links about us archives search home
SustainabiliTankSustainabilitank menu graphic

Follow us on Twitter

Charts, Database:


Posted on on September 7th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (

Fwd: Invitation to join the SDG Symposium on ‘Evaluating the Sustainable Development Goals – New Challenges for Research, Policy and Business’ on 28 October 2015

From: Jingchao zhou of the Society for International Development (SID), Vienna, Austria.

The Institute for Managing Sustainability was originally founded by S.I.D. vice-president Uwe Schubert
> ———- Forwarded message ———-
> From: Institute for Managing Sustainability <>
> Date: Fri, Sep 4, 2015 at 10:32 AM

> Subject: Invitation to join the SDG Symposium on ‘Evaluating the Sustainable Development Goals – New Challenges for Research, Policy and Business’ on 28 October 2015 at the University of Economics and Business (Wirtschaftsuniversitaet) Institute for Managinng Sustainability.
> Invitation to join the SDG Symposium on Evaluating the Sustainable Development Goals – New Challenges for Research, Policy and Business

> Organised by the WU Institute for Managing Sustainability at Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) in collaboration with the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) and the European Evaluation Society (EES)
> Date: 28 October 2015

> Location: Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU), Welthandelsplatz 1, 1020 Vienna, Austria

> Registration: Please visit their website to register for the event and find out more about updates on the programme and speakers
> The WU Institute for Managing Sustainability at Vienna University of Economics and Business in collaboration with the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) and the European Evaluation Society (EES) is pleased to invite you to a symposium on “Evaluating the Sustainable Development Goals – New Challenges for Research, Policy and Business”.

> With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations in September 2015, a new set of objectives for global sustainable development will guide the global development agenda. The SDGs provide a comprehensive approach, ensuring a high level of ambition for achieving results, involving development agencies and governments, international organisations, civil society and business.

> Coinciding with 2015 as the International Year of Evaluation and the European Year of Development the symposium aims to be a forum for discussion on the implications of the SDGs for the impact evaluation of policies, programmes and projects across sectors.
> The symposium will address the central question of how the SDGs may inform research and practice in evaluation. We cordially invite you to join the symposium and

> Find out more about the contribution of evaluation, research and practice to the effective implementation and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals
> Discuss the implications of the new international development agenda on evaluation research and practice across sectors (policy, civil society, business, academia)
> Engage in a dialogue with key actors and experts from research, business, policy, international organizations and civil society
> Watch the conference website for updates on the programme, speakers and registration.

> André Martinuzzi
> Institute for Managing Sustainability, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business,
> email:  andre.martinuzzi at
> Patricia Schindler
> Institute for Managing Sustainability, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business,
> email:  patricia.schindler at
> Norma Schönherr
> Institute for Managing Sustainability, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business,
> email:  norma.schoenherr at
> This newsflash is being published by
> Institute for Managing Sustainability
> Vienna University of Economics and Business
> Welthandelsplatz 1, A-1020 Vienna, Austria
> phone: +43-1-31336-4698
> fax: +43-1-31336-90-4698
> www: ” title=”” target=”_blank”>, Vienna


Posted on on April 27th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (

36 eye-opening facts about water.

from: Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer)
Science / Clean Water at

March 19, 2015

World water day – water facts

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly designated March 22 as the first World Water Day. And with good reason – without water, we’d be nothing. Just dust. Water is one of the most common substances on earth, and one of the most vital; it’s a tremendously valuable resource, yet one we squander and pollute prodigiously.

Water is deceptive. For while it pours freely from the heavens and seems to flow endlessly in rivers, it’s a finite resource; we only have what we have. And although there is about 332,500,000 cubic miles of it on earth – only one-hundredth of one percent of the world’s water is readily available for human use. We really need to learn how to show it some respect. Which is where World Water Day comes in.

Even though water deserves celebration every day, we’ll take this occasion to give a shout-out to this incredible compound that gives us life and sustains the planet around us. So with that in mind, consider the following facts – some wondrous, some disconcerting, all eye-opening:

1. The average human body is made of 50 to 65 percent water.

2. Newborn babies have even more, ringing in at 78 percent water.

3. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds.

4. A cubic foot of water weighs 62.4 pounds.

5. An inch of water covering one acre (27,154 gallons) weighs 113 tons.

6. Water covers 70.9 percent of the planet’s surface.

7. Ninety-seven percent of the water on Earth is salt water; the water found in the Earth’s lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, swamps, etcetera accounts for only 0.3 percent of the world’s fresh water. The rest is trapped in glaciers or is in the ground.

