIA, helps explain why the vice president and his staff would draw the interest of the prosecutor," they say.

It's about Scooter Libby's obsession with Joe Wilson. In another L.A. Times report, Wallsten and Hamburger tell an Ahab-and-the-whale story of Libby and Wilson. The Times says Libby's effort to monitor and discredit Wilson began before Plame's name was leaked and extended into 2003, when Libby "ordered up a compendium of information that could be used to rebut Wilson's claims that the administration had 'twisted' intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq before the U.S. invasion."

The Associated Press chimes in with a reminder that Libby appears to have sought out reporters -- Judy Miller, Tim Russert -- in the days and weeks before Plame was outed. Murray Waas says that Miller failed to tell the grand jury about a June 23, 2003, meeting with Libby until after prosecutors showed her Secret Service logs suggesting that the meeting had occurred.

It's about Rove. The Wall Street Journal, relying on a "former administration official," says that Rove discussed Wilson and the role of his wife during conversations with White House staffers about how to discredit Wilson. Robert Luskin, Rove's lawyer, calls the charge "maliciously false."

It's really about Niger. Taking several big steps away from the mainstream press, we find Justin Raimondo arguing that Fitzgerald is interested in who forged those documents about Niger and yellowcake in the first place.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Rhone Glacier in Switzerland, same time of the year in 1859 and 2001. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

“The ability to act, to resist, to assent, to assert, to proclaim, to support, to deny, to bear. These are the components of character onstage or off....Act first to desire your own good opinion of yourself.”

David Mamet

The Lungs of the Earth: cancer spreading faster than expected. Posted by Picasa
In the Rainforests: Destruction Doubled

The Times
Sam Lister

THE rainforests of the Amazon are being destroyed twice as quickly as previously thought, with companies exploiting less easily detectable logging techniques, satellite images reveal.

An imaging method developed by scientists in the United States has shown for the first time the damaging effects of “selective logging”, in which trees are thinned out, but the forest is not cleared completely. The images indicate that an area of more than 5,000 square miles — about two-thirds of the size of Wales — is disturbed in this way every year. Until now, satellite-based methods for measuring deforestation across large areas have been capable only of detecting clear-cut swaths of land where all the trees are removed.

The findings, which are published today in the journal Science, are based on analysis of the rainforests from three different satellites using a computer programme that allows every pixel of an image to be studied in detail. By delving into the pixels, the researchers were able to determine a more exact percentage of deforested land whereas, before, analysts could consider each pixel only as entirely forested or deforested.

The technique, developed by Gregory Asner of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and colleagues, identified areas in the five main timber production states of the Brazilian Amazon where trees have been thinned, due mostly to selective logging. In this type of deforestation, only certain marketable tree species are cut and logs are transported offsite to sawmills.

Little was known previously about the extent or impact of selective logging in Amazon rainforests, the authors said, adding that the technique could be employed for other endangered ecosystems. In recent years, as logging has come under greater scrutiny, some operators have taken to stealthily extracting specific types of tree one by one, with the forest canopy covering their tracks.

The researchers found that, from 1999 to 2002, selective logging added 60 to 128 per cent more damaged forest area than was reported for deforestation alone in the same study period. They said that the total volume of harvested trees would have removed as much as 15 million metric tons of carbon from the ecosystem, representing a 25 per cent increase in the overall flow of carbon from the Amazonian forest to the atmosphere.

Logging is responsible for other serious ecological disruptions as well, such as the destruction of vegetation and vines that are pulled down when a tree falls. The forest also becomes drier and more flammable, as the shady canopy is thinned. The uncontrolled opening of logging tracks is also responsible for the destruction of much forest wildlife.

“Logged forests are areas of extraordinary damage,” Dr Asner said. “A tree crown can be 25 metres [wide]. When you knock down a tree it causes a lot of damage in the understory. It’s a debris field down there. Selective logging negatively impacts on many plants and animals and increases erosion and fires.”

The researchers scanned millions of square miles of rainforest and selected on-ground surveys over the five main states, which account for 90 per cent of all deforestation in the area. The annual extent of selective logging was found to be between 4,685 square miles and 7,973 square miles. Several protected national reserves, parks and indigenous lands were found to have been logged illegally.

The research is published two days after Greenpeace activists dumped a tonne of timber outside the offices of a government department in Central London in protest at illegal logging. The conservation group claims that illegally logged timber from Papua New Guinea has been made into plywood in China and ended up on British building sites.

March of the the edge of extinction. Posted by Picasa
Heat Death in the Antarctic


An alarming rise in temperature in the Southern Ocean threatens seals, whales and penguins as well as krill, which play a crucial role in the food chain.

The ocean west of the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by more than a degree since the 1960s - contradicting the results of computer models. Sea animals in the region are highly sensitive to changes in temperature. UK scientists predict whole populations and species could disappear from the region as a result of further warming.

Krill is considered a keystone species, an organism upon which many others in the region depend; but it is already under pressure. A study published last year showed krill numbers had fallen by 80% since the 1970s and experts linked the collapse to shrinking sea ice (the crustacean feeds on algae under the ice).

Professor Lloyd Peck, a polar expert also at Bas, commented: "It is the first paper to show a temperature change in the Southern Ocean that could have ecological significance and possibly global importance."

Computer models had suggested that a combination of ice, winds and currents would keep the Antarctic water cool and shield many marine creatures from the effects of climate change.
"Air temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have gone up by three degrees in the last 50 years or so and none of the computer models show that either," Professor Peck told the BBC News website. "So I think you have to accept that the ability of the models to characterise polar regions is relatively poor."

The amount of salt in the top layer of water has also increased. This is important as dissolved salt lowers the freezing point of ice. This makes it more difficult for sea ice to form in winter.
Ice is a powerful reflector of sunlight, so reducing its area at the poles could increase the warming effect both on polar regions and globally.
Wilma: The Eve of Destruction

Hurricane Wilma is likely to make landfall as a powerful category 4 with sustained winds of 150 mph, according to several forecasts. The Weather Underground site says that if Wilma strikes Mexico on Friday as expected, it could cause the greatest wind damage in history there, and overall a substantial amount of destruction.

But Wilma will likely be nowhere near finished. Wilma may hit Florida, probably as a hurricane (perhaps a category 3), and is likely to affect the Bahamas, the Outer Banks of North Carolina and farther north, as far as Nova Scotia, with tropical storm force winds and lots of rain.

What, him worry? Alfred E. Bush, as rumors escalate about indictments, possibly numerous and very highly placed, coming from prosecutor Fitzgerald, with charges that could send the administration into a crisis that will make Watergate look like the soundcheck. But for now...  Posted by Picasa
Note to US: Send Hurricanes to Iraq

By Vicki Allen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. National Guard units are under-equipped and increasingly unready to help in domestic disaster relief because essential gear is left behind after service in Iraq and Afghanistan, a congressional report said on Thursday.

