Saturday, December 03, 2005

Our sun, photo from Solar & Heliospheric Observatory in space. Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"A person who says 'I can do whatever I want' is not free if they can only do what they want. If you can do what must be done, then you're really free."

John Daido Loori
Earth to Leaders: Get Real

The Independent
By Cahal Milmo

Up to a million people will take to the streets of more than 100 cities in 30 countries today to demand greater action on tackling global warming.

The first worldwide demonstration on climate change will coincide with the opening of a key United Nations conference to set out the basis for the reduction of greenhouse gases after the Kyoto treaty expires in 2012.

Organisers of the protests warned that the world's leading industrialised nations had failed to make an impact on climate change and some, in particular Britain, were backsliding on their environmental commitments.

The UN meeting in Montreal, which will be attended by representatives of 189 countries, is set to be dominated by efforts to persuade America - the world's largest carbon emissions producer - to join future UN-led talks on ways to curb rising temperatures and sea levels.

In the context of Washington's steadfast refusal to contemplate any "binding" climate change commitments and signs that Kyoto is failing to cut greenhouse emissions, environmentalists believe a show of mass public discontent will send a powerful signal to the climate talks.

Phil Thornhill, of the London-based Campaign Against Climate Change, who originated the idea for the demonstrations, said: "It is a massive opportunity for ordinary people to show that urgent action is needed if we are to prevent a catastrophic destabilisation of the climate. We are in a race against time and, if anything, world leaders seem to be going backwards. These protests must send the message that this is the very last thing we need. Never before have we been able to do that with a single worldwide voice."

The centrepiece of the International Day of Climate Protest will be a mass protest in Montreal, where at least 15,000 people are expected to lobby delegates, including Britain's Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, for a globally binding climate agreement after 2012.

The protest in London, which is expected to draw similar numbers, will pass the offices of the American oil giant Exxon Mobil and the embassy of Australia, which has also refused to ratify Kyoto, before ending with a rally outside the American embassy in Grosvenor Square.

Across the world similar protests will be held in locations from Helsinki to Seoul. In Washington, drivers of fuel-efficient hybrid cars will rally around the White House while in New Orleans - devastated by Hurricane Katrina in August - there will be a "Stop Global Warming" street party in the French Quarter.

But despite the worldwide show of popular unity, there is pessimism that the 10-day UN meeting will break new ground in achieving a successor to the Kyoto treaty which will also include developing nations and the two countries expected to become the world's two biggest producers of carbon emissions by 2050 - China and India.

Ms Beckett this week showed the level of governmental expectation by describing those expecting new Kyoto-style targets to be agreed as "living in cloud-cuckoo-land". Even the original Kyoto agreement is failing to meet expectations. In 11 European Union countries emissions have grown, not shrunk. In Japan, emissions are nearly 18 per cent above target while in Canada - host of this week's meeting - the gap is almost 30 per cent.

Despite hopes among the Canadian and EU delegations, led by the British presidency, that the Bush administration can still be coaxed into the talks process, Washington has already bluntly ruled out any new commitments - pointing instead to a voluntary undertaking to cut greenhouse emissions by 18 per cent by 2012.

Instead the only proposal creating a buzz around the conference building this week was the idea, championed by Papua New Guinea, for wealthy countries to pay developing nations to preserve rainforests by not cutting down trees. The loss of tropical forest accounts for 20 per cent of carbon emissions by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide filtered from the air.

While such a scheme would represent progress, activists warn that the big picture - binding targets to achieve a net reduction in greenhouse gases which will include the US, China and India - is in danger of slipping away. Mr Blair was last month accused of moving away from the Kyoto model towards the stance of his key ally George Bush when he called for a focus on technology - from renewable energies to nuclear power - to reduce emissions.

George Monbiot, the academic and leading environmental commentator, who will address the London rally, said: "There is probably very little we can expect [from Montreal] because we are doing nothing to keep fossil fuel in the ground. All these techno-fixes are a waste of time if we continue to burn fossil fuel at the same rate."

"But this weekend's protests are taking place in a changed context - the media are listening and finally we have to make the politicians listen."

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Crab Nebula, photo from the Hubble Space Telescope. Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"There is a mystery in the universe. But what is it?"

Rene Magritte
As someone astonished to see his reflection in a mirror by moonlight, this article was irresistible...

