WHAT can Washington, D.C., learn from a Buddhist monk?
Arthur C. Burns writes: In early 2013, I traveled with two colleagues to Dharamsala, India, to meet with the Dalai Lama. His Holiness has lived there since being driven from his Tibetan homeland by the Chinese government in 1959. From his outpost in the Himalayan foothills, he anchored the Tibetan government until 2011 and continues to serve as a spiritual shepherd for hundreds of millions of people, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
Very early one morning during the visit, I was invited to meditate with the monks. About an hour had passed when hunger pangs began, but I worked hard to ignore them. It seemed to me that such earthly concerns had no place in the superconscious atmosphere of the monastery.
Incorrect. Not a minute later, a basket of freshly baked bread made its way down the silent line, followed by a jar of peanut butter with a single knife. We ate breakfast in silence, and resumed our meditation. This, I soon learned, is the Dalai Lama in a nutshell: transcendence and pragmatism together. Higher consciousness and utter practicality rolled into one.
That same duality was on display in February when the Dalai Lama joined a two-day summit at my institution, the American Enterprise Institute. At first, his visit caused confusion. Some people couldn’t imagine why he would visit us; as Vanity Fair asked in a headline, “Why Was the Dalai Lama Hanging Out with the Right-Wing American Enterprise Institute?”
There was no dissonance, though, because the Dalai Lama’s teaching defies freighted ideological labels. During our discussions, he returned over and over to two practical yet transcendent points.
First, his secret to human flourishing is the development of every individual. In his own words: “Where does a happy world start? From government? No. From United Nations? No. From individual.”
But his second message made it abundantly clear that he did not advocate an every-man-for-himself economy.
He insisted that while free enterprise could be a blessing, it was not guaranteed to be so.
Markets are instrumental, not intrinsic, for human flourishing.
As with any tool, wielding capitalism for good requires deep moral awareness.
Only activities motivated by a concern for others’ well-being, he declared, could be truly “constructive.”
Tibetan Buddhists actually count wealth among the four factors in a happy life, along with worldly satisfaction, spirituality and enlightenment.
Money per se is not evil. For the Dalai Lama, the key question is whether “we utilize our favorable circumstances, such as our good health or wealth, in positive ways, in helping others.”
There is much for Americans to absorb here.
Advocates of free enterprise must remember that the system’s moral core is neither profits nor efficiency. It is creating opportunity for individuals who need it the most.
Historically, free enterprise has done this to astonishing effect. In a remarkable paper, Maxim Pinkovskiy of M.I.T. and Xavier Sala-i-Martin of Columbia University calculate that the fraction of the world’s population living on a dollar a day — after adjusting for inflation — plummeted by 80 percent between 1970 and 2006. This is history’s greatest antipoverty achievement.
But while free enterprise keeps expanding globally, its success may be faltering in the United States. According to research from Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, men in their 30s in 2004 were earning 12 percent less in real terms than their fathers’ generation at the same point in their lives. That was before the financial crisis, the Great Recession, and years of federal policies that have done a great deal for the wealthy and well-connected but little to lift up the bottom half.
The solution does not lie in the dubious “fair share” class-baiting of politicians. We need to combine an effective, reliable safety net for the poor with a hard look at modern barriers to upward mobility. That means attacking cronyism that protects the well-connected. It means lifting poor children out of ineffective schools that leave them unable to compete. It entails pruning back outmoded licensing laws that restrain low-income entrepreneurs. And it means creating real solutions — not just proposing market distortions — for people who cannot find jobs that pay enough to support their families.
In other words, Washington needs to be more like the Dalai Lama. Without abandoning principles, we need practical policies based on moral empathy. Tackling these issues may offend entrenched interests, but this is immaterial. It must be done. And temporary political discomfort pales in comparison with the suffering that vulnerable people bear every day.
At one point in our summit, I deviated from the suffering of the poor and queried the Dalai Lama about discomfort in his own life. “Your Holiness,” I asked, “what gives you suffering?” I expected something quotably profound, perhaps about the loss of his homeland. Instead, he thought for a moment, loosened his maroon robe slightly, and once again married the practical with the rhapsodic.
“Right now,” he said, “I am a little hot.”
—————————– THE DALAI LAMA MARRIES THE PRACTICAL WITH THE RHAPSODIC!
Arthur C. Brooks, a contributing opinion writer, is the president of the American Enterprise Institute.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pools the efforts of scientists around the globe, has begun releasing draft chapters from its latest assessment, and, for the most part, the reading is as grim as you might expect. We are still on the road to catastrophe without major policy changes.
But there is one piece of the assessment that is surprisingly, if conditionally, upbeat: Its take on the economics of mitigation. Even as the report calls for drastic action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, it asserts that the economic impact of such drastic action would be surprisingly small. In fact, even under the most ambitious goals the assessment considers, the estimated reduction in economic growth would basically amount to a rounding error, around 0.06 percent per year.
What’s behind this economic optimism? To a large extent, it reflects a technological revolution many people don’t know about, the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular.
Before I get to that revolution, however, let’s talk for a minute about the overall relationship between economic growth and the environment.
Other things equal, more G.D.P. tends to mean more pollution. What transformed China into the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases? Explosive economic growth. But other things don’t have to be equal. There’s no necessary one-to-one relationship between growth and pollution.
People on both the left and the right often fail to understand this point. (I hate it when pundits try to make every issue into a case of “both sides are wrong,” but, in this case, it happens to be true.) On the left, you sometimes find environmentalists asserting that to save the planet we must give up on the idea of an ever-growing economy; on the right, you often find assertions that any attempt to limit pollution will have devastating impacts on growth. But there’s no reason we can’t become richer while reducing our impact on the environment.
Let me add that free-market advocates seem to experience a peculiar loss of faith whenever the subject of the environment comes up. They normally trumpet their belief that the magic of the market can surmount all obstacles — that the private sector’s flexibility and talent for innovation can easily cope with limiting factors like scarcity of land or minerals. But suggest the possibility of market-friendly environmental measures, like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, and they suddenly assert that the private sector would be unable to cope, that the costs would be immense. Funny how that works.
The sensible position on the economics of climate change has always been that it’s like the economics of everything else — that if we give corporations and individuals an incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they will respond. What form would that response take? Until a few years ago, the best guess was that it would proceed on many fronts, involving everything from better insulation and more fuel-efficient cars to increased use of nuclear power.
One front many people didn’t take too seriously, however, was renewable energy. Sure, cap-and-trade might make more room for wind and the sun, but how important could such sources really end up being? And I have to admit that I shared that skepticism. If truth be told, I thought of the idea that wind and sun could be major players as hippie-dippy wishful thinking.
But I was wrong.
The climate change panel, in its usual deadpan prose, notes that “many RE [renewable energy] technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions” since it released its last assessment, back in 2007. The Department of Energy is willing to display a bit more open enthusiasm; it titled a report on clean energy released last year “Revolution Now.” That sounds like hyperbole, but you realize that it isn’t when you learn that the price of solar panels has fallen more than 75 percent just since 2008.
Thanks to this technological leap forward, the climate panel can talk about “decarbonizing” electricity generation as a realistic goal — and since coal-fired power plants are a very large part of the climate problem, that’s a big part of the solution right there.
It’s even possible that decarbonizing will take place without special encouragement, but we can’t and shouldn’t count on that. The point, instead, is that drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are now within fairly easy reach.
So is the climate threat solved? Well, it should be.
The science is solid; the technology is there; the economics look far more favorable than anyone expected. All that stands in the way of saving the planet is a combination of ignorance, prejudice and vested interests.
What could go wrong? Oh, wait.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on April 18, 2014, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Salvation Gets Cheap.
ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, hauled in a $32.6 billion profit last year. Chief executive Rex Tillerson got a 3 percent bump in his pay package, sending it above $28 million. And today the company gets its annual boost from the federal government: an estimated $600 million in tax breaks. (FACT 1)All told, the government gifts as much as $4.8 billion to the oil industry each year, more than any other country. Much of that comes not as direct handouts but instead via loopholes in the tax code; deductions for depleting oil reserves, for example, and write-offs for the expense of drilling a new well. These reflect a long-past era in which oil exploration was financially risky, and prices were low. Now oil prices and profits are high, and the government is losing revenue while promoting the continued exploitation of carbon-intensive fuels. In the face of a changing climate and a constrained domestic budget, the lunacy of such preferential treatment is hard to overstate. (FACT 2)“Perverse” is the word the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found for such policies in its latest report, which was released in full on Tuesday. Globally, subsidies for fossil fuel production—amounting to $1.9 trillion in 2011, or 8 percent of government revenues, according to the International Monetary Fund—“prove to increase emissions and put heavy burdens on public budgets,” reads the report. (FACT 3)On the other hand, rolling them back could be a key part of a serious climate agenda. The IMF estimates that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies could lower emissions by 13 percent. That general principle, if not the exact figure, is supported by the IPCC, which wrote, “Lowering or removing such subsidies would contribute to global mitigation, but this has proved difficult.”
“Difficult” may be an understatement in the United States. As a recent article at Mother Jones lays out, the energy industry wields considerable influence in Washington. In the last fifteen years oil and gas companies spent more than $1.4 billion on lobbying, employing nearly 800 lobbyists, many of them culled from congressional offices. That expense is actually a shrewd investment: every dollar the five largest oil companies spend on lobbying reflects $53 in tax breaks. The industry also leverages millions in donations to candidates and political ads during each election cycle, discouraging politicians from taking a hard line on tax breaks.
Government support for fossil fuels goes beyond the tax code. Another de facto subsidy comes from the Interior Department’s failure to collect proper royalties on domestic oil and coal. The government has lost as much as $14.7 million because royalties are not collected on offshore leases in the Gulf of Mexico.
In Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, below-market sale prices and an uncompetitive bidding process for coal reserves has cost taxpayers as much as $30 billion over the past two decades, while helping to prop up a collapsing industry. There’s also evidence that the federal coal program is failing to properly collect royalties on coal sold overseas. While President Obama may not be able to do much about the tax code unilaterally, his Interior Department certainly has the authority—in fact, the obligation—to reform its coal-leasing program.
Finally, there is a more deeply hidden giveaway to the fossil fuel industry, the most critical of oversights: the fact that companies don’t pay for the damages caused by their products—their external costs. While every citizen will pay for climate change, as those living near extraction and refining sites have long borne the burden of local pollution, companies get a free pass on their carbon emissions. This imbalance is what a carbon tax is designed to remedy.
Closing loopholes in the tax code would be only a small part of an aggressive climate agenda—particularly since it’s unlikely that eliminating those subsidies would affect global oil prices significantly. Still, those tax breaks represent billions that could be spent elsewhere, such as investment in renewables. The IPCC report concluded that subsidies, directed properly, can be an effective tool for slowing down global warming by helping low-carbon technologies and products overcome their competitive disadvantage in relationship to fossil fuels. Federal support for renewables now outstrips benefits for fossil fuels, but it’s still not comparable to the help that the government gave the oil industry in its early days. Important incentives, like the wind energy tax credit, have been allowed to expire. Furthermore, our national infrastructure is designed for the age of cheap fossil fuels, making it even more difficult for alternative energy to compete.
The best chance for closing the loopholes—and, perhaps, for imposing a carbon tax—is if Congress overhauls the tax code, something both parties have indicated an interest in. But even the best chance is a slim one given the cabal of climate deniers in the House, and a broader reluctance to challenge energy interests. If climate change seems like a problem too big to to approach, perhaps start here: elections matter.
Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. When ExxonMobil writes off the expense of drilling a well that’s a handout from the government? Zoe obviously has no clue how businesses work. Any business writes off ALL their expenses. In fact, The Nation writes off how much it pays Zoe Carpenter before it calculates how much tax it owes. Come on, guys. I know you’re a left-wing publication but how about some intellectual honesty. Writing off business expenses is NOT a handout, even if evil Big Oil is doing it. You know that but you publish Zoe’s naive piece anyway.