Heavy demands on the Guard since September 11, 2001, have caused "declining readiness, weakening the Army National Guard's preparedness for future missions," the Government Accountability Office said.

It said the Pentagon's strategy for the Guard was "unsustainable and needs to be reassessed."

The report said Guard officials believed the response by its units to Hurricane Katrina last month "was more complicated because significant quantities of critical equipment, such as satellite communications equipment, radios, trucks, helicopters and night vision goggles, were deployed to Iraq."

The report said the Army National Guard estimated its units had left for follow-on troops overseas in Iraq and elsewhere more than 64,000 items valued at more than $1.2 billion.
The report said the Guard could not account for more than half of those items and had no plans to replace them as Pentagon policy required.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Shaman (walrus bone) by Silas Kayakjuak (Inuit) Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness."

Gary Snyder

Captain Future's Log

Whigging Out: What the New York Times must do now

There were three important pieces on the Plame affair in Sunday's New York Times, though only two got a lot of attention: the staff story about Times reporter Judy Miller and her jailing, and Miller's own piece about her testimony.

But the third piece was Frank Rich's column, when he took a step back and zeroed in on the underlying crime, the campaign to sell the Iraq war to the American people, Congress and the world.

It was a little-known group of insiders, Rich wrote, who engineered this campaign: known as the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG. Their cooked intelligence, spin and disinformation efforts were the real crime, Rich suggests.

The Bush-Cheney product rolled out by Card, Rove, Libby & Company had been bought by Congress, the press and the public. The intelligence and facts had been successfully fixed to sell the war, and any memory of Mr. Bush's errant 16 words melted away in Shock and Awe. When, months later, a national security official, Stephen Hadley, took "responsibility" for allowing the president to address the nation about mythical uranium, no one knew that Mr. Hadley, too, had been a member of WHIG.

It was not until the war was supposedly over - with "Mission Accomplished," in May 2003 - that Mr. Wilson started to add his voice to those who were disputing the administration's uranium hype. Members of WHIG had a compelling motive to shut him down.

In contrast to other skeptics, like Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency (this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner), Mr. Wilson was an American diplomat; he had reported his findings in Niger to our own government. He was a dagger aimed at the heart of WHIG and its disinformation campaign. Exactly who tried to silence him and how is what Mr. Fitzgerald presumably will tell us.

All the President's men lied in public about what they knew about the Plame affair, Rich says, because they thought Ashcroft's Justice Department would always be in charge of the non-investigation. But political pressure forced the appointment of an independent prosecutor, and their skillful manipulation in 2003 and 2004 became waiting for the consequences in 2005.

THIS modus operandi was foolproof, shielding the president as well as Mr. Rove from culpability, as long as it was about winning an election. The attack on Mr. Wilson, by contrast, has left them and the Cheney-Libby tag team vulnerable because it's about something far bigger: protecting the lies that took the country into what the Reagan administration National Security Agency director, Lt. Gen. William Odom, recently called "the greatest strategic disaster in United States history."

Rich concludes:
Whether or not Mr. Fitzgerald uncovers an indictable crime, there is once again a victim, but that victim is not Mr. or Mrs. Wilson; it's the nation. It is surely a joke of history that even as the White House sells this weekend's constitutional referendum as yet another "victory" for democracy in Iraq, we still don't know the whole story of how our own democracy was hijacked on the way to war.

That was Sunday. Wednesday the other shoe dropped, courtesy of the unlikely local rival, the New York Daily News. They ran a
short article on WHIG--but it has a bomb attached. The last paragraphs are:

Besides Rove and Libby, the group included senior White House aides Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James Wilkinson, Nicholas Calio, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley. WHIG also was doing more than just public relations, said a second former intel officer.

"They were funneling information to [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller. Judy was a charter member," the source said. [emphasis mine.]

Among other things, this is a direct challenge to the Times. Rich often defended Judy Miller as a colleague who went to jail for a principle. Though his Sunday piece mentions her as a co-author of a piece that neatly expressed the WHIG point of view, he didn't actually name her as a member.

The Daily News story essentially challenges the Times to investigate just what Miller's involvement with WHIG really was. My guess is that they are already on it, and if they aren't, they really need to be.

They need to devote a team of their best investigative reporters to looking hard at every Miller story, correlating its content and timing with every WHIG meeting. They need to follow Miller's trail wherever it leads, with or without her cooperation (I'd guess without.)

It is a way for the Times to reclaim some integrity from this sorrow mess. Not doing it would be more damaging than anything so far.

Eventually, people are going to be leaving their jobs and perhaps the Times because of how this was all mishandled. But right now, this is the story they must do.

As for the bigger picture, the Fitzgerald investigation needs to unravel the whole WHIG conspiracy, not only as it touched the Plame affair, but as Rich rightly emphasizes, the selling of the tragic war in Iraq. Rich sets a high but appropriate bar for Fitzgerald. But by implication he sets it as well for his own newspaper.

Baghdad after a car bomb. AP Posted by Picasa
Ten Years After

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice declined on Wednesday to rule out American forces still being needed in Iraq a decade from now.

Rice also declined to rule out the use of military in Iran or Syria.

Gitmo AP Posted by Picasa
New Weapon in the War on Terror: Feeding Tubes

Prisoners on hunger strike at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay say troops force-fed them with dirty feeding tubes that have been violently inserted and withdrawn as punishment, according to declassified notes released by defense attorneys Wednesday.

The repeated removal and insertion of the tubes has caused striking prisoners to vomit "substantial amounts of blood," and to experience intense pain that they have equated with torture, the lawyers reported to a federal judge after visiting their clients at the U.S. base in eastern Cuba.

Prisoners said they were taunted by troops who said the treatment was intended to persuade them to end the hunger strike that began Aug. 9, the lawyers wrote in affidavits filed as part of a lawsuit seeking greater access to inmates at the high-security jail for terror suspects.

"These large tubes ... were viewed by the detainees as objects of torture," attorney Julia Tarver, whose firm represents 10 Saudi detainees, said in an affidavit. "They were forcibly shoved up the detainees' noses and down into their stomachs."

Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin, a military spokesman for the Guantanamo detention center, said all detainees in the hunger strike are closely monitored by medical personnel and mistreatment is not tolerated, though he did not know the specific procedures for handling of feeding tubes.
"Detainees ... are treated humanely," Martin said. "Claims to the contrary are wholly inaccurate and blatantly misrepresent the excellent work being done here by honorable military and civilian professionals."

At Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military holds about 500 detainees suspected of terrorist activities. Martin said there are 25 detainees on hunger strike, including 22 who are being force-fed.

Defense lawyers who have visited the prison in recent weeks say their clients have lost substantial weight, appeared listless and depressed - and have insisted they will maintain the protest until conditions improve or they are released. A judge has not yet ruled on their request for increased access to the detainees and their medical records.

Tarver, who returned from the base on Oct. 2, said two of her clients were being force-fed and were unable to walk. "It's quite a drastic situation," she said.