Looking at a Venus Shadow

From Universe

Few people have ever seen a Venus shadow. But they're there, elusive and delicate—and, if you appreciate rare things, a thrill to witness.

Attention, thrill-seekers: Venus is reaching its peak brightness for 2005 and casting its very best shadows right now.

Amateur astronomer Pete Lawrence of Selsey, UK, photographed the elusive shadow of Venus just two weeks ago.

It was a quest that began in the 1960s:"When I was a young boy," recalls Lawrence, "I read a book written by Sir Patrick Moore in which he mentioned the fact that there were only three bodies in the sky capable of casting a shadow on Earth. The sun and moon are pretty obvious, but it was the third that fascinated me -- Venus."

Forty years passed.Then, "quite by chance a couple of months ago," he continues, "I found myself in Sir Patrick's home. The conversation turned to things that had never been photographed. He told me that there were few, if any, decent photographs of a shadow caused by the light from Venus. So the challenge was set."

On Nov. 18th, Lawrence took his own young boys, Richard (age 14) and Douglas (12), to a beach near their home. "There was no ambient lighting, no moon, no manmade lights, only Venus and the stars. It was the perfect venue to make my attempt."

On that night, and again two nights later, they photographed shadows of their camera's tripod, shadows of patterns cut from cardboard, and shadows of the boy's hands—all by the light of Venus.

The shadows were very delicate, "the slightest movement destroyed their distinct sharpness. It is difficult," he adds, "for a cold human being to stand still long enough for the amount of time needed to catch the faint Venusian shadow."

Difficult, yes, but worth the effort, he says. After all, how many people have seen themselves silhouetted by the light of another planet?

If you'd like to try, this is the week.

Your attempt must come before Dec. 3rd. After that, the crescent moon will join Venus in the evening sky, and any shadows you see then will be moon shadows.

Instructions: Find a dark site (very dark) with clear skies and no manmade lights. Be there at sunset. You'll see Venus glaring in the southern sky: diagram. When the sky fades to black, turn your back on Venus (otherwise it will spoil your night vision).

Hold your hand in front of a white screen—e.g., a piece of paper, a portable white board, a white T-shirt stretched over a rock—and let the shadow materialize.

Can't see it? Venus shadows are elusive. "Young eyes help," notes Lawrence, whose teenage sons saw the shadows more easily than he did.

Shadows or not, before you go home, be sure to look at Venus directly through binoculars or a small telescope. Like the moon, Venus has phases, and this week it is a lovely crescent.

Aside: If Venus is at peak brightness, shouldn't it be full? No. Venus is full when it is on the opposite side of the sun, fully illuminated yet far from Earth. Venus is much brighter now, as a crescent, because Earth and Venus are on the same side of the sun. Venus is nearby, big and bright.

Look at Venus or look away from it. Either way, it's a great view.

Pete Lawrence photo: Venus shadow Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A report on the latest meeting
between Dalai Lama and the scientists. Posted by Picasa
The Heart of Light

Western science journeys there, but maybe is still missing the point

From Wired

The Dalai Lama was in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, meeting with President Bush, giving a public talk on the subject of global peace -- and learning about meditation from Western scientists.

Wearing the traditional scarlet robes of a Tibetan monk and a bright orange eye shade emblazoned with a golf-company logo, the 70-year-old leader of Tibetan Buddhism listened intently as researchers at a conference on science and meditation described a growing body of research on the effects of meditation on the brain and the body.

The conference is the latest in a series of dialogues between the Dalai Lama and Western scientists that have taken place since 1987. Organized by the Mind & Life Institute, the conversations were private -- mostly taking place in the Dalai Lama's living room in India -- until 2003, when they were held in front of an audience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Scientists present at this month's meeting included Richard Davidson, a Harvard University-trained neuroscientist who has done pioneering research on Buddhist monks, and Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford University professor who studies the effects of stress on the body.

They told the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and an audience of 2,500 about recent experiments showing meditation can strengthen the immune system, prevent relapse in people with depression and lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone associated with stress.

All this is pushing the envelope of contemporary neuroscience. "It came as a great surprise to (scientists) that there were such clear neural correlates of meditative states," said Wolf Singer, the director of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, who also addressed the conference.

It's also pushing buttons for some scientists. The Dalai Lama's D.C. trip included a controversial keynote address to the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Calling the Dalai Lama a "religious symbol with a controversial political agenda," a number of neuroscientists urged the group to cancel his talk.