Having read a couple of silly pieces by this person, I highly doubt she’s paid anything. It’s likely a donated space. I agree, her premise is stupid beyond belief as every business writes off expenses, including mine on my Schedule C. I don’t think she has any real world experience and is simply another liberal ranting from the faculty lounge.
From the Guardian, April 3, 2014, “The federal government on Thursday reached a $5.15bn settlement with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, the largest ever for environmental contamination, to settle claims related to the cleanup of thousands of sites tainted with hazardous chemicals for decades.”
From Anadarko’s April 3, 21014, press release, “The Company expects the impact of the settlement agreement to be reflected in its first-quarter 2014 financial statements. The Company estimates it will record a gross tax benefit of approximately $1.65 billion associated with the settlement, offset by approximately $1.10 billion in uncertain tax positions, currently resulting in a net tax benefit of approximately $550 million.”
Zoe makes some valid points in the article, but I think a couple of her points need to be clarified. First, of the $4.8 billion of “government gifts”, about 35% of that comes from the domestic manufacturing tax deduction. This is a tax deduction given to every manufacturer in the United States. If Zoe wants to eliminate that deduction only for oil companies (perhaps she does), she should say so. In 2008 Congress reduced the oil industry’s deduction under this provision to 2/3rds of what other manufacturing industries are allowed to deduct.
She mentions deductions for oil depletion and write-offs for drilling new wells. We should remember that pretty much every industry is allowed a depreciation deduction, but setting that aside for now, this tax treatment for percentage depletion was repealed for all integrated oil companies (ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, etc.) in 1975.
Regarding deductions for Intangible Drilling Costs (IDCs), those don’t benefit “big oil” as much as the small, independent, domestic drillers. ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, etc. (big oil) had their benefits for IDCs limited by Congress in 1986 and again in 1992.
No, it’s the people who VOTE for them, if that’s what you think. They didn’t get there by magic. They were voted into office. So if you don’t like them, blame the voters whose values they reflect. I don’t like Democrats and liberals, but I don’t blame the elected officials, I blame the voters who put them there to ruin our lives.
And then there are all the tax breaks that AREN’T saving the planet, as they don’t exist.
The really huge numbers, however, come from the back-end “externalities” of fossil fuel use. For the pleasure of some Americans burning coal for energy, ALL Americans get to pay $500 BILLION annually, not reflected at the meter. $120/month from every man, woman, and child.
I could also mention the 30,000-40,000 premature deaths every year, or 100,000+ asthmatic kids, but then I would just bore the conservatives in the room….
Not as many deaths as Obamacare cause, but who cares, it’s fun pushing granny off the cliff, isn’t it? By the way, a warmer planet would result in FEWER deaths as more people die in cold than heat and less pollution as poor people overseas will burn less coal and cow dung to try and keep warm. But then that doesn’t fit into Al Gore’s pretty picture, does it? By the way, why do the liberals such as Gore travel in private jets around the world telling others to cut back on fossil fuel use while he harms the earth with his own carbon footprint? Yeah, it’s all about controlling others and hurting the poor. That’s the uncomfortable truth people like you would rather not talk about!
There won’t be any change in tax breaks for polluters. Although Americans consistently have liberal positions on abortion, marijuana use, higher minimum wage etc., Republicans are favored to win the Senate in 2016, will control the house, & control state legislators & governors.
Yippee. Sounds good to me. I’m sending them my EIC money so they put the screws on the liberals and socialists.
The comments show how deep is the Republican brainwashing of the population. You have here pundits for whom loss of life is nothing when compared to what they think is the right of corporations to make a profit.
What is even worse, nobody asked whose oil and coal is it anyway? If Natural Resources are the property of the Whole Nation, then why should a company get depletion subsidies for their appropriating to themselves the natural National treasures? The whole system of paying royalties is inadequate – but the payment to them for the deletion of the resources is ridiculous. Getting a bonus for gains from misappropriated resources is much more like rewarding the CEOs for being great thieves! Just give it some more rational thinking and use the babble of the comments as your guideline. ST.info editor)
Please join the European Union Studies Center as we celebrate Europe Day 2014 with a keynote address of H.E. Mr. Christos P. Panagopoulos, the Ambassador of Greece to the United States, followed by a concert and reception.
Greece holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Ambassador is thus particularly well equipped to provide insights into European Union matters.
The event will take place on Friday May 9 from 6-8pm in the Elebash Recital Hall of the CUNY Graduate Center.
The Soviet government announced the victory early on 9 May after the signing ceremony in Berlin. —- Though the official inauguration happened in 1945 (which means it has been celebrated since 1946), the holiday became a non-labour day only in 1965 and only in some of the countries.
In the former Soviet Union this festival was celebrated to commemorate the Red Army’s victory over the Nazi forces.
In communist East Germany, a Soviet-style “Victory Day” on 9 May was an official holiday from 1975 until the end of the republic in 1990. Prior to that, “Liberation Day” was celebrated on 8 May, between 1950 and 1966, and again on the 40th anniversary in 1985. Since 2002, the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has observed a commemoration day known as the “Day of Liberation from National Socialism, and the End of the Second World War”.
The European Union does not set public holidays for its member states. However the European Commission does set public holidays for the employees of the institutions of the European Union on a year by year basis. This includes a EUROPE DAY on May 9th.
On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman, the first President of the European Parliamentary Assembly, presented his proposal on the creation of an organised Europe, indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations.
This proposal, known as the ‘Schuman declaration’, is considered to be the beginning of the creation of what is now the European Union. Today, 9 May has become Europe Day, which is the occasion for activities and festivities that bring Europe closer to its citizens and the peoples of the Union closer to one another.
On the other hand – in 1964 – The Council of Europe declared May 5th as Europe Day. THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL was formed in 1949 by the treaty of London to establish in Strasbourg the first institution to lead to European Integration. We hope that May 9th can stick despite the possibility that its Soviet context might make it seem a Russian partisanship of history – a discussion that deserves many tomes of research. In the meantime we felt we had to point out the fact that the date and a holiday on that date are not yet a matter of fact in the EU States.
PRESS RELEASE: Brazil Kicks Off Carbon Neutral Goal for FIFA World Cup.
(16 April 2014) – The globe’s biggest sporting event – the FIFA World Cup – is aiming to offset its greenhouse gas emissions this summer in a move that should inspire more event organizers to undertake high-profile climate action.
The Government of Brazil has announced an initiative encouraging holders of carbon credits from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), called certified emission reductions (CERs), to donate them to organizers to offset emissions from construction and renovation of stadia, consumption of fossil fuels from official and public transport, and other sources.
By some estimates, offsetting these sources of emissions – just during the days of the Soccer Championship games – would require above one million CERs or more, depending on what was covered in the calculation. That would be equivalent to taking nearly 300,000 passenger cars off the road for a year.
“Brazil’s call for carbon credits to offset emissions from the world’s largest mass spectator event is a welcome move and part of a global trend by organizers to green big sporting events like football tournaments and the Olympics,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) after being informed of the news.
It has also been reported that FIFA is planning to offset the emissions of officials and fans by perhaps buying carbon offsets.
”I wish Brazil and FIFA every success in their endeavors and look forward to a rigorous assessment after the final whistle blows on what was actually achieved in respect to climate neutrality. Big sporting events are increasingly winning green medals for their environmental performance. In doing so they can inspire the wider society towards climate action in support of a better world,” added Ms. Figueres.
All donated credits must originate from Brazilian CDM projects. Nearly 150 Brazilian CDM projects have issued more than 90 million CERs; an estimated 14 million of these could be available for donation. Each CER is equal to one tonne of avoided carbon dioxide. The smallest accepted donation is 5,000 CERs and donors will receive an official certificate acknowledging their contribution to offsetting the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Since being established as part of the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first emissions reduction treaty, more than 7,600 CDM projects and programmes in 105 developing countries have been approved.
These range from projects that reduce emissions by replacing inefficient wood stoves and ones improving energy efficiency to solar, wind and hydro power projects. The CDM to date has generated more than 1.4 billion CERs and has driven climate-focused investment worth $396 billion.
“When emission reductions come with other benefits, such as technology transfer, sustainable energy, increased household prosperity, clean air, education, or spur other types of sustainable development, then clearly this is in the best interest of everyone, in developed and developing countries,” said Hugh Sealy, Chair of the Executive Board that oversees the CDM. “The CDM delivers these kinds of benefits, so companies that use CDM offsets are doing the right thing and have a great story to tell.”
The Executive Board Chair made the remarks at the close of the Board’s most recent meeting, which gave the green light to an initiative intended to increase CDM’s use by environmentally aware emitters in the private and public sector. The initiative will include a range of outreach activities and communication efforts in the coming two years, including encouraging events like the FIFA World Cup to offset emissions using the UN-certified emission reductions.
“Measuring and reducing emissions is the responsibility of all companies
and significant emitters. Investors, customers and a fast-growing
proportion of the public expect it,” said Dr. Sealy. “The use of offsets
offers a cost-effective way to approach climate neutrality by going outside
the company boundaries and investing in emission reductions elsewhere.”
The value of CERs has in recent years gone down as demand has fallen, due ultimately to countries’ level of ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A new universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015 could make mechanisms like the CDM indispensable as a means to mobilize investment to reduce emissions and spur development.
More information: www.mma.gov.br/governanca-ambiental/copa-verde/nucleo-mudancas-climaticas/item/10076
News release from the Brazilian government: www.mma.gov.br/informma/item/10081-mma-chama-empresas-interessadas-na-doa%C3%A7%C3%A3o-de-cr%C3%A9ditos-de-carbono-para-copa
About the CDM:
The CDM allows emission-reduction projects in developing countries to earn
certified emission reductions (CERs), each equivalent to one tonne of CO2.
CERs can be traded and sold, and used by industrialized countries to meet a
part of their emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. With
more than 7,600 registered projects and programmes in 105 developing
countries, the CDM has proven to be a powerful mechanism to deliver finance
for emission-reduction projects and contribute to sustainable development.
About the UNFCCC: With 195 Parties, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has near universal membership and is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 192 of the UNFCCC Parties. For the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, 37 States, consisting of highly industrialized countries and countries undergoing the process of transition to a market economy, have legally binding emission limitation and reduction commitments. In Doha in 2012, the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol adopted an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes the second commitment period under the Protocol. The ultimate objective of both treaties is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.
Hamas’s publicity billboard that reads, ‘Jerusalem is Waiting for Men.’ Photo: Screenshot.
In a rather conspicuous propaganda stunt, Hamas, the terror group ruling Gaza, foisted a new billboard showing the heads of its Islamist leadership, along with the leaders of Turkey and Qatar, with a caption that implies their help has been recruited to wrest Jerusalem from Israeli control.
The billboard shows Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, alongside previous and current Qatari leaders Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The billboard reads ”Jerusalem is Waiting for Men,” along with a photo of the Dome of the Rock.
The blogger wrote that the sign also implies two other messages.
First, the belittling of leaders of other Arab countries, especially Egypt, where Hamas gained under the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, and is now being shunned after that group, its political “big brother,” was expelled last year.
And, second, that Hamas, which played second fiddle to Islamic Jihad in last month’s shelling of Israel, is the stronger of the two groups and will be on the winning team to, one day, take Jerusalem.
Cairo International Airport, where sources spied Israeli and Egyptian security officials meeting to discuss cooperation to fight terrorists in the Sinai. Photo: Cairo International Airport.
An Egyptian entrepreneur said he resents his country’s hostility to Israel which prevents him from openly conducting any business with the Jewish state, Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported late last week.
“It is very unfortunate that we cannot be pragmatic and say this particular country has good quality and inexpensive commodities and we are going to import from it because it is in our interest,” said the unnamed Egyptian, who still does business with Israel on the down low. “After all these years an Israeli commodity on, say, the shelf of a supermarket would not be picked up except by a few people — if we assume that any supermarket would at all dare to carry, say, Israeli fruit juice.”
Like most Egyptian businessmen who work with Israelis, he insisted on remaining anonymous for fear of being “stigmatized as dealing with the enemy,” he told Al-Ahram.
“I really don’t understand; we have a peace deal and we cannot do business, it has been 35 years since this peace treaty was signed and still it is a big issue if someone said let us do business with Israel or let us benefit of their agricultural expertise,” he said.
