People's World

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  1. There may not yet be the political will in Congress to pass significant climate change legislation. But we can be sure that any and all efforts to address this issue will continue to get strong support from Mother Nature. Just as Hurricane Sandy helped convince millions that climate change was indeed real and already affecting us, weather and climate events in 2013 will reinforce that message. The resonance of the climate change deniers' message is receding, in large part due to declining receptiveness to anti-science claims. Millions are learning from their own experiences that predictions of climate-change-induced weather disasters are not some far-off futuristic unlikely event: they are coming true in the here-and-now. We can't know for certain whether there will be another massive, unexpected hurricane, nor where any of the hurricanes to come this year will strike with greatest force. But we can be certain that this year and for many years to come, at least some hurricanes will be larger and more intense, and will hit ground in unexpected places. And we can be sure that storm surges will continue to start from higher and higher sea levels. We can be sure that the intense droughts that have swept different parts of the globe, including more than half of the continental United States, along with major agricultural areas of Russia and Australia, will continue. Again, we don't know exactly where or exactly how intense they will be, but there is no doubt that droughts (and desertification) will spread. Similarly with forest fires. They have grown more numerous and more intense for decades, and their upward trajectory shows no sign of slowing down. Some fires are now so intense that instead of requiring a few decades for the land to recover, it will take over a century. Every study of the Greenland ice fields is concluding that they are melting at rates hitherto thought impossible, adding more fresh water to the oceans, slowing the Gulf Current and threatening a massive increase in sea levels. Arctic ice sheets are melting faster than predicted, and the "Northern Passage" is becoming a reality - and decreased ice means the darker, underlying water will absorb more heat from the sun, increasing even further the warming at the poles, which is much higher than at more temperate latitudes. Global warming is, at the very least, contributing to excessively hot summers in different parts of Europe (from France in 2003 to Russia in 2010-11). This not only affects the weather, it also affects the water supply, the growing season, the cost of food worldwide, the spread of drought, increases in health disasters from smog to premature death, in addition to the direct effects on humans and on the demand for energy. All these problems are going to get worse - the accumulated amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere guarantees that. One big environmental battle this year will be a renewal of hostilities over the proposed U.S.-Canada Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama first postponed a decision until after last year's elections, then, when pressed by Republicans for an immediate decision, said "No" to the pipeline since there was insufficient time for the State Department to fully evaluate the proposal. Now there are continuing calls by Republicans, by some Democrats, and by some who buy the false claim of the company involved that it will create thousands of jobs. That claim is based on the most generous possible job-multiplier, not on actual jobs working on the pipeline, and based primarily on temporary construction jobs rather than any permanent jobs. The pipeline is to transport shale oil from fields in Canada (this is why the State Department is involved) to the Gulf Coast, and will mainly be used to ship that oil elsewhere - in other words, it won't directly affect U.S. energy fuel availability nor price. Dr. James Hansen, prominent climate change scientist, has famously said that if the pipeline is built, it will be "game over for the environment." Bill McKibben's has coordinated many demonstrations last year against the pipeline, and continues to campaign against its construction. This may result in another pitched battle between congressional Republicans and the White House. Environmentalists are nervous about the position the Obama administration will take, and are watching closely. The Republicans and other pipeline supporters claim that this is an energy-independence, job-creating project, and will continue to make fantastical claims about the supposed benefits. After suffering a public relations disaster following Hurricane Sandy, those who want us to ignore science in the name of short-term financial benefit (in which the benefits will accrue to very large energy companies and their investors, including U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice) persist in their efforts. But the role of human action is to work to ensure that environmental conditions don't get so much worse that human life is threatened on a mass scale. A healthy humanity needs a healthy planet, and every step we take to heal the planet, or to keep it from getting hit harder, is a contribution to humanity's ability to survive and thrive. This requires the combined efforts of the environmental movement, the labor movement, the peace movement (war and preparations for war are among the most environmentally destructive things that humans do), the civil rights movements, and youth, rightly worried about their future. Environmental issues are not just other issues we ought to do something about if we can get around to it. Environmental problems affect us all, and will continue to do so in 2013. This article was first published in People’s World by Marc Brodine.
  2. Environmental activists world wide - including community leaders and journalists - were being killed at a rate of one per week during 2011 alone, reports The Guardian. Today, the persecution of environmentalists is on the rise, as pro-oil corporate interests seem to prevail over ecological concerns; depleting resources are exacerbating the situation. In the last three years altogether, say researchers, the death toll has risen considerably, particularly in Latin America and Asia. But killings, they say, have happened in at least 34 countries, and many of them were instances in which indigenous groups and landowners clashed with powerful industries and corporations, according to a report released June 19 by London-based nonprofit organization Global Witness. Bill Kovarik, a communications professor at Virginia's Radford University, has been compiling data on the killings of environmental leaders since 1996. He remarked, "For many years, intolerant regimes tolerated environmental activists. That was the one thing you could do safely, until some crossed into the political area. Now, environmentalism has become a dangerous form of activism, and that is [a] relatively new [phenomenon]." Among the recent deceased who sought progressive change include: Rev. Fausto Tentorio, an Italian priest who fought against mining companies to protect the native lands of the Manobo tribe in the southern Phillippines. His murder was believed to be a revenge attack for his activism. Thongnak Sawekchinda, an activist who campaigned against the pollution of coal-fired factories in his province near Bangkok, Thailand. He was gunned down by several men who were paid $10,000 to execute him. Two high-profile Amazon activists, Jose Claudio Ribeiro de Salva and Maria do Espirito Santo, a couple that protested and blew the whistle on illegal loggers decimating the rainforest. They, too, were gunned down. And a particularly notable example of a more corporate attack on environmentalism came in the form of oil company Royal Dutch Shell, which conspired with the Nigerian government in committing human rights atrocities in Nigeria throughout the 90's. After the native Ogoni community was exposed to illness and disease by one oil spill after another, they led protests against Shell. The oil giant and government responded by working to gag the affected people by way of murder and torture. This culminated in the execution of journalist/environmentalist Ken-Saro Wiwa, who had made serious moves to put an end to the company's ecoterror. Tragedies such as this occur every day, and wherever Big Oil and corporations seem to fail to silence the outcries of environmentalists, there appears to be a concentrated effort on the part of the right wing to paint environmental activists as unbalanced extremists and liberal conspiracy theorists. This has resulted in a wave of profit-driven, corporate-backed climate change denial as Republicans and other members of the One Percent attempt to implement this strategy. The Heartland Institute, part of the anti-science/anti-environment agenda, recently outraged many by putting up ads in which environmental activists were compared with the Unabomber. Many environmentalists responded by staging a protest at Chicago's Hilton hotel on May 22, where the Institute was meeting for a conference. For those activists who seek positive change, many realize that it can't be properly achieved under capitalism. "Capitalism can't think ahead; it is fundamentally incapable of dealing with climate change," said microbial ecologist Steve McCallister, a shop steward for biology professors with the American Federation of Teachers Local 3544. Oil production, he stressed, "is not going to give us energy independence." The solution is to "end this notion that corporations have the same rights as people. They have to be regulated, because the balance of ecosystems is at risk." It would seem that until capitalism is defeated, fossil fuels and their corporations will tighten their grip, slandering and victimizing environmental activists alongside workers, people in poverty, and others who are part of the progressive movement. "It is a well-known paradox," stated Global Witness, "that many of the world's poorest countries are home to the resources that drive the global economy. Now, as the race to secure access to these resources intensifies, it is poor people and activists who increasingly find themselves in the firing line." This article was first published in People's World on May 23, 2011. Author: Blake Deppe.