An online petition opposing the talk turned into a forum for neuroscientists on both sides of the issue to weigh in.

The research is taking neuroscientists into realms not often studied in Western labs. Davidson's team at the University of Wisconsin, for example, is exploring what states like compassion or happiness look like in the brain.

His research shows that Buddhist monks doing a meditation that evokes feelings of compassion exhibit very specific changes in a part of the brain called the amygdala. While much of Davidson's research has been on Buddhist monks with decades of meditation experience, he has also found significant changes in beginning meditators.

Davidson and another conference speaker, Jon Kabat-Zinn, taught employees at a biotech firm a form of meditation called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. After eight weeks, the researchers reported that workers who had received the meditation training had a stronger immune-system response than control subjects, based on their antibody response to a flu vaccination.

While Western researchers are exploring the effects of meditation on physical health, Alan Wallace, a leading Tibetan scholar and one of the Dalai Lama's translators, pointed out that when faced with physical ailments, Tibetans traditionally turned to doctors or healers, not to meditation.

The purpose of meditation, added the Dalai Lama, is not to cure physical ailments, but to free people from emotional suffering.

You can find my report on books resulting from previous Mind and Life conferences here.
More Murtha: I Was Wrong to Vote For War

from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review

"I admit I made a mistake when I voted for war. I'm looking at the future of the United States military. For some reason, they don't want to admit their mistakes," John Murtha said.

Iraqis are fed up with the American occupation because of the personal toll it is taking on their lives, the congressman said. When the U.S. military took back Fallujah from insurgents, American bombings and attacks left 150,000 people homeless.

"A military victory is unattainable if you don't win the hearts and minds of the citizens," he said. "It's time to turn it over to the Iraqis. They'll let us fight there forever."

The U.S. Army is "broken, worn out" and "living hand-to-mouth" from fighting in Iraq and may not be able to meet future military threats to this country's security, U.S. Rep. John Murtha said Wednesday.

"They're barely getting by," said Murtha, a ranking member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee on Defense.

"They're drawing back on equipment buys down the road," said the Democrat, who was in Latrobe, Westmoreland County, yesterday to address an invited group of community and business leaders. "We are not able to buy the equipment because of the cost of the war."

Murtha, of Johnstown, Cambria County, said the Pennsylvania National Guard is "stretched so thin" that it won't be able to deploy fully equipped units to Iraq until next year because of equipment shortages and a lack of training for soldiers.

Murtha predicted most of the U.S. troops will be out of Iraq within a year. "I predict he'll make it look like we're staying the course," Murtha said of President Bush. "Staying the course is not a policy."

On Nov. 17, Murtha, a Korean and Vietnam war veteran, publicly called for an immediate troop withdrawal, touching off a political firestorm in Congress that hasn't abated.

"We have to change direction. That's going to happen. ... It's just a matter of time," he said yesterday. "If I had my way, they'd be out sooner."

Murtha also is pessimistic about the stability of Iraq and the lack of trust between American and Iraqi forces. He said the Iraqis know who the insurgents are but don't always share their knowledge with the United States. He also believes a civil war is likely because of internecine strife between the Kurds, who control northern Iraq, and Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
Isn't It A Pity

from "China Urges U.S. to Join Kyoto Treaty"
By BETH DUFF-BROWN, Associated Press

"We really feel pity that the U.S. has not yet, and is not going to join the Kyoto Protocol, not only because of the size of its total emissions, but also because of its higher per capita emissions," Sun, director of the Department of Treaty and Law at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

China urged the U.S. to join the Kyoto treaty Wednesday, rejecting arguments that the pact is flawed because it fails to restrict emissions by developing countries.

China's Sun Guoshunis said his country was already cutting the polluting emissions, adding it was unfair to expect China and India — with the world's largest populations — to ask their impoverished people to cut back on energy consumption.

He spoke during the first meeting of the 140 countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol since it was signed in 1997 and went into effect in February. More than 8,000 environmentalists, scientists and government officials were attending the 10-day conference in Montreal. Some 120 environment ministers and other government leaders were expected to arrive next week for the final negotiations.

On Wednesday, the conference finalized the treaty's so-called "rule book," establishing greenhouse emissions cuts and mechanisms to allow developed countries to earn credit for carbon reduction by investing in development projects in other nations.

"The Kyoto Protocol is now fully operational. This is an historic step," said Canada's Environment Minister Stephane Dion, who is presiding over the conference.