Trade between Israel and Egypt dropped after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011, but government officials in Cairo say the fall was possibly a result of the subsequent political turmoil, according to the report.
Despite any current animosity Egypt may harbor toward Israel, an independent economic source told Al-Ahram that Egyptian authorities are considering all options in dealing with the country’s current severe energy shortages, not excluding the import of natural gas from Israel.
“Cooperation in natural gas has been very stable for many years despite the suspension and trade dispute that occurred after the 25 January Revolution removed Mubarak — but this is the case with trade cooperation in general, limited and stable,” said a government official.
US Congress has things to tell the Palestinians and Iran with acceptable diplomacy in mind.
House warns Palestinian aid may be cut.
US lawmakers are threatening to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) if President Mahmoud Abbas goes through with his stated intention to sign on to 15 UN treaties.
Summary? Print US lawmakers are signaling that the United States could withhold hundreds of millions of dollars from the Palestinian Authority over PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ gambit with the United Nations.
While it’s not clear Abbas’ decision violates the letter of the law, appropriators have made it clear they think its spirit has been trampled on.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations & Related Programs, told Al-Monitor that aid should be revisited.
She said the goal of US assistance since the 1990s has been to help strike a peace deal, and that the UN move appears antithetical to that.
“What a lot of it was, we’re going to try to help as you try to negotiate at the peace table in good faith,” Granger said Wednesday after a hearing where she pressed President Obama’s UN envoy, Samantha Power, on the issue. “Well, I can’t see that that was good faith.”
Granger’s Democratic counterpart, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said she was “extremely disappointed” with Abbas’ decision.
“There was a decision made last year that investing in the PA and economic development would be the most productive step we could take to encourage peace,” Lowey told Al-Monitor. She said it’s not clear whether that’s still the case.
Current law contains several restrictions on the aid, including requirements that the PA battle anti-Israeli “incitement” and refrain from dragging Israel before the International Criminal Court or joining more UN agencies. The Obama administration has requested $440 million in aid, but the spending bill doesn’t set a figure.
“Congress is silent on the funding levels for the PA,” a House aide explained. “We require a spend plan for how the administration wants to direct assistance to the PA with the requirement that they have to provide Congressional notifications to the committees of jurisdiction. Once Congress is notified we have the ability to hold funds. We also have updated and strengthened the conditions on our assistance to the PA in the FY14 bill.”
Aid would be cut if “the Palestinians obtain the same standing as member states or full membership as a state in the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians,” the omnibus spending bill states.
Secretary of State John Kerry can waive the restrictions if he “certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that to do so is in the national security interest of the United States, and submits a report to such Committees detailing how the waiver and the continuation of assistance would assist in furthering Middle East peace.”
Power had harsh words for the PA at Wednesday’s hearing — but stopped short of announcing an aid freeze.
“The United States will stand with Israel, we will defend it, and we will challenge every instance of unfair treatment throughout the UN system,” Power said. “This solemn commitment also extends to a firm opposition to any and all unilateral actions in the international arena, including on Palestinian statehood, that circumvent or prejudge the outcome that can only come about through a negotiated settlement.”
The president’s fiscal year 2015 budget request includes $370 million in Economic Support Funds that the State Department says “creates an atmosphere that supports negotiations, encourages broad-based economic growth, promotes democratic governance, and improves the everyday lives of Palestinians, thereby creating an environment supportive of a peace agreement and contributing to the overall stability and security of the region.” It also sets aside $70 million in International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement funding aimed at “reforming the Palestinian Authority (PA) security sector, and sustaining and maintaining the capabilities that the security forces have developed.”
Some outside observers believe Abbas was careful not to run afoul of the spending legislation when he announced his decision. While he is expected to sign on to the treaties when he appears before the UN General Assembly Friday, he will not be joining any agencies.
“Technically they’re not in violation” of the appropriations law, said Lara Friedman, the director of Policy and Government Relations at Americans for Peace Now. “That technicality may be irrelevant, because we have a new … bill coming up, and odds are Congress will just change that language.”
Cole Bockenfeld, the advocacy director at the Project on Middle East Democracy, said Abbas probably has a good understanding of US law.
“My sense is he knows it very well or US government folks would be communicating that very clearly to him,” Bockenfeld said. “Even on previous steps it seems calculated very clearly exactly how far they’re willing to go.”
But Congress may react harshly after failing to stop further UN steps by the Palestinians that they see as being aimed at undermining Israel.
Lawmakers — including Granger and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs panel on the Middle East — blocked aid after Palestine joined UNESCO as a member state in 2011. The Obama administration released $500 million in previously appropriated funds last year after lawmakers lifted their objections.
“The language that they inserted [in the spending bill] was sort of to draw a line in the sand about not going any further in the UN after what happened in UNESCO,” Bockenfeld said. “It’s designed to stop any further moves, so now that [Abbas] is making further moves, whether it crosses that line or not — how the Congress will interpret that, how the administration will interpret that, there’s a good chance those two will be different interpretations altogether.”
The Palestinians argue that their UN application has nothing to do with the peace process — or with Congress.
Maen Areikat, their ambassador to Washington, said the PA agreed to put its UN applications on hold in exchange for Israel releasing 104 Palestinian prisoners, some of them accused of deadly attacks against Israelis, as called for under Kerry’s peace talks framework. When Israel reneged on releasing the last batch of 26 prisoners over the weekend, he said, the PA was relieved of its obligation — even as it continues to participate in the peace talks.
“It was a natural reaction for us when the Israelis did not honor their commitment,” Areikat told Al-Monitor. “I don’t understand why the United States — and the US Congress — would interpret that as a step by the Palestinians to undercut or undermine US efforts. From the beginning we’ve said that we are not seeking any confrontation with the United States, nor with the Congress.”
Areikat went on to say that cutting aid would only hurt common Palestinians.
“We very much appreciate the support that the United States is providing toward the Palestinian people,” he said. “But Congress cannot expect us to keep our part of the deal when the Israelis are reneging on their part.”
“What they need to do is understand exactly the nature of this Palestinian step and not try to overreact and take it to a different level that would, in the end, undermine US interests,” Areikat said. “To go back punishing the Palestinians, I don’t think will be productive and I hope it does not happen.”
Read more: backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2014/04/8056/us-would-find-rumored-un-envoy-pick-extremely-troubling/#ixzz2xqx4seiEThe State Department said Wednesday that it has notified Iran that it would have “serious concerns” about the choice of Hamid Aboutalebi to be Iran’s next UN envoy. “We think this nomination would be extremely troubling,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf told journalists at the State Department press briefing Wednesday, Reuters reported.“We are taking a close look at the case now and we have raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran,” Harf said.Aboutalebi, a career Iranian diplomat close to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, told Iranian media in interviews last month that he had been summoned on occasion to serve as a translator during the 1979 US Iran hostage crisis, but had otherwise not been involved.But Aboutalebi’s even remote, alleged association with the embassy seizure and hostage crisis that traumatized Americans and ruptured US Iranian diplomatic ties over three decades ago has set off a flurry of denunciations from some former US hostages and members of Congress, and some US Iran watchers say Iran should pick someone else for the important, New York-based ambassadorial post.Iranian officials suggested this week that the nomination of Aboutalebi for the UN post was not yet official, and that it would only formally nominate someone for diplomatic posts who could receive the necessary approval from the hosting government.
“Iran’s policy is to formally appoint ambassadors – to all posts – once all the formalities are completed,” an Iranian official, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Tuesday, in response to a query on Aboutalebi’s status.
Mr. Hamid Babaei, Iran’s spokesman at the UN mission in New York, repeated a variation of that line when contacted by Al-Monitor Wednesday to ask about the State Department’s comments on Aboutalebi. He said it was up to one’s own interpretation if that means Iran will nominate someone else if US approval is not forthcoming for Dr. Aboutalebi.
Aboutalebi visited the United States as a member of Iran’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in the mid-1990s, but was never previously full-time posted to the US, the Iranian official said. His alleged, peripheral connection to the 1979 crisis apparently did not come up when vetted for a visa for the short visit back then, former US officials surmised.
Aboutalebi, a former Iranian envoy to Italy, Belgium and Australia who currently works as an advisor in Rouhani’s presidential office, “is more reformist and more skeptical and critical of the [Iranian] system than” many others, one Iranian analyst, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Tuesday.
“But to be frank, it doesn’t matter,” the Iranian analyst added. “Once [the controversy] hit the media, I think the Iranians should have withdrawn him much earlier.”
The State Department comments Wednesday “and the movements in the [Congress] yesterday seemed to finally press Iranians to leak that he was not officially nominated and hopefully end the whole saga,” an Iranian scholar told Al-Monitor Wednesday.
Alleged Kansas Jewish center gunman charged with murder.
By Saeed Ahmed, Ed Lavandara and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
April 16, 2014 — Updated 0228 GMT (1028 HKT)
Kansas shooting suspect appears in court.
NEW: “Yeah, that sounds like something he would do,” mayor says after learning of killings
Frazier Glenn Cross is charged with capital murder and premeditated murder
No decision on whether to seek the death penalty for Cross has been made yet, official says
Cross is accused of killing three people at two Jewish-affiliated facilities
Overland Park, Kansas (CNN) — The man accused of killing three people at two Jewish-affiliated facilities in Kansas made no secret of his racist views, writing letters to newspapers and inviting people to white-supremacist meetings at his home, say those who knew him.
So when news broke that Frazier Glenn Cross had been charged with one count of capital murder and one count of first-degree premeditated murder in connection with the killings, it didn’t come as a surprise to the mayor of Marionville, Missouri.
“It was kind of shocking at first. But then reading the article and thinking about it, I thought ‘yeah that sounds like something he would do,’” said Dan Clevenger, who has known Cross for 12 years, describing him as a client at his business where he services law mowers and other small engines.
Cross is accused of shooting to death a boy and his grandfather outside a Jewish community center near Kansas City, Kansas, on Sunday and then a woman at a nearby Jewish assisted living facility.
Photos: Deadly shootings in Kansas
Hear suspect’s anti-Semitic rants
Murder charges for Jewish Center suspect
Suspect described as ‘anti-Semite’
The capital murder count is connected to the deaths of William Lewis Corporon and Reat Griffin Underwood, said Steve Howe, district attorney for Johnson County. The premeditated murder count is linked to the death of Terri LaManno, he said.
Hate crime charges are possible, as police investigators say they have “unquestionably determined” that Cross’ actions were a hate crime, Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said.
Cross appeared in court Tuesday in a wheelchair, wearing an anti-suicide smock. He said only that he couldn’t afford an attorney.
He is being held on $10 million bond, and he was ordered to return to court on April 24.
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said that federal prosecutors are still collecting evidence and that federal charges could come later.
The capital murder charge carries the possibility of a life sentence or the death penalty. No decision on whether to seek the death penalty for Cross has been made yet, Howe said.
Former KKK leader
Cross, 73, is the founder and former leader of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups. Both organizations operated as paramilitary groups in the 1980s, according to the SPLC.
In Cross’ anti-Semitic and white-supremacist activities, he has also used the name Frazier Glenn Miller, the SPLC said.
After he was apprehended at a nearby elementary school, Cross sat in the back of a patrol car and shouted “Heil Hitler!” video from CNN affiliate KMBC shows.
He obtained firearms from a “straw buyer,” a middleman with a clean record who could buy weapons legally and then sell or give them to Cross, allowing Cross to avoid federal background checks, a U.S. law enforcement official said. He had three guns when he was arrested Sunday, authorities said.
The shootings took place at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and the Village Shalom Retirement Community in Overland Park a day before the start of Passover, a major Jewish holiday.
The police chief said the gunman shot at five people, none of whom he is believed to have known. There were no other injuries, authorities said.
Police were investigating statements Cross made after his arrest but declined to provide additional details, Douglass said.
The Anti-Defamation League said it warned last week of the increased possibility of violent attacks against community centers in the coming weeks, “which coincide both with the Passover holiday and Hitler’s birthday on April 20, a day around which in the United States has historically been marked by extremist acts of violence and terrorism.”