Bear by Etidloie Adla (Inuit) Posted by Picasa
New York Times

Old Ways of Life Are Fading as the Arctic Thaws

This article is by Steven Lee Myers, Andrew C. Revkin, Simon Romero and Clifford Krauss.

TIKSI, Russia - Freed by warming, waters once locked beneath ice are gnawing at coastal settlements around the Arctic Circle.

In Bykovsky, a village of 457 on Russia's northeast coast, the shoreline is collapsing, creeping closer and closer to houses and tanks of heating oil, at a rate of 15 to 18 feet a year. Eventually, homes will be lost, and maybe all of Bykovsky, too, under ever-longer periods of assault by open water. "It is eating up the land," said Innokenty Koryakin, a member of the Evenk tribe and the captain of a fishing boat. "You cannot do anything about it."

For the four million people who live north of the Arctic Circle, in remote outposts and the improbable industrial centers built by Soviet decree, a changing climate presents new opportunities. But it also threatens their environment, their homes and, for those whose traditions rely on the ice-bound wilderness, the preservation of their culture.

A push to develop the North, quickened by the melting of the Arctic seas, carries its own rewards and dangers for people in the region. The discovery of vast petroleum fields in the Barents and Kara Seas has raised fears of catastrophic accidents as ships loaded with oil and, soon, liquefied gas churn through the fisheries off Scandinavia, headed to markets in Europe and North America. Land that was untouched could be tainted by pollution as generators, smokestacks and large vehicles sprout to support the growing energy industry.

But the thaw itself is already causing widespread anxiety. In Russia, 20 percent of which lies above the Arctic Circle, melting of the permafrost threatens the foundations of homes, factories, pipelines. While the primary causes are debated, the effect is an engineering nightmare no one anticipated when the towns were built, in Stalin's time.

Coastal erosion is a problem in Alaska as well, forcing the United States to prepare to relocate several Inuit villages at a projected cost of $100 million or more for each one.

Changing Traditions

In Finnmark, Norway's northernmost province, the Arctic landscape unfolds in late winter as an endless snowy plateau, silent but for the cries of the reindeer and the occasional whine of a snowmobile.
A changing Arctic is felt there, too. "The reindeer are becoming unhappy," said Issat Heandarat Eira, a 31-year-old reindeer herder and one of 80,000 Samis, or Laplanders, who live in the northern reaches of Scandinavia and Russia.

"The people who are making the decisions, they are living in the south and they are living in towns," said Mr. Eira, sitting inside his home made of reindeer hides. "They don't mark the change of weather. It is only people who live in nature and get resources from nature who mark it."

Other Arctic cultures that rely on nature report similar disruptions. For 5,000 years, the Inuit have lived on the fringe of the Arctic Ocean, using sea ice as a highway, building material and hunting platform. In recent decades, their old ways have been fading under forced relocations, the erosion of language and lore and the lure of modern conveniences, steady jobs and a cash economy.

"In the summer 40 years ago, we had lots of icebergs, and you could land your boat on them and climb on them even in summer," Mr. Gordon said. "Now in the winter they are tiny. The weather has changed. Everyone knows it. It's global warming."

Sinking Cities

Vorkuta, a coal-mining city of 130,000, is crumbling.
Many of the city's homes and factories were built not on hard rock, but on permafrost, a layer of perpetually frozen earth that covers 65 percent of Russia's territory. If the permafrost underneath melts, the ground turns to mush.

"Everything is falling apart," said Lyubov I. Denisova, who lives in a cramped apartment on Lokomotivnaya Street. The ceiling has warped, the walls cracked, the window frames splintered. Some buildings have been declared unsafe and abandoned.

Vorkuta lies on the edge of Russia's permafrost boundary, and some scientists predict that continued warming could advance that border hundreds of miles northward, weakening the earth beneath the vast infrastructure built during the days of the Soviet Union's industrialization of the Arctic. According to the Permafrost Institute in Yakutsk, the average temperature of the permafrost has already increased a degree or two.

"One oil spill would be the end of us," said Borge Iversen, a fisherman on the Lofoten Islands, a striking archipelago north of the Arctic Circle in the Norwegian Sea.

As recently as 2000, Russian tankers were rarely spotted passing the jagged peaks and sheltered inlets, surrounded by seas with the world's largest stocks of cod and herring, as well as killer and sperm whales. So far, there has not been a major accident, but the ships appear more and more, a harbinger of Russia's expanding efforts to extract oil and, increasingly, gas in the Arctic.

A Less Wild Future

One day last summer, the 1,200 residents of Pangnirtung, a windswept outpost on a fjord in Nunavut, Canada's Inuit-administered Arctic territory, were startled to see a 400-foot European cruise ship drop anchor unannounced and send several hundred tourists ashore in small boats.

While small ships have stopped in the Canadian Arctic, visits from large liners are increasing as interest grows in the opening Northwest Passage, said Maureen Bundgaard, chief executive of Nunavut Tourism, a trade association.
Ms. Bundgaard has been training villagers how to stage cultural shows, conduct day tours and sell crafts and traditional fare - without being overrun. "We're not prepared to deal with the huge ships, emotionally or in other ways," she said.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Recently voted the most influential entertainers of the 20th century by
.somebody who votes on that kind of thing. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"Make mad the guilty and apal the free
Confound the ignorant and amaze indeed
the very faculties of eyes and ears.."

William Shakespeare: Hamlet
Bush Knew?

According to a story in the New York Daily News, President Bush knew in 2003 that Karl Rove was involved in outing CIA covert operative Valerie Plame, and was angry because Rove botched the job.

The story says:
A second well-placed source said some recently published reports implying Rove had deceived Bush about his involvement in the Wilson counterattack were incorrect and were leaked by White House aides trying to protect the President.

"Bush did not feel misled so much by Karl and others as believing that they handled it in a ham-handed and bush-league way," the source said.

According to Reuters, Senator Charles Schumer of New York today asked for details about the president's conversations with Rove after The New York Daily News reported that the president was initially furious with when Rove conceded in 2003 that he had talked to the press about the Plame leak.

The Reuters story also quotes White House spokesperson Scott McClellan: McClellan on Wednesday broke with his usual practice of refusing to comment on the leak case, saying of the Daily News report: "I would challenge the overall accuracy of that news account." He didn't answer questions about what exactly in the story was inaccurate.

Kos points out that this alleged meeting between Bush and Rove predates Bush's public statements that he didn't know who was responsible for the leak but he would find out, and his statement that anyone in his administration guilty of the leak would be fired.

So if the story is correct, Bush not only knew, he lied to the world about a specific breach in U.S. national security.

UPDATE: Raw Story is reporting that two White House aides in v.p. Cheney's office are cooperating with prosecutor Fitzgerald, and have implicated senior officials, possibly including Cheney, in the outing of Valerie Plame: (Wilson is Joseph Wilson, her husband, whose mission to Niger finding that Bush administration claims of an Iraqi nuclear bomb program were false, and his subsequent going public with this, may have preciptated his wife's outing.)