  3. Last year's Fukushima nuclear catastrophe was "man-made" and "the result of collusion" between the government, regulators and the company operating the nuclear plants, a report commissioned by Japan's Parliament has charged. For Americans, the stinging report, the result of months of investigation, raises questions about the recent push for expansion of nuclear power plants in the U.S. "It's a worldwide problem: the nuclear industry has taken control of the regulators," says Arnie Gunderson, a former nuclear industry engineer and manager who now works with the nonprofit Fairewinds Energy Education. In Japan, the government, regulators, and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), "effectively betrayed the nation's right to be safe from nuclear accidents," says the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission report, released July 5. Commission Chairman Kiroshi Kurokawa, a doctor, fellow of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, and former president of the Science Council of Japan, wrote in an introductory message: "The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster - that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. Japan sits in a volcanic zone. Destructive earthquakes, often resulting in tsunamis, occur several times a century. Nevertheless, said Kurokawa, the report "catalogues a multitude of errors and willful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared" for the earthquake and tsunami. It also notes "serious deficiencies in the response to the accident by TEPCO, regulators and the government." Kurokawa writes that over time in Japan, "nuclear power became an unstoppable force, immune to scrutiny by civil society. Its regulation was entrusted to the same government bureaucracy responsible for its promotion." He points to "a tightly knit elite with enormous financial resources" and bureaucrats who "put organizational interests ahead of their paramount duty to protect public safety." "it became accepted practice to resist regulatory pressure and cover up small-scale accidents," he said. In language that sounds familiar in the American scene, the commission concluded that: "From TEPCO's perspective, new regulations would have interfered with plant operations and weakened their stance in potential lawsuits. That was enough motivation for TEPCO to aggressively oppose new safety regulations and draw out negotiations with regulators via the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC). The regulators should have taken a strong position on behalf of the public, but failed to do so." The commission says, "The underlying issue is the social structure that results in 'regulatory capture,' and the organizational, institutional, and legal framework that allows individuals to justify their own actions, hide them when inconvenient, and leave no records in order to avoid responsibility. In what amounts to a call to grassroots activism, Kurokawa concludes, "each of us should reflect on our responsibility as individuals in a democratic society." Japan has been operating without nuclear power since early May when the last of its 50 working reactors was shut down, officially for a scheduled safety check. Since the Fukushima disaster, a growing movement has been demanding that Japan adopt a nuclear-free energy policy. Anti-nuclear protests have ratcheted up across Japan since Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on June 16 okayed the restart of two nuclear reactors at the Oi plant, in an area full of seismic faults, AFP reported. Noda's claims that the reactors would be safe have been met with public skepticism. His claims are "truly the return to the now discredited nuclear "safety myth," the Japanese Communist Party newspaper Akahata editorialized. The restart "indicates that the Noda cabinet has given in to the demands of major businesses that promote the continuation of reliance on nuclear power generation," said Akahata. On June 29, a crowd estimated as high as 200,000 jammed the streets to protest outside the prime minister's residence in Tokyo. Weekly Friday protests have been held outside Noda's residence since March. Among the leaders has been Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe, who started an anti-nuclear petition that has so far gathered more than 7.5 million signatures, according to AFP. In the U.S., many experts criticize the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as too cozy with the nuclear power industry. The NRC was created by Congress in 1974, because of conflict-of-interest concerns about the previous Atomic Energy Commission, which was supposed to both promote nuclear power and at the same time regulate it. "However," writes investigative journalist Karl Grossman, "the same extreme pro-nuclear culture of the AEC continued on at the NRC." Grossman, author of "Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power," points out that "neither the AEC, in its more than 25 years, nor the NRC, in its nearly 30 years, ever denied an application for a construction or operating license for a nuclear power plant anywhere, anytime in the United States." "The NRC is a rubberstamp for the nuclear industry," he says. This article was first published in People’s World by Susan Webb.