The Kyoto agreement targets carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases blamed for rising global temperatures and disrupted weather patterns. It calls on the top 35 industrialized nations to cut emissions to 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

Harlan Watson, the senior climate negotiator for the State Department, said Washington would not be party to any agreement with legally binding targets.

The United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, argues the accord is flawed because of it does not restrict emissions by developing countries. President Bush has called for an 18 percent reduction in the U.S. growth rate of greenhouse gases by 2012 and has committed $5 billion a year on science and technology to combat global warming.

Environmental groups have denounced Washington at the conference, not only for turning its back on Kyoto, but also for saying it won't participate in negotiations for commitments to greenhouse cuts after the first phase of Kyoto expires in 2012.

Sun noted that while China is the world's second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, it also has the largest population, 1.3 billion people.

While China's gross domestic product had quadrupled from 1980 to 2000, "energy consumption only doubled," he added. "So that shows big efforts by the Chinese government."
Sun said China's objective was to raise energy efficiency by 20 percent between 2006 and 2010.
House Democrats Will Back Murtha To Bring U.S. Troops Home

From Raw Story

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Wednesday endorsed Rep. John Murtha’s (D-CA) recent call to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq as soon as possible, ROLL CALL reports.

Pelosi, at a press conference with reporters, said Murtha — her closest confidant on defense matters — has “changed the debate” in the country on the war, has won her support and will win the backing of the “majority of House Democrats.”

Murtha, a former Marine who initially supported the war, announced two weeks ago that he no longer supported the conflict in Iraq and called for a rapid withdrawal of American troops from the region.

“He knows of what he speaks,” Pelosi said of Murtha. “I believe the plan he has put forth makes America safer, our military stronger and Iraq more secure.”

Pelosi added that the Bush administration has “used poor judgment” and has yet to lay out a clear course to conclude U.S. involvement in Iraq. “There is a better way to do it,” the Minority Leader said ... and at the very least the nation should “have a debate on the subject.”

Pelosi held a news conference today in response to President Bush's Iraq speech and issued this statement (as prepared):

"What we heard today was a commitment to the status quo - a status quo that is not working.
"The 'Plan for Victory' backdrop against which the President appeared at the Naval Academy today was no more accurate than the 'Mission Accomplished' backdrop he used over two and a half years ago on the USS Abraham Lincoln.

"The President did not have a plan for victory when he went into his war of choice in Iraq, and he did not have a plan for victory today.

"The American people expected that the President would do more today than just put a new cover and 35 pages of rhetoric on old sound bites. What the American people wanted from the President today was some evidence that he has heard their concerns.

"The President says that the security situation in Iraq is getting better. But just because the President says it, does not make it so.

"226 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in just the last three months. The Generals have told us that the presence of large numbers of U.S. forces in Iraq encourages the insurgents. The President provided no specifics on how, or when, the number of troops will be reduced.

"With more than 2,100 American soldiers killed, thousands more wounded grievously, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, the President owes the American people more than he provided today.

"We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make America safer, to make our military stronger, and to make Iraq more stable. That is what the American people and our troops deserve."

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Beatles and Star Trek were among the 1960s phenomena that began a new exchange between "high" and "low" cultures. (The photo is from the movie "Help" Posted by Picasa

Soul of Star Trek

From Looking for Star Trek, High and Low
(Along With the Beatles, Herman Melville
and Harry Potter)

The success of advertising and commercial culture depends on ignorance. Few products are sold anymore on the basis of meeting a need or because they’re good quality and value. Most advertising creates a phony need and suggests, falsely, that its product will meet it. Advertising depends on people falling for it. The dumber the customers are, the easier it is. By and large, television has to be as least as dumb as the commercials if the commercials are to look smart. And sooner or later, everything becomes television, just as every business becomes Hollywood.

But the future depends on other qualities besides gullibility, short attention spans, jaded brains and senses, and psychological enslavement to what’s popular at the current moment---all of which are essential to the triumph of the will of advertising.

The future will only exist for individuals and for society if people are curious and adventurous in their minds and hearts, and if they esteem learning, knowledge, openness to the best new and old ideas and expressions, and above all to making up their own minds based on quality and quantity of information.