On Monday, the ADL reissued a security bulletin to synagogues and Jewish communal institutions across the country, urging them to review their security plans for the Passover holiday, which began at sundown Monday.
The shooting began just after 1 p.m. Sunday in the Jewish community center’s parking lot.
Inside, the center was a hive of activity. A performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird” was about to begin, and auditions were under way for “KC Superstar,” an “American Idol”-style contest for the best high school singer in the Kansas City area.
Outside, the gunman opened fire. Police said he was armed with a shotgun and may have been carrying other weapons. Reat, 14, was there to audition for the singing competition. His grandfather, Corporon, was driving him. The bullets struck them in their car. Both died.
“That idiot absolutely knocked a family to its knees for no reason,” Reat’s uncle and William’s son, Will Corporon, said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
The gunman then drove to the retirement home, where he shot the third victim in the parking lot. Authorities identified her as LaManno, who was visiting her mother as she usually did every Sunday at Village Shalom.
LaManno’s Catholic church, St. Peter’s Parish, posted a message on its website calling LaManno “a loving mother and wife, and a gentle and giving woman.”
The Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired in Kansas City, where LaManno worked as an occupational therapist, described her as a “gracious, generous, skilled and deeply caring individual who made a great difference in the lives of so many children and their families.”
‘A raging anti-Semite’
Cross is a “raging anti-Semite” who has posted extensively in online forums that advocate exterminating Jews, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.
He has called Jews “swarthy, hairy, bow-legged, beady-eyed, parasitic midgets.”
According to the SPLC, Cross founded and ran the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1980s. He was forced to shut down after the SPLC sued him for operating an illegal paramilitary organization and intimidating African-Americans.
He then formed another group, the White Patriot Party.
In the late 1980s, Cross spent three years in prison on weapons charges and for plotting the assassination of SPLC founder Morris Dees. The short sentence was a result of a plea bargain he struck with federal prosecutors. In exchange, he testified against 14 white supremacists in a sedition trial in Arkansas in 1988.
“He was reviled in white supremacist circles as a ‘race traitor,’ and, for a while, kept a low profile,” according to an SPLC profile of him. “Now he’s making a comeback with The Aryan Alternative, a racist tabloid he’s been printing since 2005.”
NEW YORK — For Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s embattled prime minister, a win in Sunday’s local elections will be a Pyrrhic victory. While his Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., will likely retain a majority of municipalities, Turkey as a whole, particularly as an international player, has lost.
Mr. Erdogan’s decade-plus grip on power has been weakened by anti-government protests, corruption allegations, and an ugly confrontation with the powerful and admired Muslim religious leader Fethullah Gulen. In a desperate effort to prevent any further hemorrhaging of his power, Mr. Erdogan has abandoned the ambitious foreign policy that was the basis for Turkey’s regional resurgence in recent years and has resorted to attacking his enemies. The prime minister is now so fixated on his own political survival that he recently attempted, in vain, to shut down Twitter across the country.
It’s a far cry from 2003, when Mr. Erdogan ascended to the premiership and announced a determined and democratic agenda to strengthen Turkey’s economic and global standing.
(The author says) I visited him soon afterward in Turkey’s capital, Ankara. He told me then, “There are approximately 72 million people in this country — and I represent each and every one.” To represent everyone, he pushed for the passage of laws that granted increased freedoms to Turkey’s minorities, particularly the Kurds. He implemented economic policies to increase foreign investment. He reached out to far-flung capitals in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, opening more than a dozen embassies and many new markets. He even secured a rotating seat for Turkey on the United Nations Security Council in 2009 and made contributions to Washington’s “war on terror.”
Nearly every road that has been fixed, public transportation project approved, school built and reform passed has been done so with an eye to extending Turkey’s regional and global influence.
In 2009, Mr. Erdogan began to advance a “zero problems” foreign policy. The brainchild of his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, that policy was predicated on the idea that Turkey isn’t merely a “bridge” or “crossroads” between East and West, but an integral player in international diplomacy, security and trade. Turkey sought closer relations with neighbors in the Balkans, Russia, and especially the Middle East. “Zero problems,” guided Mr. Erdogan to deepen ties with Turkey’s southern and eastern neighbors, including Iran and Syria. Both became major trading partners and, in Iran’s case, a vital source for Turkish energy.
Some have called it “neo-Ottomanism” — an attempt to restore the former Ottoman Empire and its vanished regional glory. Whatever the label, Turkey managed to become a key foreign policy player in the eyes of American and European leaders.
President Obama traveled to Turkey in 2009 and spoke about the country’s strategic importance and increasing global role. During the Arab Spring, Western leaders held Turkey up as a progressive and prosperous democratic model for other Muslim-majority nations. Mr. Erdogan even took Turkey further toward European Union accession than any leader before him.
That model has now crumbled and the bold foreign policy agenda that made Turkey the world’s 16th-largest economy has disappeared. The once dynamic economy has weakened, consumer confidence has declined and the Turkish lira has depreciated nearly 20 percent since May 2013.
Beset by domestic crises, Mr. Erdogan has turned his focus toward his core constituency, a largely conservative, anti-Western population in the heartland. In doing so he has reverted to a tactic that has resonated with them: aggression.
Frantic to recreate the enthusiasm he garnered after storming off a panel with Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, in Davos in 2009 and his decision to cut ties with Israel after Israel attacked a Turkish flotilla in 2010, Mr. Erdogan has ramped up hostile rhetoric against his opponents — abroad and at home. He has attacked what he calls the “interest rate lobby,” called last summer’s protests a “dirty plot by foreign-backed elements,” and blamed the “provocative actions” of “foreign diplomats” for concocting corruption allegations. Recently, he slammed Mr. Gulen and his followers as a “spy ring” seeking to overthrow the government.
Moreover, Mr. Erdogan’s current governance strategy has gutted the country’s foreign policy. Nearby Crimea, a former Ottoman stronghold and the native land of the Tatars, an ethnic Turkic people, is a case in point. When Russia invaded and annexed the Black Sea peninsula, Mr. Erdogan failed to come to the defense of his cultural and religious brethren, as he did in Egypt. Indeed, after the Egyptian military ousted Mohamed Morsi in July, Mr. Erdogan dismissed their actions as “illegal,” refused to recognize the new government and recalled Turkey’s ambassador to Cairo. On Crimea, the Turkish prime minister has restricted himself to grunts of disapproval despite the fears of the Tatars who will now fall under Russian control just 70 years after Stalin deported hundreds of thousands of Tatars to Siberia.
Mr. Erdogan may believe that his tactics have worked. But in the long run, he’ll have to accept that his increased belligerence has isolated his country. When it comes to regional issues like Egypt, Iran and Iraq, the United States has now largely marginalized Turkey.
Not too long ago, the common question posed in Western capitals was “Who lost Turkey?” Many fingers pointed at Brussels and Washington. But today, as the prime minister steers Turkey away from its path of prosperity and international relevance toward antagonism and repression, the answer seems to be Mr. Erdogan himself.
Elmira Bayrasli is the co-founder of Foreign Policy Interrupted and a fellow at the World Policy Institute.
We added to this article about Turkey as follower of the Ottomans, in our title, also the Soviet Empire with a similar feeling that Putin is losing now in his effort to revive it under Russian leadership.
What we see in Putin’s stirring the Ukraine is just that – an attempt to extend Russia to the Soviet borders and this will cause economic retreat to the people of Russia, the surveillance of the internet and eventually unhappiness of Russian citizens. It will also impact the whole neighborhood.
Ted Nordhaus is the chairman and Michael Shellenberger is the president of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research organization. (?? – our own note – the ST.info editor)
OAKLAND, Calif. — IF you were looking for ways to increase public skepticism about global warming, you could hardly do better than the forthcoming nine-part series on climate change and natural disasters, starting this Sunday on Showtime. A trailer for “Years of Living Dangerously” is terrifying, replete with images of melting glaciers, raging wildfires and rampaging floods. “I don’t think scary is the right word,” intones one voice. “Dangerous, definitely.”
Showtime’s producers undoubtedly have the best of intentions. There are serious long-term risks associated with rising greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from ocean acidification to sea-level rise to decreasing agricultural output.
But there is every reason to believe that efforts to raise public concern about climate change by linking it to natural disasters will backfire. More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization.
For instance, Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” popularized the idea that today’s natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency because of human-caused global warming. It also contributed to public backlash and division. Since 2006, the number of Americans telling Gallup that the media was exaggerating global warming grew to 42 percent today from about 34 percent. Meanwhile, the gap between Democrats and Republicans on whether global warming is caused by humans rose to 42 percent last year from 26 percent in 2006, according to the Pew Research Center.
Other factors contributed. Some conservatives and fossil-fuel interests questioned the link between carbon emissions and global warming. And beginning in 2007, as the country was falling into recession, public support for environmental protection declined.
Still, environmental groups have known since 2000 that efforts to link climate change to natural disasters could backfire, after researchers at the Frameworks Institute studied public attitudes for its report “How to Talk About Global Warming.” Messages focused on extreme weather events, they found, made many Americans more likely to view climate change as an act of God — something to be weathered, not prevented.
Some people, the report noted, “are likely to buy a SUV to help them through the erratic weather to come” for example, rather than support fuel-efficiency standards.
Since then, evidence that a fear-based approach backfires has grown stronger. A frequently cited 2009 study in the journal Science Communication summed up the scholarly consensus. “Although shocking, catastrophic, and large-scale representations of the impacts of climate change may well act as an initial hook for people’s attention and concern,” the researchers wrote, “they clearly do not motivate a sense of personal engagement with the issue and indeed may act to trigger barriers to engagement such as denial.” In a controlled laboratory experiment published in Psychological Science in 2010, researchers were able to use “dire messages” about global warming to increase skepticism about the problem.
Many climate advocates ignore these findings, arguing that they have an obligation to convey the alarming facts.
But claims linking the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane to global warming simply can’t be supported by the science. Our warming world is, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, increasing heat waves and intense precipitation in some places, and is likely to bring more extreme weather in the future. But the panel also said there is little evidence that this warming is increasing the loss of life or the economic costs of natural disasters. “Economic growth, including greater concentrations of people and wealth in periled areas and rising insurance penetration,” the climate panel noted, “is the most important driver of increasing losses.”
Claims that current disasters are connected to climate change do seem to motivate many liberals to support action. But they alienate conservatives in roughly equal measure.
What works, say environmental pollsters and researchers, is focusing on popular solutions. Climate advocates often do this, arguing that solar and wind can reduce emissions while strengthening the economy. But when renewable energy technologies are offered as solutions to the exclusion of other low-carbon alternatives, they polarize rather than unite.
One recent study, published by Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project, found that conservatives become less skeptical about global warming if they first read articles suggesting nuclear energy or geoengineering as solutions. Another study, in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2012, concluded that “communication should focus on how mitigation efforts can promote a better society” rather than “on the reality of climate change and averting its risks.”
Nonetheless, virtually every major national environmental organization continues to reject nuclear energy, even after four leading climate scientists wrote them an open letter last fall, imploring them to embrace the technology as a key climate solution. Together with catastrophic rhetoric, the rejection of technologies like nuclear and natural gas by environmental groups is most likely feeding the perception among many that climate change is being exaggerated. After all, if climate change is a planetary emergency, why take nuclear and natural gas off the table?
While the urgency that motivates exaggerated claims is understandable, turning down the rhetoric and embracing solutions like nuclear energy will better serve efforts to slow global warming.
Chinese Fireball Mystery – Jonah M. Kessel, The New York Times, Photography.
China’s largest energy company has made the country’s first commercially viable shale gas discovery, but the path to energy independence is fraught with risks, as one town has seen first-hand.
JIAOSHIZHEN, China — Residents of this isolated mountain valley of terraced cornfields were just going to sleep last April when they were jolted by an enormous roar, followed by a tower of flames. A shock wave rolled across the valley, rattling windows in farmhouses and village shops, and a mysterious, pungent gas swiftly pervaded homes.