8. There is more water in the atmosphere than in all of our rivers combined.

9. If all of the water vapor in our planet’s atmosphere fell as water at once and spread out evenly, it would only cover the globe with about an inch of water.

10. More than one-quarter of all bottled water comes from a municipal water supply – the same place that tap water comes from.

11. Approximately 400 billion gallons of water are used in the United States per day; nearly half of that is used for thermoelectric power generation.

12. In a year, the average American residence uses over 100,000 gallons.

13. Since the average faucet releases 2 gallons of water per minute, you can save up to four gallons of water every morning by turning off the tap while you brush your teeth.

14. A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water each day.

15. At one drip per second, a faucet can leak 3,000 gallons in a year.

16. A bath uses up to 70 gallons of water; a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons.

17. The first water pipes in the U.S. were made from hollowed logs.

18. Leaks in the New York City water supply system account for 36 million gallons of wasted water per day.

19. There are around one million miles of water pipeline and aqueducts in the U.S. and Canada, enough to circle the globe 40 times.

20. 748 million people in the world do not have access to an improved source of drinking water

21. And 2.5 billion people do not have use of an improved sanitation facility.

22. Some 1.8 billion people worldwide drink water that is contaminated with feces.

23. The World Health Organization recommends 2 gallons per person daily to meet the requirements of most people under most conditions; and around 5 gallons per person daily to cover basic hygiene and food hygiene needs.

24. On average, an American resident uses about 100 gallons of water per day.

25. On average, a European resident uses about 50 gallons of water per day.

26. On average, a resident of sub-Saharan Africa uses 2 to 5 gallons of water per day.

27. It takes .26 gallons of water to irrigate one calorie of food.

28. (Yet it takes 26 gallons for one calorie of food when water is used inefficiently.)

29. It takes 2.6 gallons of water to make a sheet of paper.

30. It takes 6.3 gallons of water to make 17 ounces of plastic.

31. It takes 924 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of rice.

32. It takes 2,641 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans.

33. It takes 3,962 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of beef.

34. It takes 39,090 gallons more water to manufacture a new car.

35. In developing nations women and girls are primarily responsible for collecting water; on average, 25 percent of their day is spent on this task.

36. Collectively, South African women and children walk a daily distance equivalent to 16 trips to the moon and back to fetch water.

Sources: UN World Water Day; EPA Water Sense; EPA Water.

More on World Water Day:
It’s World Water Day: 5 shocking facts about water scarcity
Dirty, unwashed jeans encouraged, says Levis to employees
Be a hero for World Water Day!
Happy World Water Day! 22 key stories for understanding water issues

Related on
It’s Fix-a-Leak Week! Household water leaks waste 1 trillion gallons each year
Anyone thirsty for some “Fukushima Water”?
Why is Bill Gates drinking poop-water? (video)


Posted on on April 27th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (

from: Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer)
Science / Natural Sciences at website
April 22, 2015

12 really cool random things about planet Earth

Allow me to roll out a cliché and say that here at TreeHugger, every day is Earth Day. Tips on going green and sustainable design and treehugging in general are business as usual; our modus operandi 24/7. But who would we be to let such a momentous day as April 22 pass without some fanfare? So with that in mind, here’s some praise for the planet, glory for the globe, an all-around high-five highlighting some randomly remarkable features of this wild world we’re so lucky to call home.

1. Earth plays host to deadly, exploding lakes

Why should science fiction and horror movies have all the fun? Earth is pretty dramatic too. We’ve even got exploding lakes. In Cameroon and on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo there are three crater lakes – Nyos, Monoun and Kivu – which sit above volcanic earth. The magma below releases carbon dioxide into the lakes, and the gas can escape to form a limnic eruption, potentially killing everything nearby. Around Kivu Lake, geologists have found evidence of massive biological extinctions about every thousand years.

2. The planet is covered in stardust

Every year, 40,000 tons of cosmic dust falls upon our planet. It’s not something we notice, but eventually all that dust, which is made of oxygen, carbon, iron, nickel, and all the other elements, finds its way into our bodies. We are stardust.

3. You can’t keep a good planet still

While we may feel like we’re standing still, of course, we are not. We’re actually spinning wildly and flying through space! It’s a wonder life seems so calm. Depending on where you are, you could be spinning at over 1,000 miles per hour (though those on the North or South poles would be still). Meanwhile, we’re moving around the sun at a zippy 67,000 miles per hour. Whoosh.