The sources say that Hannah and Wurmser were given orders by senior officials in Cheney’s office in June 2003 to leak Plame’s covert status and identity in an attempt to muzzle Wilson.

UPDATE 2: According to an AP story:

Top White House aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby discussed their contacts with reporters about an undercover CIA officer in the days before her identity was published, the first known intersection between two central figures in the criminal leak investigation.

Rove told grand jurors it was possible he first heard in the White House that Valerie Plame, wife of Bush administration Joseph Wilson, worked for the CIA from Libby's recounting of a conversation with a journalist, according to people familiar with his testimony.
Most Powerful Hurricane of the Year...Heading Towards Florida

UPDATE: From National Weather Service

From AP

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras - Hurricane Wilma strengthened into a Category 5 monster early Wednesday with 175 mph winds, and forecasters said a key reading of the storm's pressure showed it to be the most powerful of the year.

Wilma was on course to sideswipe Central America and Mexico, and forecasters warned of a "significant threat" to Florida by the weekend.

The storm's power multiplied greatly over the last day. It was only Tuesday morning that Wilma grew from a tropical storm into a weak hurricane with 80 mph winds.

That's Julius La Rosa. Eh cumpari? Posted by Picasa
This Day in Baby Boomer History

1953- singer Julius LaRosa fired on daytime TV by its biggest star, Arthur Godfrey
1960-Martin Luther King, Jr. arrested in Atlanta sit-in.
1963- Beatles record "I Want To Hold Your Hand."
1967- Mariner 5 fly-by of Venus
1977- Concorde lands in NYC for first time.
1987- "Black Monday": Dow Jones drops 508 points, four times previous record.

The melting has begun... Posted by Picasa
Ice Caps, Thinking Caps: Spelling Out the Global Peril

(Reuters) [excerpts; emphasis added]

- World scientists are aiming to spell out in graphic detail the threat of flooding faced by millions of people from America to Asia as global warming melts the polar ice caps.

A major coordinated study of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets intends not only to lay the bald facts before world leaders but offer courses of action. "We want to be more prescriptive," said David Carlson, head of International Polar Year (IPY) starting in March 2007.

The two year study, announced on Wednesday by the International Council for Science (ICSU), will be the first coordinated probe in 50 years of the ice-bound ends of the earth under the onslaught of climate change. ICSU is a non-governmental organization whose members include the national science academies of 103 countries.

"Part of the reason scientists stay in the comfort zone is that they can always say: 'well we don't know enough,'" Carlson told Reuters. "We are going to take away the uncertainty. "If we come out of this and say 'we still don't know enough' then we will not have done our job," he added in an interview.

One estimate says that if the Greenland ice sheet -- the second biggest after Antarctica -- melts completely, sea levels will rise by seven meters and drown vast areas of the world.

But that is nothing compared with the estimated 200 meters that sea levels will rise if all the Antarctic ice melts in the coming thousands of years.

But it is not just rising sea levels that are at stake. The melting of the Arctic ice caps will dilute the salinity of the North Atlantic and slow down the life-giving Gulf Stream current that warms northern Europe.

Apart from ice, the IPY research will focus on big themes such as the northern climate system with a faltering Gulf Stream and thawing permafrost, and the ability of the southern oceans to absorb carbon. "We see the whole event as a real jump," Carlson said. "Instead of more of the same, we want this to be a real focus. Our voice is going to be much stronger."
The Self-Inflicted Arms Race

More than a decade after the demise of the Soviet Empire, and with no peer military competitor on the horizon, America is in an arms race with itself.

Military spending is the economic elephant in the middle of America’s living room. In 2006, we will commit roughly $500 billion to our armed services, an amount equal to the defense budgets of the rest of the world combined.

More on the impact of the military-industrial complex and why it is self-perpetuating, from Jeff Huber at E Pluribus Media.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Now A Hurricane, Wilma Strengthens, Kills Ten

from Reuters

Hurricane Wilma triggered mudslides that killed up to 10 people in Haiti as the season's record-tying 21st storm strengthened rapidly on Tuesday and headed for the Gulf of Mexico on a path toward storm-weary Florida.

At 8 p.m. (midnight GMT) on Tuesday, Wilma had top sustained winds near 100 mph (160 kph), up from 50 mph (80 kph) a day earlier. It was expected to strengthen into a powerful Category 4 storm on the five-step scale of hurricane intensity, with winds over 130 mph (209 kph) by the time it crosses from the Caribbean Sea into the Gulf of Mexico on Friday.
Rumors of Watergate II

Rumors are flying in Washington and across the Internet. Apparently begun from within the Bush administration and reported by outlets including US News, the speculation that Vice President Cheney is about to resign, because he is facing indictment in the Plame affair.

As of close of business in Washington on Tuesday, other rumors (with sources claiming knowledge of the investigation) put the number of Bush administration figures who might be indicted at 22. Indictments could be announced as soon as tomorrow, though NBC says not to expect them this week. Such a series of events could decimate the Bush administration more thoroughly and faster than the attrition of the Nixon administration in Watergate.

Tropical Storm Wilma AP Posted by Picasa
Atlantic Storms Match Record With Wilma

from the BBC

A new tropical storm has formed in the Caribbean, equalling a 70-year-old record for the highest number of storms in the Atlantic in a single season.

Tropical Storm Wilma is expected to become a hurricane before heading to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico and the US Gulf coast by the end of the week. These areas are still recovering from the devastation caused by hurricanes Katrina and Stan.

Wilma is the 21st named storm of the 2005 season. The only other time that as many storms formed since record keeping began 154 years ago was in 1933.
Planet Sees Warmest September on Record

from AP at Common Dreams [excerpts; emphasis added]

Worldwide, it was the warmest September on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday. Averaging 1.13 degrees Fahrenheit (0.63 degree Celsius) above normal for the month, it was the warmest September since the beginning of reliable records in 1880, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.

The second warmest September was in 2003 with an average temperature of 1.02 degrees Fahrenheit (0.57 Celsius) above the mean. For the United States it was the fourth warmest September on record.

The average U.S. temperature for the month was 2.6 degrees (1.4 C) above average. Only the West Coast and parts of the Rockies were near normal. Louisiana had its warmest September in 111 years of national records and an additional 27 states ranked much above average.

Some cities also set new records for warmest average September temperatures including: Houston-Galveston, Texas; London, Ky.; Shreveport, La.; and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Bill Moyers Posted by Picasa


And Penguins Marching, Two By Two

by Bill Moyers
from his Keynote Speech to the Society of Environmental Journalists Convention, published in Common Dreams [excerpts; emphasis added]

I don't fit neatly into the job description of an environmental journalist although I have kept returning to the beat ever since my first documentary on the subject some 30 years ago. That was a story about how the new Republican governor of Oregon, Tom McCall, had set out to prove that the economy and the environment could share the center lane on the highway to the future.