People who deride Star Trek fans as losers (because they are different) and conformists (because they are all the same) and especially as shallow people who pour way too much interest and faith in a relatively silly television show, just don’t get it. Star Trek fans often exercise more intellectual curiosity and openness, as well as sincere need to understand the larger contexts of their lives, and a heartfelt desire to live a good life, than many of their jaded critics do.

The full essay about the interpenetration of high and popular culture is at Soul of Star Trek here.

Captain Future's Log

Getting Real About the Climate Future

I've been thinking about this piece, and working towards it, for a long time. I'm posting various versions of this around the blogosphere, where I can get feedback. It's a long piece and it's on a subject people prefer to ignore, so I'm grateful for the people who took time to read it at least skimmingly.

So far a few minor errors were pointed out and have been corrected. But the most interesting comment that came up several times was that the doomsday scenario, which I describe in shorthand as Earth=Mars, should really be Earth=Venus, because an overheated Earth would come to resemble Venus more. In fact, some believe that something like a greenhouse effect did happen to Venus.

But the basic idea is to quickly communicate the idea of a live planet becoming a dead one. Mars seems to me to convey that idea better and quicker, while Venus has other associations, but I don't know-- I'm still torn. I'd be grateful for other opinions on this subject, or anything else in this essay.

Partly because I used actual html to embed links for several of the blog sites, I'm going to link to one of them, partly for convenience, but partly for your opportunity to sample the comments. I'll link to Booman Tribune, where (coincidentally) this essay was frontpaged on Tuesday.

UPDATE: It's been frontpaged at E Pluribus Media today. A slightly different type style for your eye.

International climate talks have begun in Montreal, while a disconnect, a gap, grows ever larger and more tragic.

On the one hand, this conference is the occasion for the latest research to be announced, which is telling us one story.

On the other, there is the diplomatic dithering, posturing and above all, the distance between what action is proposed---not only in degree but in kind---and what science is telling us about the problem.

When political activists aren’t ignoring the phenomenon that is going to dominate political life for the foreseeable future, they are arguing about the wrong actions. And Democrats who talk about nothing except Kyoto and fossil fuel emissions are setting themselves up to be co-opted.

Sooner or later the Republicans are going to do a 180 and admit that global heating is real---but there is nothing we can do to stop it.

And they will be right.

Then what are you going to do?

Part of the problem is that there isn’t one problem: there are two.

There is the Climate Crisis, which will affect everything for the next fifty years. And then there is the possible end-game of the far future, which I call Earth=Mars.

Two sets of problems with different actions required. Getting this wrong is politically suicidal, not to mention self-destructive on a vastly larger scale.


Monday, November 28, 2005

All eyes on Montreal this week... Posted by Picasa


Climate Crisis: An Ultimatum

from "Climate change: It's now or never"
In the Independent

In an open letter to delegates at the Montreal environmental summit, beginning today, campaigner Mark Lynas explains why action on climate change can no longer be stalled

I'm scared. For 15 years I've watched international progress on climate change get slower and slower, even while the pace of global warming seems to get ever more rapid. With time running out for the global climate, your meeting in Montreal represents a last chance for action. Here are a few suggestions I would urge you to consider as you gather to debate the future of the planet.

As the politicians dither, whole nations and ecosystems are shifting from the "still time" file to the "too late" file as vital climatic tipping points are crossed. There's now a good chance that 2005 will beat 1998 as the warmest year on record, the high temperatures undeniably giving a boost to the devastating hurricanes that battered the US coast this summer. With northern polar sea ice also declining to record lows this year, it looks too as if some kind of polar tipping point has already been crossed, making further rapid Arctic warming unstoppable.

Agree first principles. The 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, father to Kyoto, stated the need to avoid "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". No one made it clear what this might mean. Now is the time for you to agree on what constitutes "dangerous". In my opinion, this means raising the planet's temperature past two degrees above pre-industrial levels. In order to avoid crossing this critical threshold, you must agree to stabilise concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 400 parts per million, giving us only a decade before time runs out.

Cross the two degrees threshold, and we'll likely lose the Greenland ice sheet - flooding coastal cities across the world - as well as coral reefs, the Amazon rainforest, and many of the world's major breadbaskets, as deserts sweep across continental interiors.

Global temperatures will rocket past the two degrees limit unless rapidly developing nations such as Brazil, India and China agree to their own emissions targets, just as industrialised nations have done for Kyoto's first phase (due to end in 2012). In order to get the developing world to come to the table, rich countries' governments must offer a reasonable deal. Poor countries must be able to grow as rich countries contract towards a common goal of per capita emissions equality between nations. This is the contraction and convergence principle, surely the basic starting point for any post-2012 framework.