4. It has some really cold spots

We’re talking really, really cold. A few hundred miles from the Arctic Circle is the town of Oymyakon, Russia, which in 1933 earned the title as the coldest place on Earth when the temperature dropped to -90 F. It is so cold here that people don’t turn their cars off and must heat the ground with a bonfire for days before in order to bury their dead. During the winter, the temperature averages -58 F.

5. And others that are as hot as Hades

On the other end of the mercury, Death Valley plays home to the hottest temperatures recorded: the hottest on the planet being 134 F on July 10, 1913. That was not a good week in the desert; temperatures reached 129 F or above on five consecutive days. More recently, the summer of 2001 saw 100 F for 154 consecutive days, while the summer of 1996 was bestowed with 105 days over 110 F and 40 days when the mercury reached 120 F.

6. The high highs are really high

At 29,028 feet above sea level, Mount Everest is the highest place on Earth when measured by sea level. But if you measure height based on the distance from the center of the planet, Mount Chimaborazo in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador takes the prize. Although Chimaborazo is about 10,000 feet shorter (relative to sea level) than Everest, this mountain is about 1.5 miles farther into space because of the equatorial bulge.

7. And the low down is deep

The lowest point on Earth is the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean. It reaches down about 36,200 feet, nearly 7 miles, below sea level.

8. The planet has rocks that scoot themselves

In a remote stretch of Death Valley, a lakebed known as Racetrack Play plays home to one of the natural world’s more compelling mysteries: Rocks that sail across the bed of the lake, propelled by nothing that anyone can see. It’s a puzzle that has long-stumped scientists, and has never actually ever been seen in action, save for the long meandering tracks left behind in the mud surface.

9. And dunes that sing

Around 30 places across the planet have sand dunes that sing and croak, creating low droning music that lands somewhere between chanting monks and a swarm of bees. From the Gobi Desert and Death Valley to the Sahara and Chilean desert, the source of the sounds has long remained a mystery, although there are a number of theories explaining the sonic phenomena, it remains a hotly debated topic.

10. The world below is a giant, mysterious thing

We think we’re so fancy with our terrestrial lives, but you should see what’s going on down in the coral reefs. It is there in which exists the most species per unit area of any of the planet’s ecosystems, even more than the rain forests. And while the reefs are comprised of tiny individual coral polyps, together they form the largest living structures on Earth, even visible from space.

11. There’s a sweet spot for lightning

Every night in northwestern Venezuela, where the Catatumbo River meets Lake Maracaibo, a thunderstorm occurs. And not just a passing show, but a storm that can last up to 10 hours and averaging 28 lightning strikes per minute. Known as Relámpago del Catatumbo (the Catatumbo Lightning) it can strike as many as 3,600 bolts in an hour. Every night!
12. And we don’t know the half of it
While oceans cover around 70 percent of the planet, we’ve only explored some 5 percent of them. In a similar vein, scientists estimate that there are anywhere between 5 million and 100 million species on Earth, but … we have identified only about 2 million of them. We think we know it all, but there is so much left to discover. What a wonderful world!

Related on
36 eye-opening facts about water
Learn the History of the World in 100 Objects
30 Fascinating Facts about the Boreal Forest


Posted on on February 26th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (



“Storms of My Grandchildren”, by James Hansen

On the webpage “Updating the Climate Science: What Path is the Real World Following?”, Drs. Makiko Sato and James Hansen update figures in the book Storms of My Grandchildren (see LA Times review) and present updated graphs and discussion of key quantities that help provide understanding of how climate change is developing and how effective or ineffective global actions are in affecting climate forcings and future climate change. A few errata in Storms are also provided.

Near Future Presentations

Recent Communications

Dr. Hansen periodically posts commentary on his recent papers and presentations and on other topics of interest to an e-mail list. To receive announcements of new postings, please click here.

? Go to older postings

Recent Scholarly Publications

Hansen, J., P. Kharecha, M. Sato, V. Masson-Delmotte, et al., Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLOS ONE, 8, e81468.


Hansen, J., M. Sato, G. Russell, and P. Kharecha, 2013: Climate sensitivity, sea level, and atmospheric carbon dioxide. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A, 371, 20120294, doi:10.1098/rsta.2012.0294.