Those were optimistic years for the emerging environmental movement. Rachel Carson had rattled the cage with Silent Spring and on the first Earth Day in 1970 twenty million Americans rose from the grassroots to speak for the planet. Even Richard Nixon couldn't say no to so powerful a subpoena by public opinion, and he put his signature to some far-reaching measures for environmental protection.

I shared that optimism and believed journalism would help to fulfill it. I thought that when people saw a good example they would imitate it, that if Americans knew the facts and the possibilities they would act on them. After all, half a century ago, I had walked every day as a student across the campus of my alma mater, the University of Texas and could look up at the main tower and read the words: "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." I believed we were really on the way toward the third American Revolution. The first had won our independence as a nation. The second had finally opened the promise of civil rights to all Americans. Now the third American Revolution was to be the Green Revolution for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

Sometimes in a moment of reverie I imagine that it happened. I imagine that we had brought forth a new paradigm for nurturing and protecting our global life support system; that we had faced up to the greatest ecological challenge in human history and conquered it with clean renewable energy, efficient transportation and agriculture, and the non-toxic production and protection of our forests, oceans, grasslands and wetlands. I imagine us leading the world on a new path of sustainability.

Alas, it was only a reverie. The reality is otherwise. Rather than leading the world in finding solutions to the global environmental crises, the United States is a recalcitrant naysayer and backslider. Our government and corporate elites have turned against America's environmental visionaries - from Teddy Roosevelt to John Muir, from Rachel Carson to David Brower, from Gaylord Nelson to Laurence Rockefeller. They have set out to eviscerate just about every significant gain of the past generation, and while they are at it they have managed to blame the environmental movement itself for the failure of the Green Revolution. If environmentalism isn't dead, they say, it should be. And they will gladly lead the cortege to the grave.

Yes, I know: the environmental community has stumbled on many fronts. All of us in this room have heard and reported the charges: that the rhetoric is alarmist and the ideology polarizing; that command-and-control regulation produces bureaucratic bungles, slows economic growth, and delays technological advances that save lives; that what began as a grassroots movement has now become an entrenched green bureaucracy precariously hanging on in occupied Washington while passionate citizens across the country are starved for financial resources.

There is some truth in these charges; all movements flounder and must periodically regroup.
Before we consider the case closed, however, let me urge you to take a hard look at the backlash.

I didn't reckon on the backlash. If the Green Revolution is a bloody pulp today, it is not just because the environmental movement mugged itself. It is because the corporate, political, and religious right ganged up on it in the back alleys of power. Big companies fund a relentless assault on green values and policies. Political ideologues launch countless campaigns to strip from government all its functions except those that reward their rich benefactors. And homegrown ayatollahs are more set on savaging gay people than saving the green earth.

I especially failed to reckon with how ruthless the reactionaries would be. What they did to Rachel Carson when Silent Spring appeared in 1962 has been honed to a sharp edge aimed at the jugular of anyone who challenges them.

I felt the knife's edge some years ago when I took up the subject of pesticides and food for a Frontline documentary on PBS. My producer, Marty Koughan, learned that the industry was plotting behind the scenes to dilute the findings of a National Academy of Science study on the effect of pesticide residues in children. When the companies found out we were on the story, they came after us.

Before the documentary aired television reviewers and the editorial pages of newspapers were flooded with disinformation. A whispering campaign took hold. One Washington Post columnist took a dig at the broadcast without having seen it and later confessed to me that he had gotten a bum tip about the content from a top lobbyist for the chemical industry and printed it without asking me for a response.

Some public television managers were so unnerved by the propaganda blitz against a yet-to-be aired documentary that they actually protested to PBS with a letter prepared by the chemical industry.

Here's what most perplexed us: eight days before the broadcast, the American Cancer Society, an organization that in no way figured in our story, sent to its three-thousand local chapters a "critique" of the unfinished documentary claiming, wrongly, that it exaggerated the dangers of pesticides in food.

We were puzzled. Why was the American Cancer Society taking the unusual step of criticizing a documentary that it had not yet seen, that had not yet aired, and that did not claim what the Society said was in it? An enterprising reporter named Sheila Kaplan later looked into these questions for Legal Times. She found that the Porter Novelli public relations firm, which had several chemical companies as clients, also did pro bono work for the American Cancer Society.

The firm was able to cash in on some of the goodwill from their "charitable" work to persuade the communications staff at the Society to distribute erroneous talking points about the documentary before it aired - talking points supplied by, but not attributed to, Porter Novelli.
Legal Times headlined the story, "Porter Novelli Plays All Sides," a familiar Washington game.
This was just round one.
But this crowd never gives up. President Bush has turned the agencies charged with environmental protection over to people who don't believe in it. To run the Interior Department he chose a long-time defender of polluters who has opposed laws to safeguard wildlife, habitat, and public lands. To run the Forest Service he chose a timber industry lobbyist. To oversee our public lands he named a mining industry lobbyist who believes public lands are unconstitutional.

To run the Superfund he chose a woman who made a living advising corporate polluters how to evade the Superfund. And in the White House office of environmental policy the President placed a lobbyist from the American Petroleum Institute whose mission was to make sure the government's scientific reports on global warming didn't contradict the party line and the interest of oil companies. Everywhere you look, the foxes own the chicken coop.

My colleagues and I reported these stories again and again on my weekly PBS series, to the consternation of the President's minions at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The CPB Chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, turned the administration's discomfort at embarrassing disclosures into a crusade to discredit our journalism.

Tomlinson left the chairmanship this week but the Rightwing coup at public broadcasting is complete. He remains on the board under a new chair who is a former real estate director and Republican fund raiser. She recently told a Senate hearing that the CPB should have the authority to penalize public broadcasting journalists if they step out of line. Sitting beside her and Tomlinson on the board is another Bush appointee - also a partisan Republican activist - who was a charter member and chair of Newt Gingrich's notorious political action committee, GOPAC.

Reporting to them is the White House's handpicked candidate to be President and chief executive officer of the CPB - a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee whose husband became PR director of the Chemical Manufacturers Association after he had helped the pesticide industry smear Rachel Carson for her classic work on the environment, Silent Spring.

Mark my words: if this gang has anything to say about it, there will be no challenging journalism to come from public television while they are around; no investigative reporting on the environment; no reporting at all on conflicts of interest between government and big business; no naming of names.

So if the environmental movement is pronounced dead, it won't be from self-inflicted wounds. We don't blame slavery on the slaves, the Trail of Tears on the Cherokees, or the Srebrenica massacre on the bodies in the grave. No, the lethal threat to the environmental movement comes from the predatory power of money and the pathological enmity of rightwing ideology.

Once the leader in cutting edge environmental policies and technologies and awareness, America is now eclipsed. As the scientific evidence grows, pointing to a crisis, our country has become an impediment to action, not a leader. Earlier this year the White House even conducted an extraordinary secret campaign to scupper the British government's attempt to tackle global warming - and then to undermine the UN's effort to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions.