Having refused to ratify Kyoto, America will be officially exiled to the sidelines in Montreal, giving it much less power to subvert and undermine the negotiations than has been the case in past years. But expect to see representatives from the American delegation huddled in corners with the Chinese and Indians, gently urging them not to agree to European suggestions that it is now time for developing countries to consider taking on their own post-Kyoto targets.

Don't listen to them. Instead, give the Americans an ultimatum: either they agree to rejoin the Kyoto process and cut their own emissions or face ostracism from the world community.

Countries that have taken on emissions cuts can't afford to see their efforts undermined by free-riders like the US, so it's time to consider economic and trade sanctions if the US won't play fair. This also goes for Australia, which follows America's lead on global warming.

Serious cash needs to be put aside for an adaptation fund to compensate countries and regions left uninhabitable by global warming. This will include atoll nations such as Tuvalu, soon to be flooded by sea-level rise, and drought-stricken areas such as northern China, where hundreds of thousands of people are already environmental refugees.

If you had met Ye Yinxin, the only remaining inhabitant of what is now a crumbling ghost town in Gansu province, northern China, you would see the importance of this. I met Ye while researching my book High Tide. Ye's life is a solitary one of fetching brackish water for her few animals and trying to scratch a living from the sandy soil.

Spending all day alone in her abandoned village, she has plenty of time to remember the better years gone by, when neighbours would gather to swap stories - before the weather changed and drought reigned supreme. Minutes after I left her one-room, mud-brick house, a terrible dust storm turned day into twilight as blood-red clouds swept overhead. There's no compensation fund to pay Ye or her displaced fellow villagers for the climatic ravages they've already suffered.

Also in line for compensation will be water-stressed countries such as Peru. When I visited in 2002, I was armed with pictures of how the glaciers of the Andes had looked when my geologist father worked in them, in 1980. To my surprise and shock, entire glaciers have already disappeared, in the space of just two decades.

Peru's glaciers aren't just beautiful to look at: they're crucial natural reservoirs keeping rivers running all year round to the arid Pacific coast where most of the country's population lives. Once the glaciers disappear from entire mountain ranges, millions of people face the loss of their freshwater supplies. This situation is replicated across Asia, where rivers originating in the Himalayas also face the loss of glacial-origin water.

The EU and other Kyoto-ratifying countries need to get their act together and ensure they actually meet the protocol's targets. It's no good being self-righteous about the Bush administration while doing precious little at home to cut emissions. The EU, Canada and Japan are on course to miss their targets.

Margaret Beckett announced recently, without a trace of shame, that Britain wouldn't meet its self-declared target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2010. Then Tony Blair, the man who has done so much to put climate change on the international agenda, seemed to stab Kyoto in the back by questioning whether setting targets for greenhouse gas emissions is any longer the best way forward.

And as if to emphasise our Government's moral collapse on the climate change issue, the UK is now taking the EU to court in order to force it to allow an extra 20 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from British industry. This is all the more disappointing, given that the UK has presidency of the EU at the moment and therefore leads the powerful European delegation. Unfortunately, it looks as if the tough and visionary leadership we need in Montreal may have to come from elsewhere.

Listen to the noise on the streets outside your tightly sealed conference centre and hotel rooms. All over the world people are mobilising to demand stronger action from governments on climate change. Rather than feeling scared and despairing about global warming, people are getting angry about the lack of progress we've seen over 15 years of lengthy negotiations.

Major demonstrations are planned everywhere from Istanbul to Moscow on 3 December. In London, thousands are expected to attend a Campaign Against Climate Change march, via Downing Street to the American Embassy, making it the biggest climate change demonstration ever on British soil.

The marchers will demand leadership from the politicians on what is increasingly acknowledged as being a survival challenge to the entire human species. The protesters will want to see action. Now is the time to deliver.
A Private Little War

Sunday Telegraph

from 'Trophy' video exposes private security contractors shooting up Iraqi drivers
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent

A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis.

The video, which first appeared on a website that has been linked unofficially to Aegis Defence Services, contained four separate clips, in which security guards open fire with automatic rifles at civilian cars. All of the shooting incidents apparently took place on "route Irish", a road that links the airport to Baghdad.