  4. The journal Nature recently reported that modern methods of measuring animal populations are too simple and often do not take into account the complexity of what influences species numbers. Professor Stephen Hubbell, from California, and Professor Fangliang He, from China, found that existing mathematical models for measurement were flawed: present figures overestimated rates by up to 160 percent, showing that calculations must be updated and made more accurate. Nevertheless, Hubbell maintained although species extinction caused by habitat loss is not as dire a problem as initially believed, the global extinction crisis is still a real threat. "We are not in quite as serious trouble right now as people had thought," Hubbell told Smithsonian Science on May 18. "But that is no reason for complacency. I don't want this research to be misconstrued as saying we don't have anything to worry about." He maintained, "Nothing is further from the truth." While there were predictions in the early 1980s that as many as half the species on Earth would be lost by the year 2000, Hubbell explained, "Nothing like that has happened. However, the next mass extinction may be upon us or just around the corner. There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the Earth, and we could be entering the sixth mass extinction." Probably the most authoritative global assessment of species status is the Red List of Threatened Species, which is published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Jean Christophe Vie, IUCN's species program deputy director, responded it was good that this was a clear effort to "get the science right," but had reservations about how people would interpret it. He acknowledged to BBC News that he was worried about how the report could be used by those who were reluctant to take environmental issues seriously. "We have explicit details in our guidelines that to estimate extinction is not something we should do," said Vie. "For example, we know that species are not evenly distributed in ecosystems; habitat loss is not the only threat." He added that the actual concern was "the rate of decline in populations." Addressing the issue, Hubbell cited a comparison: When a meteor struck the Earth some 65 million years ago, the Earth's tree life was incinerated, and it took about 10 million years to fully recover and redevelop into continuous, flourishing forests. Hubbell said that the extinctions humans cause might be equally catastrophic, though in different ways. "We need much better data on the distribution of life on Earth," Hubbell said. "We need to rapidly increase our understanding of where species are on the planet. We need citizens to record their local biodiversity; there are not enough scientists to gather the information. We also need much deeper thought about how we can estimate the extinction rate properly to improve the science behind conservation planning." "If you don't know what you have," Hubbell concludes, "it's hard to conserve it." This article was first published in People’s World on May 23, 2011. Author: Blake Deppe.
  5. Describing the world's economic model based on insatiable consumption of resources "a global suicide pact," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon challenged world leaders at the World Economic Forum to "make major changes - in our lifestyles, our economic models, our social organization, and our political life." The U.N. chief warned that humanity is "running out of time." He told the gathering of heads of State, international economists, business leaders and representatives of civil society that to avoid national and global "disaster" will require balanced development that will lift millions out of poverty and, at the same time, protect the planet and ecosystems that support economic growth. He said, "It is good business - good politics - and good for society." "China is going to leave all of us in the dust," Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change declared the previous day, the Associated Press reported. The diplomat leading the U.N. Climate talks said that China is surpassing the U.S. and Europe in developing clean and low-carbon energy as a way to spur its economy. "China is committed to winning the green economy race," she said. "And honestly they are not doing it just because they want to save the planet. They are doing it because it's good for the economy." Last year China increased spending on low-carbon energy by 30 percent to $51.1 billion, "by far the largest figure for any country," according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The accounting firm Ernst & Young reported in September that China for the first time surpassed the U.S. in its quarterly index of the most appealing countries for renewable energy projects. "You can leapfrog - you don't have to follow the model of the north," Figueres declared. "China is showing this." China's chief climate negotiator Su Wei has said his country will boost energy efficiency in its next five-year plan being worked out this year. European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard called on U.S. business to take greater initiative in embracing a more energy-efficient economic model. Governments can provide the conditions for green growth by setting "a price on carbon," Hedegaard said. "If it costs a lot to pollute a lot, then business has an incentive to pollute less." This article was first published in People’s World on February 4th, 2011. Author: Juan Lopez.
  6. "Race and income are the top two factors in considering where to locate pollution-causing facilities like coal-fired power plants."Supporters of clean air and water this week pushed back against a Republican Party proposal to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job to protect Americans from air pollution. As Republicans pressed forward with an anti-EPA bill, a coalition of environmental, public health and civil rights organizations emphasized the need for government oversight over coal and oil companies who are among the biggest polluters in the country and the biggest contributors to what amounts to a public health crisis. Now more than ever, this coalition, which includes the Sierra Club, the NAACP and Physicians for Social Responsibility, insisted the EPA is needed to lead the effort to regulate pollution-causing emissions. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, explained, "Coal and oil are polluting our air. They give us asthma. They're fouling our water with cancer-causing toxins." "Coal and oil are polluting our political process and they are draining the life from our economy," he told reporters on a conference call sponsored by the coalition. "As we've seen time and time again with situations like the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, big oil and dirty coal can't be trusted to police themselves." "To these polluters, our health matters less than our profits," he said. It is the Environmental Protection Agency that stands in the way of their unrestrained habits that are making us sick. "There's a reason why 'protection' is the EPA's middle name," Brune said. With the agency's effort to regulation pollution, the data shows that as many as 1.7 million asthma attacks and $110 billion in health costs were avoided in 2010 alone, Brune explained. But the effort to protect public health hasn't ended. EPA oversight should be expanded to protect the public from the adverse affects of pollution that causes global warming and to ensure an equitable enforcement of standards for all communities in the country. Jacqueline Patterson, director of the environmental and climate justice program at the NAACP, discussed ongoing racially- and class-based inequalities in terms of exposure to harmful toxins and pollution. "Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately exposed to airborne toxins that lead to respiratory illnesses ranging to asthma, chronic bronchitis, COPD, and even lung cancer and other illnesses," Patterson noted. Based on studies conducted by her office, Patterson added, 71 percent of African Americans live in counties that are in violation of federal clean air standards. Almost eight in 10 African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Within a three-mile radius of any coal-fired power plant, the population is disproportionately people of color. People who are likely to live within what is considered to be the "detrimental" range of a coal-fired power plant earn about 15 percent less than the national average income. Simply put, race and income are the top two factors in considering where to locate pollution-causing facilities like coal-fired power plants. Patterson also cited studies that indicate pollution from coal-fired power plants cause more than 30,000 premature deaths, 7,000 asthma-related emergency room visits, and 18,000 cases of chronic bronchitis each year. Asthma related illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths occur among African Americans at far higher rates than among whites, she said. Economist Matthew Kotchen rejected claims that EPA regulation of pollution weakens the economy. He noted that the harmful effects of air pollution increase overall healthcare costs, reduce property values, and lower work productivity due to more sick days, all of which result in quantifiable harmful economic effects that outweigh lost profits for specific oil and coal corporations. "There are real costs associated with this air pollution," he said. But unfortunately, as pollution standards exist now, corporations have little or no incentive to study and account for these costs. Kotchen said that a federal cap-and-trade program or EPA-originated safeguards extended to such emissions would create the incentive for polluting corporations to consider the broader economic consequences of air pollution. Americans in large majorities agree that the EPA needs to be allowed to continue to fight harmful air pollution. New polling data released by Public Policy Polling this week showed the public disagrees with the Republicans' efforts to keep the EPA from doing its job. Specifically, the poll was conducted in the districts of leading Republicans who advocate placing limits on EPA regulation of air pollution. According to Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, the findings showed strong opposition even among independents and Republicans to this agenda. "What we see in the findings across the board is a strikingly consistent affirmation by Americans that they support the EPA and its anti-pollution, pro-public health role," Jensen told reporters. "Whether they are in rural or urban districts, Americans clearly believe that Congress should be doing what's best for public health, not polluters." Pete Altman, climate campaign director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sponsored the surveys, said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chair, "and other members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will now be hard-pressed to ignore the fact that their constituents want Congress to let the EPA do its job of safeguarding the health of American families." Upton's committee is currently considering a bill that would weaken Clean Air Act provisions and prevent the EPA from regulating air pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions. Dr. Kristen Welker-Hood, director of environment and health at Physicians for Social Responsibility, explained that greenhouse gases actually contribute to the development of smog and harmful pollutants that adversely affect public health. She said that the Republican bill would "absolutely have an impact on the ability of the EPA to regulate air pollutants." This article was first published in People's World on February 10th, 2011. Author: Joel Wendland.