“It was so scary — everyone who had a car fled the village and the rest of us without cars just stayed and waited to die,” said Zhang Mengsu, a hardware store owner.
All too quickly, residents realized the source of the midnight fireball: a shale gas drilling rig in their tiny rural hamlet.
This verdant valley represents the latest frontier in the worldwide hunt for shale gas retrievable by the technology of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It is a drilling boom that has upended the energy industry and spurred billions of dollars of investment.
Like the United States and Europe, China wants to wean itself from its dependence on energy imports — and in Jiaoshizhen, the Chinese energy giant Sinopec says it has made the country’s first commercially viable shale gas discovery. Its efforts could also help address another urgent issue, as Beijing looks to curb an overwhelming reliance on coal that has blackened skies and made China the largest contributor to global warming.
But the path to energy independence and a cleaner fossil fuel is fraught with potential pitfalls. Threats to workplace safety, public health and the environment all loom large in the shale gas debate — and the question is whether those short-term risks threaten to undermine China’s long-term goal.
The energy industry around the world has faced criticism about the economic viability of vast shale projects and the environmental impact of the fracking process. But interviews with residents of six hamlets here where drilling is being done, as well as with executives and experts in Beijing, the United States and Europe, suggest that China’s search poses even greater challenges.
In China, companies must drill two to three times as deep as in the United States, making the process significantly more expensive, noisier and potentially more dangerous. Chinese energy giants also operate in strict secrecy; they rarely engage with local communities, and accidents claim a high death toll.
The still-disputed incident in Jiaoshizhen has raised serious concerns among its residents.
Villagers said that employees at the time told them that eight workers died when the rig exploded that night. Sinopec officials and village leaders then ordered residents not to discuss the event, according to the villagers. Now villagers complain of fouled streams and polluted fields.
“There was a huge ball of fire,” said Liu Jiazhen, a mustard greens farmer with three children who lives a five-minute walk from the site. “The managers here all raced for their lives up the hill.”
Ms. Liu said that the flames rose higher than the pines on a nearby ridge, covering the steel frame of the rig, which is nearly 100 feet high. The flames burned for hours, she said.
Sinopec describes the incident as a controlled flaring of gas and denies that anybody died. While the company would not speak in detail about its shale projects, Sinopec said it ran its operations safely and without harm to the environment.
Li Chunguang, the president of Sinopec, said in an interview in late March that nothing had gone wrong in Jiaoshizhen. “There is no basis for this,” he said.
The bustling activity in Jiaoshizhen indicates a significant find for Sinopec.
Feeder pipes connect some of the dozen or so drilling sites, and 100 more wells are planned. Bright blue, boxy equipment for gas compression is being installed on large, flat lots next to at least two of the drilling rigs. A two-lane road has been paved across a mountain pass from Fuling, the nearest city, to help carry the 1,100 truckloads of steel, cement and other supplies needed for each well.
The valley has been so isolated for centuries that residents of its 16 hamlets still speak a dialect that is distinct even from Fuling, 13 miles away. Jiaoshizhen had only two-story concrete buildings and single-story mud brick farmhouses last August; Sinopec workers lived in trailers while managers rented the upstairs of concrete homes. On a visit six months later, at least 20 tower cranes were erecting high-rises.
The gas field in Jiaoshizhen “is the closest we have in China to a breakthrough project,” said Gavin Thompson, the head of Asia and Pacific gas and power research at Wood Mackenzie, one of the largest energy consulting companies. He noted, however, that Sinopec was providing few details and that he, like most Western experts, had not been able to visit the valley.
Chris Faulkner, the chief executive and president of Breitling Energy, a Dallas company that has advised Sinopec on its drilling in western China for four years, said that the energy giants’ reluctance to have open discussions about health, safety and environmental issues might prompt communities to fear the worst.
“If they think that they’re going to go out and drill 1,000 wells, and no one is going to Google ‘fracking,’ they’re fools,” he said, adding that even in China, “the days of ‘shut up and be quiet’ are gone.”
The Chinese energy giants have plenty of money to fund their efforts. Sinopec has one million employees and is the world’s fourth-largest company by revenue after Royal Dutch Shell, Walmart and Exxon Mobil; the fifth-largest is China National Petroleum. With their deep pockets, the companies have been investing heavily in North American shale businesses; Sinopec paid $2.2 billion in 2012 for a 30 percent stake in Devon Energy’s shale gas and oil operations in the United States.
In China, workplace safety is a significant concern. Thousands die each year in coal mines, according to government statistics that have prompted a successful national crackdown over the last decade.
Scant information is publicly available about the safety and environmental records of the politically powerful, mostly state-owned oil and gas industry. But Sinopec has acknowledged two deadly accidents in the last year, albeit not related to fracking. An oil pipeline explosion in Qingdao killed 62 and injured 136, and a cooking gas explosion in Dongguan killed one.
In Jiaoshizhen, after the blast, worries linger about the impact on the residents’ health and their fields.
Villagers said in interviews in August and February that the fast-spreading gas they encountered last year had been foul-smelling. Sinopec said that it had done air tests and not found any toxic pollution, although it declined to identify the gas.
The gas evoked particular fear here because drilling by China National Petroleum in 2003 about 120 miles to the northeast released toxic gases that killed 243 people and sickened thousands. That accident involved conventional gas exploration, however, not fracking.
Residents here also worry about diesel runoff from the drilling sites, tainting local streams and at least one shallow well. The drilling “makes so much noise and the water that comes down the mountain has become so much dirtier to drink; now it smells of diesel,” said Tian Shiao Yung, a farmer.
Sinopec said that it temporarily provided drinking water to residents after drilling foam surfaced in a nearby cave last spring, and it changed its drilling practice. The company said that subsequent tests had shown the local water to be “drinkable.”
Despite her complaints, Ms. Tian, like every other resident interviewed, welcomed the drilling for one reason: money.
Sinopec rents land from farmers for 9,000 renminbi, or $1,475, per acre each year. Farmers earn that much money from growing crops only in the best years, and then after hundreds of hours of labor.
“Farmers don’t mind; now they can buy their rice instead of having to grow it,” Ms. Tian said, adding: “I’m still drinking the water.”
A version of this article appears in print on April 12, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: China Takes On Big Risks in Its Push for Shale Gas.
IPCC Approves Third Contribution to its Fifth Assessment
13 April 2014: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) approved the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of its third contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on mitigation of climate change. Human-generated emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) are continuing to rise to unprecedented levels, according to the report, which underscores the inadequacy of existing levels of effort to curb emissions.
The 12th Session of the IPCC Working Group III (WGIII-12) and 29th Session of the IPCC took place from 7-12 April 2014, in Berlin, Germany. WGIII convened to approve the WGIII SPM line-by-line and to accept the underlying assessment of scientific literature.
The WGIII report outlines technological and behavioral changes that can limit the increase in global average temperatures to less than two degrees Celsius, the point at which science shows that climate impacts begin to overwhelm human coping efforts. The report further notes that only major institutional and technological change will result in a better than even chance that global warming will not exceed this threshold.
After adopting the report, IPCC-39 then convened to discuss, inter alia, future work of the IPCC, admission of observer organizations, and conflict of interest.
The report, titled ‘Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change,’ is the IPCC’s Working Group III report.
The Panel adopted its WGI contribution on the physical science basis of climate change in in September 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden.
The Panel adopted the WGII contribution on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability in March 2014,
in Yokohama, Japan.
A Synthesis Report of all three WG volumes is expected to be finalized by the IPCC at a meeting that will take place
in October 2014, in Copenhagen, Denmark.
WASHINGTON — The United States needs to enact a major climate change law, such as a tax on carbon pollution, by the end of this decade to stave off the most catastrophic impacts of global warming, according to the authors of a report released this week by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But aggressive efforts to tackle climate change have repeatedly collided with political reality in Washington, where some Republicans question the underlying science of global warming and lawmakers’ ties to the fossil fuel industry have made them resistant to change. The rise of the Tea Party in recent years has also made a tax increase unlikely.
This week’s report makes clear, however, that the window is rapidly narrowing to forge new policies that will protect the globe from a future of serious food and water shortages, a drastic sea level rise, increased poverty and disease and other profound risks.
“What would be required is a nationwide carbon pricing policy,” said Robert Stavins, director of Harvard’s environmental economics program and a lead author of the report. “And that would not be possible without action from Congress.”
Democrats have twice pushed serious bills to force greenhouse gas polluters like coal-fired power plants and oil refiners to pay to pollute. Both of those bills — one by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and one by President Obama in 2010 — ultimately failed, contributing to heavy Democratic losses in midterm elections.
Lawmakers who back such efforts, which represent a threat to the bottom lines of the fossil fuel industry, particularly coal, the nation’s top source of carbon pollution, have been criticized by campaigns from Republicans, Tea Party-affiliated “super PACs” like Americans for Prosperity, and the coal and oil industries.
Many members of the Republican Party question the established science that carbon pollution contributes to climate change — and hundreds have also signed on to a pledge promising never to raise taxes.
But there has not been a huge public outcry to endorse new climate change policy. Polls consistently show that while a majority of Americans accept that climate change is real, addressing it ranks at the bottom of voters’ priorities.
In the absence of action from Congress, Mr. Obama has taken controversial measures to counter climate change;
he has already used his executive authority under the Clean Air Act to create Environmental Protection Agency regulations that will slash greenhouse gas pollution from cars and coal-fired power plants.
During this year’s midterm election campaigns, Republicans have used carbon-control policies as a political weapon, calling Mr. Obama’s E.P.A. rules a “war on coal.” The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, who is running for re-election in the coal-heavy state of Kentucky, has vowed to use every legislative tactic available to block, repeal or delay those rules if Republicans win control of the Senate this fall.
Within that context, many in the Republican establishment think that talking about climate change — and, particularly, any policy endorsing a tax on fossil fuels — would be political suicide for a Republican seeking to win the party’s nomination in 2016.
The United Nations report says that if the world’s major economies do not enact steep, fast climate policies well before 2030, in order to cut total global emissions 40 to 70 percent by 2050, the prospects of avoiding a global atmospheric temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the point past which scientists say the planet will be locked into a dangerous future, will be far more difficult and expensive.
Ten countries are responsible for 70 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas pollution. While the report makes clear that all major economies must act, the actions of China and the United States, the top two carbon polluters, will be most crucial.
The authors of the report say Mr. Obama’s E.P.A. regulations represent a significant first step to cutting United States carbon pollution — but not enough to avert the worst effects of a warming world.
The next president will have to both carry out Mr. Obama’s climate change rules and quickly push through even more stringent pollution-cutting policies, according to the report’s authors.
“We need to increase the slope and the pace of the change,” said David Victor, one of the report’s authors and an expert on climate and energy policy at the University of California, San Diego. “Accelerating what we’re doing in the U.S. will be very important for the next administration.”
Despite the history of roadblocks to enacting climate change policy, some experts say they do see some potential for a legislative path to cut United States carbon pollution.
One window could open if Congress takes up a comprehensive effort to overhaul the nation’s corporate tax code, which could happen after the 2016 presidential election.
Lawmakers from both parties have pushed tax reform — and in that context, there could be room for a grand bargain incorporating new carbon tax, which Democrats want, paired with a cut in corporate or income taxes, which Republicans want. Prominent conservative economists, like Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who advised Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Gregory Mankiw, who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 bid, have endorsed that proposal.
Experts also note that a shift at the national level could come as more states enact climate change policies. Currently California and several Northeastern states, including New York, have enacted state-level programs to force carbon polluters to pay to pollute.
Historically, California’s environmental laws have served as a vanguard and model for national environmental policy. The push for state-level policies could rise, say experts, if there is a significant increase in extreme weather like droughts and flooding, which contribute to higher adaptation costs for state and local governments.
“The question is whether state and local entities want to see action — and if that can then be translated to local action,” said Thomas Peterson, founder of the Center for Climate Strategies, a nonprofit group that works on climate policy with state governments.