George W. Bush is the Herbert Hoover of the environment. His failure to lead on global warming means that even if we were dramatically to decrease greenhouse gases overnight we have already condemned ourselves and generations to come to a warming planet.

You no doubt saw those reports a few days ago that the Artic has suffered another record loss of sea ice. This summer, satellites monitoring the region found that ice reached its lowest monthly point on record - the fourth year in a row it has fallen below the monthly downward trend. The anticipated effects are well known: as the Artic region absorbs more heat from the sun, causing the ice to melt still further, the relentless cycle of melting and heating will shrink the massive land glaciers of Greenland and dramatically raise sea levels. Scientists were quoted saying that with this new acceleration of melt the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate cannot recover.

Nonetheless, last year a Gallup poll found that nearly half of Americans worry "only a little" or "not at all" about global warming or "the greenhouse effect." In July of this year, ABC News reported that 66% of the people in a new survey said they don't think global warming will affect their lives.

If you've seen the film "March of the Penguins," you know it is a delight to the eye and a tug at the heart. The camera follows the flocks as they trek back and forth over the ice to their breeding ground. You see them huddle together to protect their eggs in temperatures that average 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. So powerful and beautiful a film can only increase one's awe of our small neighbors far to the north.

In the New York Times recently, Jonathan Miller reported that conservatives are invoking "March of the Penguins" as an inspiration for their various causes. Some praise the penguins for their monogamy. Opponents of abortion say it verifies "the beauty of life and the rightness of protecting it." A Christian magazine claims it makes "a strong case for intelligent design." On the website "" you can find instructions to take a notebook, flashlight and pen to the movie "to write down what God speaks to you" as you watch the film.

Fair enough. It would not be the first time human beings felt connected to a transcendental power through nature. But what you will not find in the film is any reference to global warming. Why is it relevant? Because to reproduce, the penguins must go to the thickest part of the ice where they can safely stand without fear it will break beneath their weight. Global warming obviously weakens the ice. If it becomes too thin, the penguins will lose the support necessary for reproduction.

Yet the film is silent on this threat to these little creatures that conservatives are adopting as their mascots in the culture wars. The film's director explained that he wanted to reach as many people as possible and since "Much of public opinion appears insensitive to the dangers of global warming," he didn't want to go there.

Many evangelical Christians... need to be challenged to look more closely at their moral choices - to consider whether it is possible to be pro-life while also being anti-earth. If you believe uncompromisingly in the right of every baby to be born safely into this world, can you at the same time abandon the future of that child, allowing its health and safety to be compromised by a President who gives big corporations license to poison our bodies and destroy our climate?

There is a market here for journalists who are hungry for new readers. The conservative Christian audience is some fifty million readers strong. But to reach them, we have to understand something of their belief systems.

But we can't expect to engage this vast conservative Christian audience with our standard style of reporting. Environmental journalism has always spoken in the language of environmental science. But fundamentalists and Pentecostals typically speak and think in a different language. Theirs is a poetic and metaphorical language: a speech that is anchored in the truth of the Bible as they read it. Their moral actions are guided not by the newest IPCC report but by the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Here's an important statistic to ponder: 45 percent of Americans hold a creational view of the world, discounting Darwin's theory of evolution. I don't think it is a coincidence then that in a nation where nearly half our people believe in creationism, much of the populace also doubts the certainty of climate change science. Contrast that to other industrial nations where climate change science is overwhelmingly accepted as truth; in Britain, for example, where 8l% of the populace wants the government to implement the Kyoto Treat. What's going on here?

Simply that millions of American Christians accept the literal story of Genesis, and they either dismiss or distrust a lot of science - not only evolution, but paleontology, archeology, geology, genetics, even biology and botany. To those Christians who believe that our history began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and that it will end soon on the plains of Armageddon, environmental science with its urgent warnings of planetary peril must look at the best irrelevant. At worst the environmental woes we report may be stoically viewed as the inevitable playing out of the end of time as presented in the book of Revelation.

So if I were a free-lance journalist looking to offer a major piece on global warming to these people, how would I go about it? I wouldn't give up fact-based analysis, of course - the ethical obligation of journalists is to ground what we report in evidence. But I would tell some of my stories with an ear for spiritual language, the language of parable, for that is the language of faith.

Let's say I wanted to write a piece about the millions of species that might be put on the road to extinction by global warming. Reporting that story to a scientific audience, I would talk science: tell how a species decimated by climate change could reach a point of no return when its gene pool becomes too depleted to maintain its evolutionary adaptability. That genetic impoverishment can eventually lead to extinction.

But how to reach fundamentalist Christians who doubt evolution? How would I get them to hear me? I might interview a scientist who is also a person of faith and ask how he or she might frame the subject in a way to catch the attention of other believers. I might interview a minister who would couch the work of today's climate and biodiversity scientists in a biblical metaphor: the story of Noah and the flood, for example.

The parallels of this parable are wonderful to behold. Both scientists and Noah possess knowledge of a potentially impending global catastrophe. They try to spread the word, to warn the world, but are laughed at, ridiculed. You can almost hear some philistine telling old Noah he is nothing but a "gloom and doom" environmentalist," spreading his tale of abrupt climate change, of a great flood that will drown the world, of the impending extinction of humanity and animals, if no one acts.

But no one does act, and Noah continues hearing the word of God: "You are to bring into the Ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you." Noah does as God commands. He agrees to save not only his own family but to take on the daunting task of rescuing all the biodiversity of the earth. He builds the Ark and is ridiculed as mad. He gathers two of every species, the climate does change, the deluge comes as predicted. Everyone not safely aboard drowns. But Noah and the complete complement of Earth's animals live on.

You've seen depictions of them disembarking the Ark beneath a rainbow, two by two, the giraffes and hippos, horses and zebras. Noah, then, can be seen as the first great preservationist, preventing the first great extinction. He did exactly what wildlife biologists and climatologists are trying to do today: to act on their moral convictions to conserve diversity, to protect God's creation in the face of a flood of consumerism and indifference by a materialistic world.

Some of you are probably uncomfortable with my parable. You may be ready to scoff or laugh. And now you know exactly how a fundamentalist Christian who believes devoutly in creationism feels when we journalists write about the genetics born of Darwin. If we don't understand how they see the world, if we can't empathize with each person's need to grasp a human problem in language of his or her worldview, then we will likely fail to reach many Christian conservatives who have a sense of morality and justice as strong as our own. And we will have done little to head off the sixth great extinction.

That's not all we should be doing, of course. We are journalists first, and trying to reach one important audience doesn't mean we abandon other audiences or our challenge to get as close as possible to the verifiable truth. Let's go back for a moment to America's first Gilded Age just over a hundred years ago. That was a time like now. Gross materialism and blatant political corruption engulfed the country. Big business bought the government right out from under the people. Outraged at the abuse of power the publisher of McClure's Magazine cried out to his fellow journalists: "Capitalists…politicians….all breaking the law, or letting it be broken? There is no one left [to uphold it]: none but all of us."