  7. Controversy was sparked recently when Audi aired a new car commercial featuring "green police" arresting polluters for environmental infractions. The ad which ran during last Sunday's Super Bowl, promoted Audi's new car, the A3 TDI diesel. In the imagined green police state, checkpoints were set up to enforce strict environmental regulations. Predictably, the new car with the fuel efficient Audi "green" diesel engine was waved forward with a smile. On the other hand, violators were charged with throwing away batteries, using plastic credit cards, and overheating swimming pool water. Some argued the ad had "fascist" overtones, both for its satirical characterization of the environmental movement and also for the not-so-subtle links to Germany's fascist past. The Audi corporation apparently had strong ties to Hitler and the Nazi movement. "Green police" was also the name of the Nazi uniformed police force. Graham Jukes of San Francisco's Brasscheck TV wrote: "Millions of dollars were spent conceiving, producing and running this ad during last Sunday's Super Bowl. Did you find it funny? I sure didn't. And when you consider that the advertiser helped itself to slave labor during the Nazi era, it's a whole lot less funny." The New York Times commented: "This misguided spot put the 'mental' in 'environmental'." San Francisco's tough pro-environment Mayor Gavin Newsom, on the other hand, tweeted during the Super Bowl, "That 'green police' Audi commercial hits home." The mayor and many others saw the ad as simply a humorous effort to make an environmentally friendly point and sell cars at the same time. The Plastics Division of the American Chemical Company took offense to the demonizing of plastic in the ad and immediately put up a web site promoting its eco-friendly attributes. "Many people," they say, may be "surprised at the environmental benefits of plastics." Gregory Unruh, writing for the Huffington Post, says the ad cleverly points to an ongoing debate over the definition of sustainability: "In all seriousness, the ad captures a very real and ongoing struggle to define what exactly sustainability means for industry. It's widely recognized that ‘sustainability' is a term that can mean different things to everyone and every business." Audi's goal, then, is to define the word on its own terms with respect to cars. He continues, "For decades, diesel cars in the U.S. have had reputations as polluters, conjuring images of black smoke billowing from the stacks of freight trucks on the highway. But Audi and other European manufactures are working to change the U.S. attitude and mindset toward diesels." The bottom line is that business is attempting to define the word on its own profit-friendly terms and, as Unruh concludes, given the huge sums spent on Super Bowl advertising, "the stakes are rising." And who cares if the ad conjures symbolism of Germany's not-so-distant Nazi past: apparently not Audi, especially if it meets the corporate bottom line. Author: Joe Sims, People’s World
  8. Photo credit: Deivis During a recent visit to Cuba, we stopped by an agricultural cooperative on the outskirts of Havana. Its farmers and cooperatives across the country are part of what’s widely acknowledged as the world’s largest organic farming experiment. Hundreds of thousands of farmers at the grassroots proudly proclaim themselves part of Cuba’s “environmental movement.” In 2008 Cuba was devastated by three full force hurricanes that caused some $10 billion in damage, including 400,000 homes destroyed and widespread crop damage. Cubans link the growing destructive power and frequency of the hurricanes with global climate change. Understandably, environmental awareness and the need for radical measures to curb global warming run high. Remarkably, in 2006 the World Wildlife Federation rated Cuba as the only country that combined high human development standards as defined by high literacy and health indexes with a low ecological footprint including electricity consumed and carbon dioxide emitted per capita. This got me interested in the path of sustainable socialist development Cuba has chosen and how environmental consciousness developed. How could an underdeveloped country with limited economic resources have an environmental record better than its wealthy neighbor to the north? The story gives one great hope that planet Earth can be saved. The effort to reverse environmental destruction and follow a path of sustainable development is all the more remarkable considering Cuba’s history, the US blockade and continuous efforts to overthrow its government. The Revolution charts a new course When Christopher Columbus first landed on Cuban shores in 1492 he was taken by the beauty of the island, then covered 95% by forests. Soon Spanish and later US colonialists began a slash and burn destruction that transformed Cuba into a sugar colony and wiped out the indigenous population. By the late 1800s the land had been largely stripped of the trees and one-fourth of the world’s sugar was produced there. By the 1950s only 14% of the forests remained. In Dialectics of Nature, Frederick Engels illustrated how the capitalist drive for profit in Cuba was destroying the island’s ecology. Spanish planters “burned down forests on the slopes of the mountains and obtained from the ashes sufficient fertilizer for one generation of highly profitable coffee trees ... what cared they that the heavy tropical rainfall afterwards washed away the unprotected upper stratum of soil, leaving behind only bare rock!” But there was also a parallel history – those patriots who treasured the land and its beauty, those who formed the growing independence movement. The acknowledged father of the country Jose Marti wrote in the 19th century, “To live on earth is more than duty to make it well.” When the Cuban Revolution took place in 1959, environmental protection became a priority because leading revolutionaries were already ecologically committed. The first Agrarian Reform in 1959 nationalized the large landed estates and contained a clause on “The Conservation of Forests and Soils,” setting aside large preserves of some of Cuba’s greatest natural treasures including the famed Zapata Swamp and wetlands with the endangered Cuban crocodile. In subsequent years advanced environmental legislation was adopted and codified in the Constitution, although laws were not always enforced. Scientists and educators were among those leading the environmental movement and headed up the agencies responsible for implementing a new policy. Many organizations were founded that comprised a grassroots environmental movement including the National Zoological Society, Pro Naturaleza, the Foundation for Man and Nature, the National Association of Small Farmers, the Confederation of Trade Unions and Federation of Women. The Communist Party of Cuba and former president Fidel Castro are leading environmental advocates. The Cubans have made serious mistakes over the years under the immense pressure of economic development and scarcity. But they have also learned from their mistakes and adjusted policies. Not surprisingly they began constructing socialism by largely copying the Soviet model that stressed industrialization without full regard to environmental impact. They soon realized the resulting damage and also that a model fitting their particular circumstances was needed. For example, by the 1980s industrial pollution had grown, algae