This week’s report said the impact of climate change was already being experienced, and it followed on earlier scientific reports that have noted that climate change was exacerbating drought in Texas, rapidly rising sea levels along the Atlantic coast and higher storm surges caused by hurricanes in states like Florida and Louisiana. Among the likely Republican contenders for the 2016 presidential nomination are Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
Of courses, some of those contenders, like Mr. Cruz, Mr. Jindal and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, also hail from states where fossil fuel development is a key part of the economy — and have thus led the way in fighting carbon control policies.
A version of this article appears in print on April 15, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Political Divide Slows U.S. Action on Climate Laws.
Five justices voted to eliminate sensible contribution limits to federal campaigns, giving those few people with the most money the loudest voice in politics.
By now you know that the Supreme Court on Wednesday issued an expected — though still horrendous — decision in McCutcheon v FEC.
The Roberts Court’s majority ignored four decades of campaign finance law and struck down overall limits on what an individual can give to federal candidates, fundraising committees and national political parties.
The decision is certain to give elite donors even more influence and power over our public policies, and ripple down to elections in states.
The new book, “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis, about how the stock market is rigged by super-fast computer trading; or perhaps you saw Lewis tell the story on 60 MinutesSunday night.
But it’s not just the stock market that is rigged. The whole system is rigged.
With Wednesday’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has doubled down on Citizen’s United crushing the last aspect of campaign finance reform. It is now official, or perhaps more “official.” Plutocracy = The United States of America. The rich will rule at levels beyond our imagination even just a few years ago.
Justice Breyer writing for the four Justices who don’t represent the billionaire class said the decision undermines the political integrity of our governmental institutions:
“It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. …What has this to do with corruption? It has everything to do with corruption…. Today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
Breyer couldn’t be clearer. And we can’t be clearer. This is depressing, infuriating, and it is time for us to revolt. Seriously. We can’t take this any more. We need to double down on our belief in democracy and fairness, not on the most elitist, disgusting Supreme Court in history – thanks to George Bush.
Reince Priebus, the Republican Party chairman, was practically giddy on Wednesday imagining the riches he can squeeze from big private bank accounts as a result of the Supreme Court decision that knocked down yet another campaign finance limit. “We are grateful and we are excited,” he said, explaining that donors will now be able to “max out” in giving to more party committees, at far higher levels than previously allowed.
But actually, it is the big donors who will be squeezing the parties, not the other way around. They now have far more power to dictate terms to politicians, and will soon begin issuing demands to benefit their special interests.
Why? Donors will now have a wide array of choices in where to spend their political dollars, thanks to the Supreme Court. The 2010 Citizens United decision, combined with lower-court rulings, opened the door to giving unlimited amounts of money to “super PACs” and nonprofit political groups, money that was spent on electing and defeating specific candidates. The court’s McCutcheon decision on Wednesday allows donors to give as much as $3.6 million to joint fund-raising committees set up by the parties, which can be used to benefit individual candidates.
That makes the parties players in the big-money race for the first time, since an individual’s contributions to party committees had been limited to $74,600 per election cycle. But the parties will be competing with the super PACs for those six-figure checks, and the check writers know it. For that kind of money, donors expect something beyond a nice table at a fund-raiser and a photo with a party leader. And the parties, which are controlled by the top lawmakers, are in a position to provide it — tax benefits, special clauses in regulatory bills, spending that helps a particular industry.
Donors, of course, have differing needs and demands. Some, like the Koch brothers, seek broad ideological change, knowing that reducing the overall power of government will give their widely scattered industries more freedom and higher profits, unburdened by pesky environmental and financial regulations. Others, like Tom Steyer, a billionaire investor, are more narrowly focused on specific issues, like reducing man-made climate change.
Industries and their executives often have even more closely tailored demands of government, and are willing to pay to make those demands in person. A cable company wants approval of a merger. Wireless companies and broadcasters want pieces of the frequency spectrum. Banks and payday lenders want less regulation and oversight. Medical device makers want to get rid of a tax. All of them spend fortunes on lobbying, and now their executives can dangle the prospect of millions before the parties to get the access they need. (The companies themselves can’t write those checks, but they can give whatever they want to super PACs and nonprofits.)
A memo by Covington & Burling, a legal and lobbying firm, explains to its corporate clients how giving post-McCutcheon will work. “The difference here is that, unlike with super PACs, elected politicians are able to request the contributions directly from the high-net-worth donor,” the firm wrote. The decision will “allow power to collect around any member [of Congress] who can command a national or regional base of wealthy donors, such as a prominent Tea Party or environmental advocate.” In other words, lawmakers who are the most responsive to special interests and ideologies will reel in the biggest donations to their parties, thereby gaining more power.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., showing insincere naïveté, doesn’t consider that purchase of access to be corruption, which he apparently detects only in bribery. But the donors know that American politics is now for sale, and they are ready to buy.
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Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., showing insincere naïveté, doesn’t consider that purchase of access to be corruption, which he apparently…
Over the last several decades, the United States has adopted a series of campaign finance reform laws. If these laws were designed to reduce the power of money in politics, they have failed. Spending on political campaigns has exploded. Washington booms with masses of lobbyists and consultants.
But campaign finance laws weren’t merely designed to take money out of politics; they were designed to protect incumbents from political defeat. In this regard, the laws have been fantastically successful.
The laws rigged the system to make it harder for challengers to raise money. In 1972, at about the time the Federal Election Campaign Act was first passed, incumbents had a campaign spending advantage over challengers of about 3 to 2. These days, incumbents have a spending advantage of at least 4 to 1. In some election years, 98 percent of the incumbents are swept back into office.
One of the ways incumbents secured this advantage is by weakening the power of the parties. They imposed caps on how much donors can give to parties and how much parties can give directly to candidates. By 2008, direct party contributions to Senate candidates accounted for only 0.18 percent of total spending.
The members of Congress did this because an unregulated party can direct large amounts of money to knock off an incumbent of the opposing party. By restricting parties, incumbents defanged a potent foe.
These laws pushed us from a party-centric campaign system to a candidate-centric system. This change has made life less pleasant for lawmakers but it has made their jobs more secure, and they have been willing to accept this trade-off.
Life is less pleasant because with the parties weakened, lawmakers have to do many campaign tasks on their own. They have to do their own fund-raising and their own kissing up to special interests. They have to hire consultants to do the messaging tasks that parties used to do.
But incumbents accept this because the candidate-centric system makes life miserable for challengers. With direct contributions severely limited and parties defanged, challengers find it hard to quickly build the vast network of donors they need to raise serious cash. High-quality challengers choose not to run because they don’t want to spend their lives begging for dough.
The shift to a candidate-centric system was horrifically antidemocratic. It pushed money from transparent, tightly regulated parties to the shadowy world of PACs and 527s. It weakened party leaders, who have to think about building broad national coalitions, and gave power to special interests.
Then came the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which managed to make everything even worse. It moved us from a candidate-centric system to a donor-centric system. Donors were unleashed to create their own opaque yet torrential money flows outside both parties and candidates. This created an explosion in the number of groups with veto power over legislation and reform. It polarized politics further because donors tend to be more extreme than politicians or voters. The candidate-centric system empowered special interests; the donor-centric system makes them practically invincible.
The McCutcheon decision is a rare win for the parties. It enables party establishments to claw back some of the power that has flowed to donors and “super PACs.” It effectively raises the limits on what party establishments can solicit. It gives party leaders the chance to form joint fund-raising committees they can use to marshal large pools of cash and influence. McCutcheon is a small step back toward a party-centric system.
In their book “Better Parties, Better Government,” Peter J. Wallison and Joel M. Gora propose the best way to reform campaign finance: eliminate the restrictions on political parties to finance the campaigns of their candidates; loosen the limitations on giving to parties; keep the limits on giving to PACs.
Parties are not perfect, Lord knows. But they have broad national outlooks. They foster coalition thinking. They are relatively transparent. They are accountable to voters. They ally with special interests, but they transcend the influence of any one. Strengthened parties will make races more competitive and democracy more legitimate. Strong parties mobilize volunteers and activists and broaden political participation. Unlike super PACs, parties welcome large numbers of people into the political process.
Since the progressive era, campaign reformers have intuitively distrusted parties. These reformers seem driven by a naïve hope that they can avoid any visible concentration of power. But their approach to reform has manifestly failed. By restricting parties, they just concentrated power in ways that are much worse.
Hello We have buses? Will you join us? March with 350NYC and the Cowboy and Indian Alliance on Saturday, April 26th
Reject the Keystone XL Pipeline and protect our planet. Please join 350NYC on the bus and at the march. On Saturday, April 26th, people from all across the country will gather in DC and march once more to the White House, sending a final, unmistakable message to President Obama – reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and protect our land, our water, and our climate. This march is being led by the Cowboy and Indian Alliance – a coalition of farmers, ranchers, and Native Americans who’ve come together to oppose this pipeline that threatens the land that they work and love.
“We’ll gather at 11 AM on Saturday the 26th at the Alliance encampment on the Mall to hear from farmers, ranchers, tribal leaders and others who will be directly impacted by KXL and the tar sands. Then we’ll march to the White House to present a ceremonial painted tipi to President Obama. This tipi will represent our hope that he will reject KXL, and our promise that we will protect our land, water and climate if he chooses to let the pipeline move forward. Once the tipi is delivered, we’ll return to the encampment in song and make our pledge to continue resistance to the pipeline should it be approved.”
Are you ready to get on the bus with us?
What: Reject and Protect Gathering
Who: The Cowboy Indian Alliance, allied groups, and you!
Where: The National Mall, between 9th Street and 12th Street NW, in front of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, Washington, D.C. [Map]
When: Saturday, April 26 (note the new date). Gather at 10:30 a.m., speakers will begin at 11 a.m., and the procession will begin at 12:30 p.m.
NYC Bus Departure: The first bus will leave from 34th and 8th Ave. As more buses are added, other departure points may also be added.Please sign up NOW at our event web siteso we have time to assess the demand and add buses as needed.
Bus Schedule– subject to change
Bus departure from NYC: 6:00 a.m. Arrive in Washington: 10:00/10:30 a.m.
Departure from Washington DC: 3:30 p.m. Arrive back in NYC: 8:00/8:30 p.m.
Is The Latest Climate Report Too Much Of A Downer?
by Geoff Brumfiel
March 31, 2014
According to a new report, unless more is done to combat climate change, extreme weather like the drought now gripping California will only grow more common.Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Reading through the from the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it’s hard not to feel despondent about the state of the world.
The report’s colorful charts and tables tell of droughts and fires; depleted fisheries and strained cropland; a world in which heat-related disease is on the rise and freshwater is growing scarce.
“It’s risk, risk, risk, risk, risk,” says , a climate economist at the University of Sussex. “Climate change is dangerous, and we’re all going to die, and we’re all going to starve.”
Tol is a coordinating lead author on about the economic impacts of climate change, but he doesn’t believe climate change will be as destructive as the report might lead some to believe. He took his name off the dire because he felt it didn’t accurately account for human ingenuity.
Take crop yields, for example. The report says climate change will cause them to fall by a few percent per decade. But Tol says technological innovation will likely raise crop yields by 10 percent or more each decade.
“So it’s not that crop yields are going to fall, but they’re going to rise more slowly because of climate change,” he says. “And then of course it doesn’t sound as alarming.”
Tol adds, “Sea-level rise may be quite dramatic, if it weren’t for the fact that somebody in China invented the dike 3,000 years ago.” The Netherlands has been able to hold off the sea for more than a century, and others could do the same with proven technology.
Now to be clear: Tol still believes in climate change, and he still thinks it’s a serious problem. In fact, that’s why he’s speaking out — he thinks this report will split believers and deniers at just the time there needs to be a consensus on how to keep the world from getting even warmer.
“I think there is a real risk of this draft further polarizing the climate debate,” he says. And if people don’t work together to lower carbon emissions, he says, things will get even worse in the long term.
The report’s other authors say its gloomy tone is entirely justified. “Richard’s a great guy; I love him. But he’s not in the center of the scientific community,” says , who co-chaired the full report. He says Tol is one of more than 300 lead authors.
Field thinks the report appropriately warns of some difficult times ahead. The world’s poorest will be especially vulnerable, he says.
But Field acknowledges that predicting exactly what will happen is difficult, because people aren’t like melting glaciers. They don’t just sit there; they adapt.