Then something remarkable happened. The Gilded Age became the golden age of muckraking journalism.

Lincoln Steffans plunged into the shame of the cities - into a putrid urban cauldron of bribery, intimidation, and fraud, including voting roles padded with the names of dead dogs and dead people - and his reporting sparked an era of electoral reform.

Nellie Bly infiltrated a mental hospital, pretending to be insane, and wrote of the horrors she found there, arousing the public conscience. John Spargo disappeared into the black bowels of coal mines and came back to crusade against child labor. For he had found there little children "alone in a dark mine passage hour after hour, with no human soul near; to see no living creature except…a rat or two seeking to share one's meal; to stand in water or mud that covers the ankles, chilled to the marrow…to work for fourteen hours…for sixty cents; to reach the surface when all is wrapped in the mantle of night, and to fall to the earth exhausted and have to be carried away to the nearest 'shack' to be revived before it is possible to walk to the farther shack called 'home.'"

The Gilded Age has returned with a vengeance. Washington again is a spectacle of corruption. The promise of America has been subverted to crony capitalism, sleazy lobbyists, and an arrogance of power matched only by an arrogance of the present that acts as if there is no tomorrow. But there is a tomorrow. I see the future every time I work at my desk. There, beside my computer, are photographs of Henry, Thomas, Nancy, Jassie, and SaraJane - my grandchildren, ages 13 down.

They have no vote and they have no voice. They have no party. They have no lobbyists in Washington. They have only you and me - our pens and our keyboards and our microphones - to seek and to speak and to publish what we can of how power works, how the world wags and who wags it. The powers-that-be would have us merely cover the news; our challenge is to uncover the news that they would keep hidden.

A lot is riding on what we do. You may be the last group of journalists who make the effort to try to inform the rest of us about the most complex of issues involving the survival of life on earth.

Peace breaks out? Posted by Picasa
A Little Better All the Time?

From BBC News [excerpts; emphasis added]

Wars around the world are both less frequent and less deadly since the end of the Cold War, a new report claims.

he Human Security Report found a decline in every form of political violence except terrorism since 1992. "A lot of the data we have in this report is extraordinary," its director, former UN official Andrew Mack, said.

It found the number of armed conflicts had fallen by more than 40% in the past 13 years, while the number of very deadly wars had fallen by 80%. The study says many common beliefs about contemporary conflict are "myths" - such as that 90% of those killed in current wars are civilians, or that women are disproportionately victimised.

The report credits intervention by the United Nations, plus the end of colonialism and the Cold War, as the main reasons for the decline in conflict.

'A leading expert praised the study, but said it was only a first step and required further investigation. Owen Greene, director of the Centre for International Co-operation and Security at Bradford University in the UK, called it "a very significant contribution".

The UK and France have fought the most international wars since 1946, followed by the US and Soviet Union/Russia, the study found. But there have been ever fewer international wars, with most conflicts now being civil wars. Major powers have gone longer without fighting a war between each other than at any time in hundreds of years.

Most of the world's conflicts are now fought in Africa, but Burma and India have seen the most conflict since the end of World War II. Even in Africa, the number of conflicts is dropping. The average number of people killed per conflict has fallen from 38,000 in 1950 to just over 600 in 2002.

The report's authors do not yet have current data for the deadliest conflict in the world today - Iraq. But Mr Mack told the BBC News website it would not substantially alter his findings. "What we will see will be an increase in the average number of deaths, but not such a huge increase," he said. "Take the biggest claim about Iraq - 60,000 battle deaths per year. Compare that with 700,000 battle deaths worldwide in 1950."

Furthermore, he argues that what is happening in Iraq "is anomalous - it doesn't represent what is going on in the rest of the world".

The study also does not include Darfur, where there is little reliable data, Mr Mack says. Owen Greene of Bradford University said that was a significant omission. "Darfur could be massive," he said.

The fall in the number of deaths per conflict is due to a change from large-scale war between huge armies with heavy weaponry to low-intensity conflicts that "pit weak government forces against ill-trained rebels. "Although often brutal, they kill relatively few people," the report says.

The report was produced by the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia in Canada. It was funded by the governments of Canada, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The art of Earle K. Bergey Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"Tragedy embodies an experience of chaos, and the only cosmos that the tragic poet can guarantee to offset it with is the cosmos of his tragedy, with its integration of plot, character, dialogue and idea...If a despairing man starts to sing, he is already transcending the despair."

Eric Bentley

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Hurricanes and melting icebergs...the future is here. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

“…but the only way to emerge from dread is to live within your own system and exhaust yourself. It’s simple-mindedly doing the very best you can, when you give it your heart and soul, but it’s only going to be as good as you are. Dread depends on possibilities that you just barely entertain, and when you entertain the possibilities, dread disappears because you’ve done everything you can. If it doesn't work, too bad.”

Jim Harrison

Captain Future's Log

On Fear of the Future

[Slightly different versions of this log were on the recommended lists at the Booman Tribune and European Tribune community blogs.]

In my view, the future will be shaped by climate. Not as a contributing factor, but a dominant one. Not just the tepid background of “global warming,” not some distant and neutral-sounding “climate change.” I mean what I’ve been calling—and others (like Al Gore) are beginning to call—the climate crisis.

Certainly there are other factors, directly and indirectly related--other political and economic forces, the future impact of declining energy and natural resources, and so on. But especially from our point of view, climate will dominate, partly because we don't think of it as a factor at all. And that's one reason we are so afraid of it that we deny it altogether.

Fear and the Future

Fear is engendered by danger or change that threatens injury or hardship we are not confidently prepared for. Some fear comes from uncertainty. When will bad things happen? How bad will they be? How will they affect me, my family, community, country, planet? My life, and the lives of my children and grandchildren?

The future is by its nature uncertain (a least to our knowledge.) So visions of the future are always fictional. Yet they may help us prepare, and even shape that future. Fear is a visceral response to danger that we animals have. The ability to gather and evaluate information consciously, and consciously prepare for danger, is something we humans share.

On the Southpaw blogs like dkos and Booman Tribune there have been a number of recent diaries about fear of the very near future, by people facing imminent difficulties. The response has revealed a major antidote to fear: community. We are social animals, and science is just beginning to understand what that means. As conscious human beings, we vary in our relationships to each other. But we also belong, or can belong, to many different kinds of communities, from the ‘kossacks’ or Booman blogger communities, to neighborhood, families and lifelong friends.

Community of all kind is going to become more important in the future I envision. I believe we will find ourselves building new communities, which we can hope will honor our special individualities and contributions.

They will, in that ideal, adjust to a different balance of our innate and learned behaviors than our present society models, supports and seems to demand—even to the point of insisting that such things as ruthless selfishness, and only such qualities, are “natural.” The empathy and sense of the group’s welfare that is present in our genetic heritage (even if mostly as a capacity to learn it) will aid us in the rediscovery of sharing over selfishness, without it becoming toxic self-humiliation.