blooms appeared, hotel construction in Varadero had caused beach erosion and large scale industrialized farming using irrigation had caused widespread salinization and degraded the soil. This sparked a debate over the course of agricultural development and Cuban government officials began to consider a new direction. In 1992 under the impact of the growing global environmental movement, the World Summit at Rio de Janeiro was held. Castro attended and delivered a ringing call to address economic and social underdevelopment and poverty with sustainability. He remarked, “If we want to save humanity from destroying itself, we have to distribute more equitably the riches and available technologies on this planet. Less luxury and pilfering from a few countries for less poverty and hunger for the rest of the Earth. No more transfer to the Third World of lifestyles and habits of consumerism that ruin the environment.” While the Cubans had already begun to implement some sustainable practices it was the crisis of world socialism and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that radically accelerated the process. Eighty-five percent of Cuban imports including oil, farm implements, chemical fertilizers and foods stuffs came from the socialist community. When socialism collapsed Cuba was forced to change overnight. Change was most dramatic in the agricultural sphere. The Cubans turned to organic farming using oxen, natural means of pest control and by spreading the manure of draft animals on the fields. Farmers emphatically told us when the blockade ends they will continue organic farming because it is better for the environment, the working conditions of the farmers and produces healthier food for the people. In addition, the Cubans found the highly centralized model of agricultural production inefficient, so they broke up the large state enterprises into smaller cooperatives. This allowed decentralized operation and created the basis for grassroots democratic management and local responsibility. Over one million bicycles were imported from China and five new bicycle production plants were built. Over 500,000 bikes were put in operation in Havana. The Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (like our EPA) was created to oversee environmental policy and its enforcement. In 1993 the National Energy Sources Development Program was adopted whose first aim was conservation and energy efficiency and to begin to use more renewable energy sources. As Renewable Energy World Magazine noted, “All rural schools, health clinics, and social centers in the country, not previously connected to the (electric) grid, were electrified with solar energy, and today 2,364 of the solar electric systems on the island are on rural schools. Making lights, computers, and educational television programs accessible to every school child in the country; this program won Cuba the Global 500 award from the United Nations in 2001.” The Energy Revolution However these measures proved inadequate. So in 2006 Cuba adopted what was called the Energy Revolution consisting of five aspects: conservation, upgrading the electric grid, greater use of renewable resources, greater exploration of local gas and oil and greater international cooperation. Conservation was deemed the key element. Castro remarked, “We are not waiting for fuel to fall from the sky, because we have discovered, fortunately, something much more important – energy conservation, which is like finding a great oil deposit.” The program has proved a great success in part because the whole country has been mobilized to participate through a mass education campaign. An army of young social workers is responsible for going door to door to convey the latest environmental practices. Cuba became the first country to totally replace incandescent bulbs with energy saving compact florescent bulbs. Inefficient and highly polluting kerosene stoves were replaced by electrified rice cooking pots bought from China. The national power grid has been modernized and decentralized. Hundreds of micro hydroelectric systems were built; urban farming and the use of hydroponics have been expanded. Two large wind farms have been constructed on the coast; a 100-kilowatt solar electric power plant and thousands of independent solar powered systems have been built in rural areas. Recycling sugar waste products is producing bio-fuels. Another important result of the Rio Summit was a call to preserve the world’s biodiversity. Cuba was among the first countries to embrace this challenge. Biodiversity was seen as an integral part of sustainable development and led to environmental protection by law. After a countrywide discussion, it adopted the National Strategy and Plan of Action for Biodiversity in 2000 and identified 42 different ecosystems including 17 that were described as ecologically sensitive. Reforestation has increased to 21% and is growing. Forests and trees are under strict protection. Because of the global economic crisis, Cuba is paying more on the world market for food imports. During the recent July 26th celebrations President Raul Castro called for food sovereignty to reduce costs. But this will also lower Cuba’s carbon footprint further by reducing the use of global transport. Local transport is being reduced by the expansion of urban farming. Because Cuba’s beautiful coastal areas haven’t been stolen by the rich, carved up and sold off for summer homes or profit, but instead remain under public ownership, it’s possible to offer protection of coastal wetlands, mangrove swamps, beaches and the coral reefs which are said to be among the best preserved in the world. Cuba has established coastal zones out to sea where construction is banned and protection zones of highly limited development inland 60-80 meters beyond the vegetation line. The true test will come when new facilities are constructed to accommodate the influx of US tourists anticipated when the blockade falls. Can development and environmental protection be meshed with the many joint construction projects? Cuba’s example shows that a society geared toward socialist development, where working people hold economic and political power, is far superior to capitalism when it comes to dealing with the environmental crisis and actually reversing environmental destruction. Monopoly corporations who constantly obstruct passage of environmental laws or thumb their nose at enforcement because it conflicts with their drive for maximum profits do not dominate Cuba. There is no bribing legislators and spreading of phony science. Cuba’s example illustrates how socialism puts people first, how economic development and sustainability can be synonymous, how a country can learn from its mistakes and have the flexibility to deal with problems and crises as they arise. At a moment when the global economic crisis, vast inequality and poverty are inextricably linked to the global environmental crisis – socialism offers the only viable path to ensure humanity’s future. Author: John Bachtell People's Weekly World Newspaper, 09/03/09