“People have a tendency of changing what they do when they realize they have a problem; that’s the core essence of adaptation,” he says.
The new report does say adaptation could make climate change much less damaging to society. For instance, most projections point to a rise in global temperature of at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. But Field thinks improved transportation infrastructure, better disaster response and health care could all help lessen the rise’s impact.
And adapting won’t necessarily cost a lot, adds , director of based in Bangladesh.
Preparing for extreme weather like floods and cyclones doesn’t always mean building huge barriers against the ocean. “In most cases, it’s just societal preparedness,” Huq says. “It’s people having shelters to go to.”
“The rich don’t have any particular advantage here. It’s not technology that makes a difference,” Huq adds.
Tol, Huq and Field all agree: Climate change is happening. Humans aren’t helpless; they can adapt. But society will also need to make changes to avoid further warming.
Otherwise, things will get even more depressing.
U.N. Report Raises Climate Change Warning, Points To Opportunities
by Mark Memmott
“The effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans,” and the world is mostly “ill-prepared” for the risks that the sweeping changes present, .
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report.
The report also wastes no time in pointing a finger toward who is responsible: “Human interference with the climate system is occurring,” reads the first sentence .
As NPR’s tells our Newscast Desk, the panel “includes hundreds of scientists from around the world. Its past reports have made gloomy predictions about the impact of climate on humans. This time around, they’re also trying to prepare us. Chris Field, the co-chair of the new report, says improving health systems, making transportation more efficient, and beefing up disaster response can make a difference.”
“Things we should be doing to build a better world are also things we should be doing to protect against climate change,” Field says.
In the summary of its findings and recommendations, for instance, the panel suggests that ongoing efforts to improve energy efficiency, switch to cleaner energy sources, make cities “greener” and reduce water consumption will make life better today and could help reduce mankind’s effect on climate change in the future. While all people will continue to feel the effects of climate change, the report concludes that the world’s poorest populations will suffer the most from rising temperatures and rising seas unless action is taken.
Still, the report concludes that climate change is “already having effects in real time — melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains and mega-disasters. And the worst was yet to come. Climate change posed a threat to global food stocks, and to human security, the blockbuster report said.”
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” says Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC.
The BBC calls the Report: “the most comprehensive assessment to date of the impacts of climate change on the world.”
UN Climate Change Secretariat to Showcase Worldwide Climate
Action: Momentum for Change Call for Applications Now Open
Read the release on our website: unfccc.int/files/press/press_releases_advisories/application/pdf/pr20143103_momentum_callforapps.pdf
(Bonn, 31 March 2014) – Starting today, communities, cities, businesses and governments that are taking the lead on tackling climate change can apply to have their game-changing initiatives recognized by the UN Climate Change secretariat.
The secretariat officially opened the call for applications for its 2014 Lighthouse Activities today as part of wider efforts to mobilize action and ambition as national governments work toward a new universal climate agreement in 2015.
“This year, we are looking to do things a little differently,” said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres. “We will still shine a light on small, entrepreneurial solutions that are changing communities, as well as large initiatives that are transforming cities, businesses and governments. But we’re also looking to highlight initiatives with a bigger impact than ever before. Effectively addressing climate change requires action from all levels of society and from every sector, with efforts that are both small and large.”
The 2014 Lighthouse Activities will be selected by an 18-member, international advisory panel as part of the secretariat’s Momentum for Change initiative. Launched in 2011, Momentum for Change shines a light on the groundswell of activities underway across the globe to address climate change. This provides a positive context for international climate negotiations, showing that action on climate change is not only possible but that it is already happening – in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same.
Winning activities will be announced in November 2014 and officially recognized and celebrated during a series of special events in December at the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru.
The high visibility of the annual UN climate change negotiations creates a prominent platform on which the Lighthouse Activities are showcased and publicized – resulting in spin-off benefits that help the activities expand even further. For example, 2013 Lighthouse Activity winner Bernice Dapaah, whose organization builds bamboo bicycles in Ghana, was recently named a 2014 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Demand for her bamboo bicycles has spiked so dramatically she can barely keep up with orders pouring in from across the globe.
“Seeing these activities scale up and replicate is the really exciting part,” said Ms. Figueres. “It shows that climate action is increasing and picking up momentum as it goes.”
Please note that UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres will host a Google Hangout today (31 March) from 15:00 to 15:30 (CEST) to talk about the call for applications with previous Lighthouse Activity winners. Watch live at www.momentum4change.org
Learn more: unfccc.intmomentum4change.org
Momentum for Change on Facebook: facebook.com/ unfcccmomentum
Momentum for Change on Twitter: @Momentum_UNFCCC
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres on Twitter: @CFigueres
Digital assets: High-resolution images of the 2013 Lighthouse Activities are available at: www.dropbox.com/sh/md77sbijzm5f3jz/metZ3E8kvO
START with the term “tar sands.” In Canada only fervent opponents of oil development in northern Alberta dare to use those words; the preferred phrase is the more reassuring “oil sands.” Never mind that the “oil” in the world’s third largest petroleum reserve is in fact bitumen, a substance with the consistency of peanut butter, so viscous that another fossil fuel must be used to dilute it enough to make it flow.
Never mind, too, that the process that turns bitumen into consumable oil is very dirty, even by the oil industry’s standards. But say “tar sands” in Canada, and you’ll risk being labeled unpatriotic, radical, subversive.
Performing language makeovers is perhaps the most innocuous indication of the Canadian government’s headlong embrace of the oil industry’s wishes.
Soon after becoming prime minister in 2006, Stephen Harper declared Canada “an emerging energy superpower,” and nearly everything he’s done since has buttressed this ambition.
Forget the idea of Canada as dull, responsible and environmentally minded: That is so 20th century. Now it’s a desperado, placing all its chips on a world-be-damned, climate-altering tar sands bet.
Documents obtained by research institutions and environmental groups through freedom-of-information requests show a government bent on extracting as much tar sands oil as possible, as quickly as possible.
From 2008 to 2012, oil industry representatives registered 2,733 communications with government officials, a number dwarfing those of other industries. The oil industry used these communications to recommend changes in legislation to facilitate tar sands and pipeline development. In the vast majority of instances, the government followed through.
In the United States, the tar sands debate focuses on Keystone XL, the 1,200-mile pipeline that would link Alberta oil to the Gulf of Mexico. What is often overlooked is that Keystone XL is only one of 13 pipelines completed or proposed by the Harper government — they would extend for 10,000 miles, not just to the gulf, but to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.
After winning an outright parliamentary majority in 2011, Mr. Harper’s Conservative Party passed an omnibus bill that revoked or weakened 70 environmental laws, including protections for rivers and fisheries. As a result, one proposed pipeline, the Northern Gateway, which crosses a thousand rivers and streams between Alberta and the Pacific, no longer risked violating the law. The changes also eliminated federal environmental review requirements for thousands of proposed development projects.
President Obama’s decision on Keystone XL, expected later this spring, is important not just because it will determine the pipeline’s fate, but because it will give momentum to one side or the other in the larger tar sands battle. Consequently, the Canadian government’s 2013-14 budget allocates nearly $22 million for pro-tar-sands promotional work outside Canada. It has used that money to buy ads and fund lobbyists in Washington and Europe, the latter as part of a continuing campaign against the European Union’s bitumen-discouraging Fuel Quality Directive.
THE REDEEMING VALUE IN ALL OF THIS IS THAT CANADA HAS REDUCED THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MIDDLE EAST OIL STATES – BUT THEN WE MUST NOTE THAT SO FAR AS THE ENVIRONMENT IS CONCERNED CANADA IS NOW A MAJOR SINNER – NO LESS A SINNER THEN THE US FRACKING AFFECTIONADOS.
THE TAR AND THE FRACKED METHANE HAVE HIGHER IMPACT ON CLIMATE CHANGE THEN PETROLEUM OIL.
Beginning in 2006, Mr. Harper pledged to promulgate regulations to limit carbon emissions, but eight years later the regulations still have not been issued, and he recently hinted that they might not be introduced for another “couple of years.” Meanwhile, Canada became the only country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, in 2009 it signed the nonbinding Copenhagen Accord, which calls for Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent beneath its 2005 level by 2020. According to the government’s own projections, it won’t even come close to that level.
Climate change’s impact on Canada is already substantial. Across Canada’s western prairie provinces, an area larger than Alaska, mean temperatures have risen several degrees over the last 40 years, causing releases of greenhouse gases from melting permafrost and drying wetlands. The higher temperatures have led to the spread of the mountain pine beetle, which has consumed millions of trees. The trees, in turn, have become fodder for increasingly extensive forest fires, which release still more greenhouse gases. Given that scientists now think the Northern Hemisphere’s boreal forests retain far more carbon than tropical rain forests like the Amazon, these developments are ominous. At least the Harper government has indirectly acknowledged climate change in one way: It has made a show of defending the Northwest Passage, an increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that winds through Canadian territory.
Nevertheless, the Harper government has shown its disdain for scientists and environmental groups dealing with climate change and industrial pollution. The government has either drastically cut or entirely eliminated funding for many facilities conducting research in climate change and air and water pollution. It has placed tight restrictions on when its 23,000 scientists may speak publicly and has given power to some department managers to block publication of peer-reviewed research. It has closed or “consolidated” scientific libraries, sometimes thoughtlessly destroying invaluable collections in the process. And it has slashed funding for basic research, shifting allocations to applied research with potential payoffs for private companies.
With a deft Orwellian touch, Canada’s national health agency even accused a doctor in Alberta, John O’Connor, of professional misconduct — raising “undue alarm” and promoting “a sense of mistrust” in government officials — after he reported in 2006 that an unusually high number of rare, apparently tar-sands-related cancers were showing up among residents of Fort Chipewyan, 150 miles downstream from the tar sands. A government review released in 2009 cautiously supported Dr. O’Connor’s claims, but officials have shown no interest in the residents’ health since then.
Dr. O’Connor’s experience intimidated other doctors, according to Margaret Sears, a toxicologist hired by the quasi-independent Alberta Energy Regulator to study health impacts in another region near the tar sands operation. Dr. Sears reported that some doctors cited Dr. O’Connor’s case as a reason for declining to treat patients who suggested a link between their symptoms and tar sands emissions.
The pressure on environmentalists has been even more intense. Two years ago Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (who this month became finance minister) declared that some environmentalists “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest” and “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” Canada’s National Energy Board, an ostensibly independent regulatory agency, coordinated with the nation’s intelligence service, police and oil companies to spy on environmentalists. And Canada’s tax-collecting agency recently introduced rigorous audits of at least seven prominent environmental groups, diverting the groups’ already strained resources from anti-tar-sands activities.
Few Canadians advocate immediately shutting down the tar sands — indeed, any public figure espousing that idea risks political oblivion. The government could defuse much tar sands opposition simply by advocating a more measured approach to its development, using the proceeds to head the country away from fossil fuels and toward a low-carbon, renewables-based future. That, in fact, was the policy recommended by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, a nonpartisan, eminently moderate independent research group founded by another right-leaning prime minister, Brian Mulroney, in 1988. The Harper government showed what it thought of the policy when it disbanded the Round Table last year.
Jacques Leslie is the author, most recently, of “A Deluge of Consequences: A Riveting Adventure in the High Himalayas.”
A version of this op-ed appears in print on March 31, 2014, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Is Canada Tarring Itself?.
WASHINGTON — A sweeping new study on the effects of climate change — which the report says is already disrupting the lives and livelihoods of the poorest people across the planet — creates a diplomatic challenge for President Obama, who hopes to make action on both climate change and economic inequality hallmarks of his legacy.
The report, published this week by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, concludes that the world’s poorest people will suffer the most as temperatures rise, with many of them already contending with food and water shortages, higher rates of disease and premature death, and the violent conflicts that result from those problems.
Countries like Bangladesh and several in sub-Saharan Africa that are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change say the report strengthens their demand for “climate justice” — in other words, money, and plenty of it — from the world’s richest economies and corporations, which they blame for the problem.