The road has acquired the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous in the world because of the number of suicide attacks and ambushes carried out by insurgents against coalition troops. In one four-month period earlier this year it was the scene of 150 attacks.

In one of the videoed attacks, a Mercedes is fired on at a distance of several hundred yards before it crashes in to a civilian taxi. In the last clip, a white civilian car is raked with machine gun fire as it approaches an unidentified security company vehicle. Bullets can be seen hitting the vehicle before it comes to a slow stop.

There are no clues as to the shooter but either a Scottish or Irish accent can be heard in at least one of the clips above Elvis Presley's Mystery Train, the music which accompanies the video.

Last night a spokesman for defence firm Aegis Defence Services - set up in 2002 by Lt Col Tim Spicer, a former Scots Guards officer - confirmed that the company was carrying out an internal investigation to see if any of their employees were involved.

The Foreign Office has also confirmed that it is investigating the contents of the video in conjunction with Aegis, one of the biggest security companies operating in Iraq. The company was recently awarded a £220 million security contract in Iraq by the United States government. Aegis conducts a number of security duties and helped with the collection of ballot papers in the country's recent referendum.

The video first appeared on the website The website states: "This site does not belong to Aegis Defence Ltd, it belongs to the men on the ground who are the heart and soul of the company." The clips have been removed.

Capt Adnan Tawfiq of the Iraqi Interior Ministry which deals with compensation issues, has told the Sunday Telegraph that he has received numerous claims from families who allege that their relatives have been shot by private security contractors travelling in road convoys.

He said: "When the security companies kill people they just drive away and nothing is done. Sometimes we ring the companies concerned and they deny everything. The families don't get any money or compensation. I would say we have had about 50-60 incidents of this kind."
A spokesman for Aegis Defence Services, said: "There is nothing to indicate that these film clips are in any way connected to Aegis."

Last night a spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "Aegis have assured us that there is nothing on the video to suggest that it has anything to do with their company. This is now a matter for the American authorities because Aegis is under contract to the United States."
A Private Little War II

Los Angeles Times

from "A Journey That Ended in Anguish "

By T. Christian Miller

One hot, dusty day in June, Col. Ted Westhusing was found dead in a trailer at a military base near the Baghdad airport, a single gunshot wound to the head.The Army would conclude that he committed suicide with his service pistol. At the time, he was the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq.

The Army closed its case. But the questions surrounding Westhusing's death continue.

Westhusing, 44, was no ordinary officer. He was one of the Army's leading scholars of military ethics, a full professor at West Point who volunteered to serve in Iraq to be able to better teach his students. He had a doctorate in philosophy; his dissertation was an extended meditation on the meaning of honor.

So it was only natural that Westhusing acted when he learned of possible corruption by U.S. contractors in Iraq. A few weeks before he died, Westhusing received an anonymous complaint that a private security company he oversaw had cheated the U.S. government and committed human rights violations.

Westhusing confronted the contractor and reported the concerns to superiors, who launched an investigation.

In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military.

His friends and family struggle with the idea that Westhusing could have killed himself. He was a loving father and husband and a devout Catholic. He was an extraordinary intellect and had mastered ancient Greek and Italian. He had less than a month before his return home. It seemed impossible that anything could crush the spirit of a man with such a powerful sense of right and wrong.

On the Internet and in conversations with one another, Westhusing's family and friends have questioned the military investigation.

In January, Westhusing began work on what the Pentagon considered the most important mission in Iraq: training Iraqi forces to take over security duties from U.S. troops. Westhusing's task was to oversee a private security company, Virginia-based USIS, which had contracts worth $79 million to train a corps of Iraqi police to conduct special operations.

In April, his mood seemed to have darkened. He worried over delays in training one of the police battalions. Then, in May, Westhusing received an anonymous four-page letter that contained detailed allegations of wrongdoing by USIS.

The writer accused USIS of deliberately shorting the government on the number of trainers to increase its profit margin. More seriously, the writer detailed two incidents in which USIS contractors allegedly had witnessed or participated in the killing of Iraqis.

A USIS contractor accompanied Iraqi police trainees during the assault on Fallouja last November and later boasted about the number of insurgents he had killed, the letter says. Private security contractors are not allowed to conduct offensive operations.

In a second incident, the letter says, a USIS employee saw Iraqi police trainees kill two innocent Iraqi civilians, then covered it up. A USIS manager "did not want it reported because he thought it would put his contract at risk."