  9. Photo credit: laszlo-photo As winter weather hits us again, many people confuse the current weather (cold) with the long-term direction of the climate (warmer). Just because it is cold outside right now doesn't mean that global warming isn't real. Global warming has to do with the climate, with the long-term trend of the world's average temperature. The short-term weather has to do with what is happening this week or next in the part of the world where we currently reside. The two are not identical, and colder weather does not contradict the fact that our climate is warming up. Another reason the two related but not identical issues are confusing is that global climate change is not uniform across the globe. Just because it is colder where you live doesn't mean it isn't warmer, relatively, elsewhere. In fact, global warming is taking place much more at the northern latitudes than in the continental U.S. This is the reason why, even though the U.S. is experiencing more severe winter weather, the Arctic summer ice is covering less and less of the Arctic water, opening the fabled Northern Passage. It is still very cold at the North Pole, but it is relatively warmer. Average temperatures have already increased in the northern latitudes by almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit, much more than at temperate latitudes. This is also one reason among many why global warming is so threatening. As temperatures warm more rapidly nearer both poles, two things happen which bode ill for the entire world. First, ice, ice sheets and glaciers are melting rapidly, much more rapidly than even the most dire predictions of a few years ago. The glaciers on Greenland are melting more quickly, and also accelerating the speed at which they move towards the open seas. In the Antarctic, massive ice sheets are breaking off. Both these developments will cause a faster than predicted rise in the ocean level. Instead of happening over a thousand years, the complete melting of the Greenland glaciers is likely to take a few hundred years - and when they are completely melted that will increase sea levels by over 25 feet, inundating many coastal cities. Second, as the northern latitudes warm more rapidly, more and more of the permafrost will melt, releasing both carbon dioxide and methane that have been frozen for millennia. This could result in runaway global warming, coming on top of the direct human release of greenhouse gases. There are many more reasons to be concerned about global climate change, but just because it is cold outside is no reason at all to ignore the problem. In a thoughtful article at HuffingtonPost, environmentalist Bill McKibben explains why climate change is a different kind of problem. He makes the essential point that what climate change skeptics are fighting is not other politicians or scientists; it's physics. In another good article, Bolivia's ambassador to the United Nations explains the seriousness of even sharper cuts in emissions, and also his concept of "climate debt." Author: Marc Brodine, People’s World
  10. Bolivian President Evo Morales earlier this year called for an international conference to deal with the structural causes of climate change and to propose "alternative models" for humans to live in harmony with the natural world. The First World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (WPCCC) took place April 19-22 near Cochabamba, Bolivia. Some 18,000 people were on hand, including, scientists, intellectuals, lawyers and official representatives from 94 countries, among them the presidents of Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay and Nicaragua. The Cuban vice president and the prime ministers of Antigua and Barbados were present. Social movements from 132 countries were represented. A complete schedule of events is available online. The conference came about in reaction to last December's failed UN Copenhagen Climate Conference. Dim prospects for a 17th UN Climate Conference in Mexico next December were confirmed at an interim UN climate conference in Bonn earlier this month. The Copenhagen Summit missed in meeting its obligation under the 1997 Kyoto Protocols to establish numerical goals for reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by individual nations. A handful of industrialized nations, led by the U.S. government, commandeered the proceedings, finishing them off with a brief statement of generalities. Sociologist Raul Prada, Bolivia's vice minister for strategic state planning, indicated that the Cochabamba summit would pay attention to a range of causes of climate change rather than focus on greenhouse gases alone. The agenda, he said, would include "environmental depredation," understood as wastage of renewable resources, "ecological disequilibrium," and environmental contamination. Inaugurating the conference, President Morales stated, "We have only two roads, Mother Earth or death. Either capitalism dies or Mother Earth dies." Earlier in Copenhagen, he had observed, "We are the ones called upon to head this struggle for the defense of Mother Earth ...The debate [is] between the culture of life and the culture of death." This was not new for Morales. At an indigenous congress in 2007 he called for "national and international decisions to save Mother Nature from the disasters provoked by capitalism in its decadence." At the United Nations in April 2008, he announced "10 commandments to save the planet, humanity, and life." The United Nations last year made good on his proposal to name April 22 the International Day of Mother Earth. According to, "Climate change [for indigenous peoples] is a problem not only of atmosphere, technology, or financing, but one of the western model of life, of the ambition and greed of capitalism." Some 7,500 indigenous people attended the Cochabamba conference. The names given to 17 conference working groups suggested the broad range of topics undertaken. They included: structural causes, harmony with nature, the rights of Mother Earth, climate migrants, indigenous peoples, climate debt, climate change adaptation, forests, agriculture and food sovereignty, Kyoto Protocol requirements, development and transfer of technologies, "shared vision" for action, financing, action strategies, and "carbon market dangers." Morales' proposals for a climate justice tribunal and a world referendum on climate change filled out the list. Crammed into four days were 164 two-hour presentations carried out on the initiative of environmental, indigenous, energy, peasant and food sovereignty groups at the summit. The gathering took on the colors of a "people's summit," reflected in commentary by one participant that "Confrontation on climate change had to proceed from the bottom up." Social movements dominated at the WPCCC, just as they have done in the new Bolivia. "It's not by accident," explained writer Eduardo Galeano, unable to attend, that this "summit of mother earth" took place in "this nation of nations." The Bolivian setting for the summit indicated world recognition of Evo Morales' expanding leadership role in popular struggle. The United Nations last August named him a "World Hero of Mother Earth," identifying him as the "leading exponent and paradigm of love for mother earth in this world." The WPCC's message ultimately came down to the idea expressed by Galeano: that "human rights and the rights of nature are two names for the same dignity." The People's Summit unfolded on the anniversary of popular victory marking Cochabamba's "Water War." Ten years ago, street clashes with security forces ended up dumping water privatization plans set in motion by U.S.-based Bechtel Corp. From then on popular mobilization grew, leading to the election of Morales' socialist government in 2005. Author: W. T. Whitney Jr., People’s World