If there is to be a future not dominated by chaos and conflict, we will have to rediscover, and learn in perhaps entirely new ways for our species—that we are all in this together.

I say this as a person who isn’t very social, who prefers reading and writing, solitude and quiet, or the organized activities of music and theatre. I don’t think I would have to give that up, if the community values what I contribute because of who I am. And I am willing to contribute, as I believe my life so far proves. On the other hand, if my voice and myself are rejected, it won't surprise me.

I do believe that the kind of communities we create will determine a lot about our future, and the future of the planet, perhaps for eons to come.

In some ways it may be easier that we foresee now. As the context changes, the social atmosphere changes. Different qualities are called forth in individuals, and the surrounding society begins to value different behaviors, knowledge and points of view. The visions of apocalyptic futures in movies and books often portray a survivalist mentality, a war of all against all, or the return of medieval war lords. It doesn’t have to happen that way.

We have to prepare for a future that in our terms now will be worse---that is, harder. We can see its outline this year. In many ways,
2005 is the first year of our climate crisis future.

The Climate Crisis Future

In my vision, climate shapes the rest of the century, and beyond. No one knows exactly how, but my guess is that for awhile it will be much like 2005, though there will be worse years, and perhaps quieter ones, as we trend towards a much different world than we know now.

For the next few decades, we will see changes wrought by climate that are measurable but appear somewhat gradual, possibly because where the changes occur is remote from our everyday experience, like the melting in the Arctic and the snows disappearing from high peaks of mountains around the world.

But at the same time, we will see major local catastrophes like the effect of hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. And we will see other threats, like the outbreak of diseases and even pandemics, that seem to be unrelated to climate, but may in fact be a predictable outcome of the climate crisis.

It is the catastrophe of Katrina that highlights one crucial fact about the climate crisis. You may have noticed the scientific argument about whether Katrina and other strong hurricanes are due to the greenhouse effect. Some scientists believe their data supports the idea, others suggest that a different pattern is at work that has little to do with global warming.

What we miss in this dispute however is the essential agreement: for whatever reason, or combination of reasons, there are more hurricanes and stronger hurricanes now, in both the Atlantic and Pacific, and this pattern is likely to persist for at least a decade, and probably more. In practical terms, it doesn't matter why there will be major disasters and relentless deterioration--just that there very likely will be.

This highlights a fact about our time that will soon become glaringly obvious. We don’t think about climate affecting anything because we have lived through an exceptionally moderate period. Our infrastructure protects us within the range of temperatures and other climate manifestations of this moderate period. But if we think it can protect us from more intense patterns of temperature or precipitation or storm activity, we need to look again at Katrina and other hurricanes this season, just as Europe had to look at its recent summers of killing heat waves.

History is replete with changes related to climate, though our history books don’t emphasize this. Even within living memory, the Depression of the 1930s was greatly exacerbated by years of drought through much of America, as far east as Pennsylvania, into the deep south, and of course to the dust bowl phenomenon in the west.

But in this moderate period, we have lost touch with the power of climate and other physical forces, yet their residual power in our psyches is perhaps demonstrated by our current denial. We rely on science to explain natural forces and our interaction with them, and on technology to control these forces or protect us from them. But when science warns us of the onrushing climate crisis, we largely ignore it. That’s powerful denial, greatly aided by irresponsible leadership more intent on short-term profit, but also in denial.

It may be awhile yet before the shape and import of the climate crisis becomes clear enough in the popular mind to focus action. But Katrina is an important indicator of what we’ll face in our lifetimes: violent and extreme events that will test our ability to cope and adjust.

Katrina revealed the relationships of nature and human activity, of interrelationships of the natural and built environments, political, social and cultural institutions, economics, energy, health, and more. We could have learned more from Katrina, and perhaps we will, but partly because our federal leadership is so poor, it will probably take other such disasters before we take constructive action.

At first, the disasters and dislocations of our immediate future---the next 50 years, say---will probably be seen first as separate and isolated, and eventually as forming patterns requiring anticipatory action. This will be the challenge of the climate crisis in the future we can foresee. Because there is nothing we can do now to stop it.

These actions are likely to mean large investments in infrastructure, possibly large dislocations of populations, and reorganizing of all kinds of economic, social and political institutions and relationships.

Whether all of these problems are direct results of the human-induced global heating effect, or a combination of that and “natural” climate changes and cycles, won’t really matter.

It will likely take awhile before it is understood that if we are to address the problems of our time and be responsible to the farther future of the planet and humanity, it will require two sets of actions, separate but conducted simultaneously.

To be responsible to the future, we will severely lessen the human activity causing the greenhouse effect. Though there will be factors that encourage this, like peak oil, the needs of current times may make it difficult. But the long-term future of life as we know it on this planet, beyond this century, will likely depend on it.

To be responsible to our time will require addressing the consequences of the climate crisis, and anticipating its effects to lessen their impact. This will mean a lot of changes and a lot of cultural and individual adjustments in assumptions and attitudes. For instance, those who don’t believe in the priority of the climate crisis will need to take it seriously. And those who believe that the solution to the climate crisis in the near term is cleaner energy will need to realize that this is a good thing for other reasons, but will not prevent the climate crisis or its manifestations for the foreseeable future.

This is the outline of a vision that I hope to articulate more fully, providing links and sources. However, a
recent article by Bill McKibben is a good summary of recent global heating news. But the intent of this log entry is to present this vision in the context of how to deal with the fear of this onrushing future.

On Fear of the Climate Crisis Future

The climate crisis future will be a set of challenges, to how we think as well as what we do. Assuming that we are not so overwhelmed that we are reduced to complete chaos, it will also change how we feel.

It will even become integrated into our lives. To take a simple instance, the next generation of students will be paying more attention to the role of climate in history. Literature students will be reading Wila Cather and stories in which individuals and communities must confront climate and the natural world, rather than the literature of urban angst and melodrama. As time goes on, the changes in basic beliefs---in spirituality and science, in political theory and practical politics and economics---could be so great that we wouldn't recognize our beliefs today as anything but crazy.

But our first task in the now will be dealing with fear. Fear of the unknown, of hardships and injury. It may be necessary to address these fears even before we can see clearly what we might confront.

One way is to anticipate what this future might be like. In some ways it hardly matters whether the future will come to pass in just this way. By fully exploring the vision, we can come to grips a little better with the fear of many unknowns. I think this vision is worth considering as a likely future. It does at least provide a framework to view current events.

Another way is to realize that our decisions will affect this future. What we do now, including how we approach our individual lives and what kind of communities we form.

If we commit ourselves to positive action--which may be political or cultural or spiritual or, ideally, all of these and more---then we live our lives to our potential. Fear is about the future, what may happen. But essentially we know what will happen. We will all die. We operate within that context.

Hope is about the present, what we commit ourselves to now, to help create a better future. It is about life trying to make more life. It is what life does. What kind of a future we work towards is a living statement of who we are.