Those countries and nongovernmental organizations point to a 2009 pledge by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to create a $100 billion annual climate fund for poor countries by 2020. The World Bank justified such an expenditure in a 2010 report concluding that it would take up to $100 billion a year to offset the ravages of climate change on poor countries.
Climate policy experts say that the United States, as the world’s largest economy, would be expected to provide $20 billion to $30 billion of that annual fund.
That puts Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been working aggressively behind the scenes to forge a United Nationsclimate change treaty in 2015, in a tough position.
But both men know there is no chance that a Congress focused on cutting domestic spending and jump-starting the economy will enact legislation agreeing to a huge increase in so-called climate aid. Since 2010, the Obama administration has spent about $2.5 billion a year to help foreign countries adapt to climate change and adopt low-carbon energy technology.
It will be a stretch even to continue that level of spending. Many Republicans, who control the House and have a chance to gain the Senate this fall, question whether climate change is real.
“If the White House actually wants something like this, it should begin by building support among congressional Democrats, but — at this point — I don’t see any real signs of support from House or Senate Democratic leaders at all,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio.
Vulnerable nations, emboldened by the new United Nations report, are demanding more, not less, from the United States.
Ronald Jean Jumeau, the United Nations ambassador from the island nation of Seychelles, and a spokesman for the Alliance of Small Island States, compared the proposed fund with the amount of money Congress approved after Hurricane Sandy.
“We know that $100 billion is not going to be enough,” Mr. Jumeau said. “After Sandy, Congress voted for $60 billion in recovery for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — for one storm. It shows you how much $100 billion is going to cover.”
“The science is getting better, and it tells us things are getting worse for us,” he added. “And the money is not coming. The window is starting to close on Mr. Obama’s ability to broker a treaty that could significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution in time to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change. This fall, at the United Nations General Assembly, world leaders will meet to put offers on the table for a climate change pact, a mix of commitments to cut fossil fuel pollution at home and provide money to poor countries to adapt. A few months later, at a two-week summit meeting in Lima, Peru, they will negotiate a draft of a final treaty that is set to be signed next year in Paris and take effect in 2020.
Diplomats say the new report has increased pressure on governments to reach a climate deal.
“By underscoring impacts and vulnerabilities, the report makes clear the urgency for strong action to reduce emissions and build greater resilience,” said Todd D. Stern, the State Department’s chief climate change negotiator.
In a speech in London last fall, Mr. Stern made clear that there was no chance that the United States would finance most of any climate adaptation fund with taxpayer dollars. “The fiscal reality of the United States and other developed countries is not going to allow it,” he said. Mr. Stern and others say the bulk of that money will have to come from private investors and corporations.
Nongovernmental organizations say that relying chiefly on the private sector will not be enough, especially as food supplies grow short. “The scientists could not have been more clear, particularly in the area of food security,” said Timothy Gore, an analyst for Oxfam, the antipoverty group. “There is no government that’s going to be able to stick around very long if the price of bread keeps going up, if they can’t feed their people.”
“I challenge anyone in the U.S. government to explain how the private sector is going to invest in what’s needed on the ground, like funding farmers in the Sahel region facing crop loss from changing rainfall patterns,” Mr. Gore said, referring to the area of Africa just south of the Sahara.
Hanging over the coming negotiations will be the specter of the failed 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Vice President Al Gore promised in those talks that the United States would act on climate change, only to have the Senate refuse to ratify that treaty. At a 2009 climate summit meeting in Copenhagen, Mr. Obama promised that Congress would soon pass a sweeping climate change bill. Just months later, the bill died in the Senate.
Mr. Obama is now trying to bolster his credibility on the issue by flexing his executive authority and acting without Congress. His administration is moving ahead with aggressive new Environmental Protection Agency regulations to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. At talks around the world, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Stern have sought to persuade other nations that, this time, the United States will be able to keep its commitments, since they do not require action from Congress.
The United States’ inability to offer more substantial aid to countries that did little to cause global warming will probably remain a major sticking point with developing nations, including India and China.
Still, Connie Hedegaard, the European Union commissioner for climate action, said she hoped that could eventually be overcome: “I think the $100 billion mark can be reached. It was understood in Copenhagen that it had to be a mix of public and private money. I think vulnerable groups — families in Bangladesh or the Philippines — don’t care whether a dollar coming their way is public or private.”
A version of this news analysis appears in print on April 1, 2014, on page A3 of the New York edition with the headline: Climate Study Puts Diplomatic Pressure on Obama.
Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come
YOKOHAMA, Japan — Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported Monday, and they warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.
The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.
Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said.
And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty. In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday.
The report was among the most sobering yet issued by the intergovernmental panel. The group, along with Al Gore, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to clarify the risks of climate change. The report released on Monday in Yokohama is the final work of several hundred authors; details from the drafts of this and of the last report in the series, which will be released next month, leaked in the last few months.
The report attempts to project how the effects will alter human society in coming decades. While the impact of global warming may actually be outweighed by factors like economic or technological change, the report found, the disruptions are nonetheless likely to be profound.
It cited the risk of death or injury on a widespread scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations.
“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger,” the report declared.
The report also cites the possibility of violent conflict over land or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”
The scientists emphasized that climate change is not just some problem of the distant future, but is happening now. For instance, in much of the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening water supplies for the region, the scientists reported. And the snow that does fall is melting earlier in the year, which means there is less meltwater to ease the parched summers.
In Alaska, the collapse of sea ice is allowing huge waves to strike the coast, causing erosion so rapid that it is already forcing entire communities to relocate.
“Now we are at the point where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization.
The experts did find a bright spot, however. Since the group issued its report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are starting extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists.
“I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report, and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif.
Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the grounds that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.
A striking example of the change occurred recently in the state of New York, where the Public Service Commission ordered Consolidated Edison, the electric utility serving New York City and some suburbs, to spend about $1 billion upgrading its system to prevent future damage from flooding and other weather disruptions.
The plan is a reaction to the blackouts caused by Hurricane Sandy. Con Ed will raise flood walls, bury some vital equipment and launch a study of whether emerging climate risks require even more changes. Other utilities in the state face similar requirements, and utility regulators across the United States are discussing whether to follow New York’s lead.
But with a global failure to limit greenhouse gases, the risk is rising that climatic changes in coming decades could overwhelm such efforts to adapt, the panel found. It cited a particular risk that in a hotter climate, farmers will not be able to keep up with the fast-rising demand for food.
“When supply falls below demand, somebody doesn’t have enough food,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist who helped write the new report. “When some people don’t have food, you get starvation. Yes, I’m worried.”
The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.
The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during a dayslong editing session in Yokohama.
The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations are private.
The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases.
Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.
Two decades of international efforts to limit emissions have yielded little result, and it is not clear whether the negotiations in New York this fall will be any different. While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many wealthy countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from rising economic powers like China and India.
For the world’s poorer countries, food is not the only issue, but it may be the most acute. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions in major growing regions have helped to throw supply and demand out of balance, contributing to price increases that have reversed decades of gains against global hunger, at least temporarily.
The warning about the food supply in the new report is much sharper in tone than any previously issued by the panel. That reflects a growing body of research about how sensitive many crops are to heat waves and water stress.
David B. Lobell, a Stanford University scientist who has published much of that research and helped write the new report, said in an interview that as yet, too little work was being done to understand the risk, much less counter it with improved crop varieties and farming techniques. “It is a surprisingly small amount of effort for the stakes,” he said.
Timothy Gore, an analyst for Oxfam, the anti-hunger charity that sent observers to the proceedings, praised the new report for painting a clear picture. But he warned that without greater efforts to limit global warming and to adapt to the changes that have become inevitable, “the goal we have in Oxfam of ensuring that every person has enough food to eat could be lost forever.”
Palestinian students visit Auschwitz in first organized visit.
Visit is part of program that aims to teach Israeli and Palestinian students about the other side’s suffering in effort to study how empathy could facilitate reconciliation.
By Matthew Kalman | Mar. 28, 2014
A group of 30 Palestinian students arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Thursday (yesterday), in what is believed to be the first organized visit by Palestinian students to a Nazi death camp.
The students are spending several days in Kraków and O?wi?cim guided by two Jewish Holocaust survivors.
A news blackout on the trip was requested by the organizers. The presence of the Palestinian group at Auschwitz-Birkenau is being reported here for the first time.
The students from Al-Quds University and Birzeit University, near Ramallah, are participating in a joint program on Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution with the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The program’s aim is for Israeli and Palestinian students to learn about the suffering that has helped shape the historical consciousness of the other side.
Last week, a group of Israeli students visited the Dheisheh refugee camp, located south of Bethlehem, to learn about the Palestinian experience of suffering during the founding of Israel in 1948 – known to Palestinians as the Nakba (“the catastrophe”).
The reactions of each group will be studied by a group of PhD psychology students to see whether exposure to the conflicting historical narrative helps the students to understand their enemy, and facilitates efforts toward reconciliation and coexistence.
The Palestinian side of the program is directed by Mohammed S. Dajani, professor of American Studies at Al-Quds. Because of the Palestinian freeze on joint projects with Israeli universities, the Palestinian students are participating under the banner of Prof. Dajani’s Wasatia movement of moderate Islam.
Israeli groups regularly visit refugee camps in the West Bank searching for cross-border understanding, but the Palestinian visit to Auschwitz is unprecedented. It grew out of a visit by Prof. Dajani as part of a large Jewish-Muslim-Christian delegation in 2011, after which he coauthored a New York Times op-ed entitled “Why Palestinians Should Learn About the Holocaust.”
Since then, Prof. Dajani has written what he believes to be the first objective introduction to the Holocaust for Palestinian students in Arabic, which he hopes will become a textbook used in Palestinian schools and universities.
“Basically, we want to study how empathy with the Other could help in the process of reconciliation,” Prof. Dajani says. “I feel I would like Palestinians to explore the unexplored, and to meet these challenges where you might find that within their community there will be a lot of pressure on them not to do it or questioning why they are doing it, or that this is propaganda. I feel that’s nonsense.”
Prof. Dajani says more than 70 students applied for the 30 places on the Poland trip, but five later dropped out because of peer pressure. He says the choice of Dheisheh for the Israeli students was not meant to suggest there was an equivalence or even a direct link between the Holocaust and the Nakba. They were chosen as the symbolic events that have deeply affected the psyche on both sides of the conflict.
“We are seeking knowledge,” he says. “We are seeking to know what has happened; why did it happen; how can it be prevented from happening again? I believe it is very important to break this wall of bigotry, ignorance and racism that has separated us from crossing over to this new realm.”
“One of my students asked me why we should learn about the Holocaust when the Israelis want to ban even the use of the word ‘Nakba,’” he adds. “My response was: ‘Because in doing so, you will be doing the right thing. If they are not doing the right thing, that’s their problem.’”
Prof. Dajani, who was banned from Israel for 25 years for his activities for Fatah in Lebanon in the 1970s and ’80s, says the student program is a practical expression of his belief that Israelis and Palestinians can settle their differences through compromise, moderation and human contact. He says his own visit to the Nazi death camp had a profound effect that he wishes to share with his students.
“I was also raised in the culture of denial, so for me, to go and see and look and be on the ground – it was a very sad experience for me. It had a lot of impact,” he admits. “I was shocked about the inhumanity of man to man. How can this happen? Why did it happen? Why would man be this cruel?
“It was shocking for me, because it showed me the deep, deep, dark side of human evil,” he adds.
Prof. Dajani has a track record of espousing views that are unpopular with the Palestinian academic mainstream. He is one of the few Palestinian professors to openly oppose the call for Palestinians and others to boycott Israeli universities.
Hanna Siniora, a veteran campaigner for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, says Prof. Dajani’s initiative should be welcomed.
“It’s very important for people to see the viciousness of such acts,” he says. “It should touch them in their humanity, in their sense of understanding that human beings don’t do evil things like that. This has caused a major problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because the psyche of the Israelis is so tormented by what happened to the Jewish people that they cannot trust anybody.
“This is an educational trip. It opens the eyes and minds,” he adds. “If there is an empty place, I’d like to come along,” he says.