  11. Copenhagen or bust?

    Photo credit: JC i Núria Much sheer speculation has been written about the upcoming Copenhagen climate negotiations, and we will see much more over the next few weeks. What is this conference about, and what are the real issues at stake for the future of the world? The conference in Copenhagen was set to negotiate a follow-up treaty to the Kyoto Accords, set to expire in 2012, a treaty that the Senate and the Bush administration refused to ratify or cooperate with. While China has recently passed the US as the largest emitter of global warming gases, the US is still far, far ahead of all other countries in per capita emissions, making US efforts a crucial aspect of whatever efforts the world makes. The Kyoto Accords set aspirational guidelines for countries to shoot for as they worked to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. A large majority of the world's countries ratified the Accords, and some made serious efforts to meet them, but few countries managed to do so. The European Union set up a carbon trading scheme, and several European countries have made large-scale investments in alternative renewable energy. Other countries only approached their targets due to decreased economic activity, primarily Russia. An international treaty with mandatory limits on carbon emissions has become more urgent. The climate is heating more rapidly than earlier predictions, and the current consequences of worldwide climate change are accumulating and intensifying. As well, shifting to a new energy economy is a massive undertaking, and current plans require an immediate boost if the world is to keep emissions to a manageable level, since this effort will take many decades. In the meantime, carbon dioxide emissions are still increasing. Major contributors to carbon emissions include transportation using fossil fuels, coal-burning electric plants, deforestation including the burning of forests, unnecessary heat loss from both residential and office buildings, industrial agricultural processes, and increased emissions from the cattle industry which has been growing rapidly. Controlling emissions will mean efforts in all these areasnThe main issues leading up to Copenhagen are: Mandatory emission limits for developed countries; Emission goals for developing countries; A fund from the developed countries to compensate developing countries for technological development, for efforts to mitigate the effects of global warming, and for stopping or slowing deforestation (The UN environmental program proposes a minimum of $10 billion); Whether or not the US will actively participate, since cap-and-trade legislation will not be passed by the Senate before the Copenhagen Conference, and the Senate refused to ratify the Kyoto Accords; Whether the conference will result in a treaty, as originally projected, or will only agree to a "politically binding" agreement to negotiate a treaty in the next two years. There is increasing pressure for President Obama to attend the Copenhagen Conference, especially since he will be nearby in Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Other world leaders are attending, including Sarkozy of France, Lula of Brasil, and possibly Brown of England. However, there is some reluctance on the part of the administration, since the conference is not likely to result in a completely successful treaty. On his recent trip to Asia, Obama signed important agreements with China on carbon research and technology development. China, which has until now been almost as much of an obstacle to an international treaty as the US, is now in the forefront of investment in sustainable energy, in production of solar panels, in conservation efforts. The Chinese stimulus was almost 40% devoted to emissions control, conservation, smart electric grid development, and alternative energy investment, compared to about 12% of the US stimulus. One argument used in recent years by conservative opponents of any climate change efforts has been that the US shouldn't agree to any limits until and unless China and India agreed to mandatory emissions limits first. Now that China is outpacing the US in many ways, this is a harder argument to make, even though China still opposes mandatory limits on developing countries, which have a much lower per capita emission rate, which are more in need of economic development, and which have contributed much less to the emissions which have already accumulated in the atmosphere. Other countries are also in advance of the US in particular fields. Germany leads the world in electricity from wind power. Brazil leads in the production of alternative biofuels (from sugar cane and sugar cane scrap instead of from corn). The Netherlands, the most threatened developed country due to it exposure to rising sea levels, leads in adaptation efforts, abandoning unsustainable reclaimed land, improving dikes and water control. Opponents of US climate change action are primarily, though not only, conservative Republicans. They use every argument to prevent or delay any US action, even the inadequate steps proposed in the two major bills before Congress. The Waxman-Markey Bill passed the House months ago. A similar bill in the Senate, whose prime sponsors are Barbra Boxer and John Kerry, will be debated more seriously starting next year, after the battle over health care reform is completed. The conservatives deny climate change is real, they deny that it is cause by human activity, they claim it will be too expensive, that it will hurt the U.S. economy too much, that various industries should get a pass from any mandatory limits, and so on. James Inhofe, Republican senator from Oklahoma, intends to set up a sideshow in Copenhagen for climate change deniers. The exact details of whatever the conference comes up with are less important than that the world is seen to be taking real steps, placing more pressure on the US to act. The longer the US waits to start seriously tackling climate change and carbon emissions, the more difficult and expensive the transition will be, and the more harmful will be the results of the current impacts of climate change. On December 11th and 12th, the climate change campaign is planning candlelight vigils around the country, at the offices of Congress people and at other symbolic sites. The same groups sponsored the over 5,000 October actions around the world to demand that the world work to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million from the current 380 (the pre-industrial level was about 270 ppm). Go to their website to join an action or to initiate one. Author: Marc Brodine, People’s World
  12. In the aftermath of Van Jones’ abrupt Labor Day weekend resignation as the Obama administration’s special advisor for environmental jobs, human rights and environmental organizations are expressing outrage at the barrage of attacks against the green jobs leader by Fox News talk show host ">Glenn Beck and other extreme right Republicans. “On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide,” Jones said in his resignation letter, issued in the wee hours Sept. 6. “I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for our future.” The attacks, reminiscent of the far right’s “tea party” efforts to savage late-summer health-care town halls, centered on allegations about actions before Jones accepted the administration post last March. Among the accusations were characterizing Republicans with an expletive (for which Jones has since apologized), signing a petition to investigate whether the Bush administration allowed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (Jones has repeatedly said the petition didn’t reflect his views) and early-90s involvement in a small Marxist-oriented group. But critics of the far-right drive saw a broader agenda. “Van was in a very strong position to really change the way our economy works so that it works for everybody and it works for