Westhusing reported the allegations to his superiors but told one of them, Gen. Joseph Fil, that he believed USIS was complying with the terms of its contract.U.S. officials investigated and found "no contractual violations," an Army spokesman said. Bill Winter, a USIS spokesman, said the investigation "found these allegations to be unfounded." However, several U.S. officials said inquiries on USIS were ongoing.

The letter shook Westhusing, who felt personally implicated by accusations that he was too friendly with USIS management, according to an e-mail in the report."This is a mess … dunno what I will do with this," he wrote home to his family May 18.

The colonel began to complain to colleagues about "his dislike of the contractors," who, he said, "were paid too much money by the government," according to one captain."The meetings [with contractors] were never easy and always contentious. The contracts were in dispute and always under discussion," an Army Corps of Engineers official told investigators.

By June, some of Westhusing's colleagues had begun to worry about his health. They later told investigators that he had lost weight and begun fidgeting, sometimes staring off into space. He seemed withdrawn, they said.

His family was also becoming worried. He described feeling alone and abandoned. He sent home brief, cryptic e-mails, including one that said, "[I] didn't think I'd make it last night." He talked of resigning his command. Westhusing brushed aside entreaties for details, writing that he would say more when he returned home.

His wife recalled a phone conversation that chilled her two weeks before his death."I heard something in his voice," she told investigators, according to a transcript of the interview. "In Ted's voice, there was fear. He did not like the nighttime and being alone."

On June 4, Westhusing left his office in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone of Baghdad to view a demonstration of Iraqi police preparedness at Camp Dublin, the USIS headquarters at the airport. He gave a briefing that impressed Petraeus and a visiting scholar. He stayed overnight at the USIS camp.

At a meeting the next morning to discuss construction delays, he seemed agitated. He stewed over demands for tighter vetting of police candidates, worried that it would slow the mission. He seemed upset over funding shortfalls. Uncharacteristically, he lashed out at the contractors in attendance, according to the Army Corps official. In three months, the official had never seen Westhusing upset."He was sick of money-grubbing contractors," the official recounted.

Westhusing said that "he had not come over to Iraq for this."The meeting broke up shortly before lunch. About 1 p.m., a USIS manager went looking for Westhusing because he was scheduled for a ride back to the Green Zone. After getting no answer, the manager returned about 15 minutes later. Another USIS employee peeked through a window. He saw Westhusing lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

The manager rushed into the trailer and tried to revive Westhusing. The manager told investigators that he picked up the pistol at Westhusing's feet and tossed it onto the bed."I knew people would show up," that manager said later in attempting to explain why he had handled the weapon. "With 30 years from military and law enforcement training, I did not want the weapon to get bumped and go off."After a three-month inquiry, investigators declared Westhusing's death a suicide. A test showed gunpowder residue on his hands. A shell casing in the room bore markings indicating it had been fired from his service revolver.

Then there was the note. Investigators found it lying on Westhusing's bed. The handwriting matched his.

Most of the letter is a wrenching account of a struggle for honor in a strange land."I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied," it says. "I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored."Death before being dishonored any more."

A psychologist reviewed Westhusing's e-mails and interviewed colleagues. She concluded that the anonymous letter had been the "most difficult and probably most painful stressor."She said that Westhusing had placed too much pressure on himself to succeed and that he was unusually rigid in his thinking. Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she said, was a flaw.

"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited," wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He could not shift his mind-set from the military notion of completing a mission irrespective of cost, nor could he change his belief that doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do should be the sole motivator for businesses."

Westhusing's family and friends are troubled that he died at Camp Dublin, where he was without a bodyguard, surrounded by the same contractors he suspected of wrongdoing. They wonder why the manager who discovered Westhusing's body and picked up his weapon was not tested for gunpowder residue.

Mostly, they wonder how Col. Ted Westhusing — father, husband, son and expert on doing right — could have found himself in a place so dark that he saw no light.

"He's the last person who would commit suicide," said Fichtelberg, his graduate school colleague. "He couldn't have done it. He's just too damn stubborn."

Westhusing's body was flown back to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Waiting to receive it were his family and a close friend from West Point, a lieutenant colonel.In the military report, the unidentified colonel told investigators that he had turned to Michelle, Westhusing's wife, and asked what happened.

She answered:"Iraq."