the environment, so that we can have a planet for our grandkids and great grandkids to live on,” Taj James, executive director of the Oakland-based Movement Strategy Center, told the KPFA Morning Show Sept. 8. Emphasizing that the election of President Obama was just “the ticket to the game,” not its end, James said too many progressives have been “sitting in the bleachers watching, not out on the field playing,” allowing “a small number of very hateful people to immobilize the administration” and slow the momentum the movement built to get Obama elected. He added, “The right wing understands that if they can use the politics of fear and distraction to paralyze this administration, they can over time take this country in a really terrible direction.” Another perspective was offered by James Rucker, who heads Color of Change, a web-based organization dedicated to making sure African Americans and all under-represented people have a political voice regardless of race or class. Jones helped found the group but is no longer associated with it. Rucker told Democracy Now! that Color of Change began to campaign against Beck when the right-wing pundit called Obama a racist and asserted the president had a deep-seated hatred for white people. Color of Change launched a campaign that Rucker said has resulted in nearly all Beck’s national advertisers abandoning the show. Although Beck didn’t mention Color of Change by name, Rucker said, the talk show host “went from having mentioned Van Jones to Van becoming essentially public enemy number one in his mind, and he absolutely went about a smear campaign,” cherry-picking statements and long-ago affiliations. Other organizations Jones helped found or has been affiliated with were also quick to express their anger. “Smear campaigns designed to sabotage our movement for an equitable, green economy are attempts to distract people from what really matters, building a future that is green and just for everyone,” Jakada Imani, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, said in a statement. “We’re outraged by the attacks Van and his family have suffered at the hands of those who have made it their mission to derail a clean, green and just future for our country.” Jones co-founded the center in 1996. Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, who heads another organization Jones helped found ― Green for All ― called on supporters not to be distracted by “the rants of those who fear our vision,” but instead to rededicate themselves to “the issues our opponents refuse to debate: ending global warming, lifting people out of poverty, restoring the economy, and bringing health to our communities.” And the labor-environmental-business Apollo Alliance, on whose board Jones formerly served, called Beck’s attacks on it “just the opening salvo in a smear campaign that will ramp up as the right wing continues to attack President Obama and our work to bring about energy security, climate stability and long-term economic prosperity.” Author: Marilyn Bechtel, People's Weekly World Newspaper
  13. Photo credit: azrainman When discussing climate change, the old saying needs to be amended to "What do you want first, the somewhat good news, or the astoundingly awful bad news?" The bad news is piling up fast: * The ice sheets in the Artic, Antarctic and Greenland are melting twice as fast as earlier projections from just a year or two ago, which will lead to the sea level rising about a foot every 20 or 25 years - meaning a 3-foot rise by the end of the century, enough to wipe out some island nations, flood much of Bangladesh and other low-lying coastal countries, threaten many coastal cities around the world, and increase erosion on coasts. * Glaciers are melting faster as well - meaning that before the end of this century, glaciers in the Himalayas may disappear, and these glaciers provide water for over a billion people, an environmental, agricultural and human catastrophe. This extra melting will first cause more floods in India and China, and then cause extreme water stress for humans and for agriculture. * Previous estimates of the massive amounts of carbon dioxide and methane locked up in the permafrost were too small, increasing the likelihood of an unstoppable tipping point if too much of the permafrost melts and releases these greenhouse gases, potentially overwhelming any human efforts to slow and control carbon emissions. * While it is not possible to link any one weather event to global warming, extreme weather events are increasing in intensity and frequency, such as the droughts in Australia and the U.S. Southeast and Southwest which heavily impact on agricultural production of essential foodstuffs like wheat. * Scientific projections are now that even with all the planned emission cuts, the world's average temperature will rise 6 degrees by the end of the century, with disastrous consequences for extreme weather events, droughts, disruption of agriculture, species extinction, water stress, population dislocation, spread of tropical diseases, ocean acidification, and many other aspects of life. This will be the hottest world in the last 11,000 years or more, the entire period of human agricultural development. Are you scared now? There is some good news: * The Waxman/Markey energy bill has passed the House of Representatives and has some serious support in the Senate (the companion Senate bill was introduced on Sept. 29, sponsored by John Kerry and Barbara Boxer), though whether or not this can overcome the fierce lobbying by energy companies, right-wing climate change deniers, and coal-producing states is still to be determined, in part by our activism. * In a cloud/silver lining way, the global economic crisis has resulted in a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions over the last year, with decreases in travel and shipping, and the shelving or delay of some proposed coal-fired plants. * China has made significant strides in increasing its energy efficiency, and it projects a four-fold increase in energy efficiency in the coming decades, which means its economy can still continue to expand, lifting millions out of poverty, without increasing the threats to the atmosphere. China is also making other important strides in improving its environmental efforts, though it still opposes mandatory caps on the emissions of developing countries. * Diplomatic efforts and meetings to prepare for the upcoming Copenhagen climate change conference are intensifying, and include important proposals such as the U.S. proposal to cut energy subsidies; a fund to compensate countries such as Brazil and Indonesia for ending or at least slowing rampant deforestation; and various proposals to share technology and costs for the poorest countries, which have contributed least to the problem yet face the earliest and sharpest impacts of climate change, and to mitigate and adapt to rising sea levels and set limits on carbon emissions. * The production of alternative energy is increasing; the efficiency of alternative energy processes is increasing - making them more economically competitive with fossil fuels; subsidies for alternative energy are increasing - such as $60 billion in the U.S. stimulus package; and alternative energy sector jobs are increasing. * Economic projections of the costs of carbon emissions caps and other environmental measures have decreased, making these efforts more economically and politically feasible. There is much public posturing leading up to the Copenhagen conference, which has the goal of negotiating the international treaty that will replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. Passage of a climate change bill by the full Congress and completion of a treaty in Copenhagen complete with mandatory emission reductions for at least all the industrially developed countries are the minimum steps needed, before the bad news gets much worse. Author: Marc Brodine, People's World