? Go to older publications

Other Recent Publications

Apr. 4, 2013: Keystone XL: The pipeline to disaster. Op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

? Go to older publications

Recent Presentations

February 2014: Symposium on a New Type of Major Power Relationship: Presentation given at Counsellors Office of the State Council, Beijin, China on Feb. 24.
+ Download PDF (3.5 MB)

December 2013: Minimizing Irreversible Impacts of Human-Made Climate Change: Presentation given at AGU Fall Meeting on Dec. 12.
+ Download PDF (4.3 MB)

September 2012: A New Age of Risk: Presentation given at Columbia University on Sep. 22.
+ Download PDF (2.1 MB)
+ Download PPT (2.5 MB)

? Go to older presentations

Recent TV Appearance

in Recent News

Recent Video

December 2012: Discussion at Climate One about Superstorm Sandy and Carbon Pricing.


Posted on on February 23rd, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (



· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

Volume 221 Number 1 – Monday, 24 February 2014
20 FEBRUARY 2014
The workshop on ‘Making the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Work: How to build an effective “Review Mechanism”’ took place in New York, US, on 20 February 2014.

The workshop was sponsored by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and Permanent Missions of seven governments: Egypt, Liechtenstein, Norway, Peru, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea and Switzerland, with invited participants from other governments, the UN Secretariat, including an Assistant Secretary-General from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and NGOs, as well as two expert commenters.

The workshop sought to create an open discussion around the review mechanism that will begin in 2016, ahead of the intergovernmental process on this issue. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) established the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in 2012 when it adopted the outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). In 2013, the UNGA decided that the HLPF should conduct regular reviews, starting in 2016, on the follow-up and implementation of sustainable development commitments and objectives, including those related to the means of implementation, within the context of the post-2015 development agenda. The aim of this workshop was to identify potential “landing zones” where consensus on the design of the review mechanism could be detected and strengthened.

During the workshop, participants engaged in an exchange of views and ideas about the possible elements, purpose and outcome of the review process. At the end of the workshop, the moderator noted that “integration” and “coherence” where two of the most frequently used words during the workshop, and predicted that “the world will apply these yardsticks to the review mechanism.”

This briefing note summarizes the presentations and discussions during the workshop. The workshop was held under the Chatham House Rule and this briefing note therefore does not identify speakers.



The workshop opened on Thursday morning, 20 February, with the Permanent Representative of Norway welcoming participants on behalf of the seven sponsoring missions.

The Permanent Representatives of Egypt, Norway, Pakistan and Peru spoke in opening remarks. Among other things, they stated that: the HLPF is regarded as the home for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that a robust review mechanism is needed to fulfill this role; each time an SDG target is decided, the need to measure progress must be remembered; transparency and accountability for implementation are critical, and should apply to both developing and developed countries; and the review should be linked with the Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) to avoid duplication.

The Permanent Representations further commented that: the review should cover a large number of countries; there is a need to help developing countries with implementation and to create incentives; the review should enable developing countries to showcase their achievements; and the process should be simple, flexible and allow for “learning by doing.”

A representative of IISD said the workshop aimed to provide a platform for participants to express their hopes and concerns about the design of the review mechanism. Another IISD representative presented the background paper for the workshop, ‘Building an Effective Review Mechanism: Lessons for the HLPF,’ highlighting six questions about the review: who is to be reviewed; by whom; about what; through what process; using what standards; and what is the review to achieve: learning, policy changes, and/or access to means of implementation? He stressed that participants on both sides of a review process must see its benefits.


During the interactive segment of the workshop, participants responded to the opening remarks, posed questions to each other, and received input from the moderator regarding possible themes, preferences and concerns.

Many participants expressed appreciation for the background paper prepared by IISD. Some offered suggestions, such as including the climate change system in the list of examples of existing review mechanisms, noting that it reflects the concept of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities.

Several participants called for the review mechanism to take an innovative approach, highlighting the innovative nature of the HLPF itself, the opportunity to craft something “fresh and modern,” and the need to learn from problems with existing review mechanisms such as the Annual Ministerial Review.

Some participants expressed a preference for a positive, inspirational review process that celebrates achievement, avoids finger-pointing, and is non-threatening. Others opposed this view, suggesting that a review that is “too soft” would not help, and underlining that both developed and developing countries need to be more serious about implementing commitments. Another noted that the SDGs will be political commitments, not legal ones, making national-level implementation key to their success.

Some echoed the emphasis on a learning-focused, iterative approach highlighted in opening comments, with one noting that “we learn best from failure” and should therefore identify barriers to implementation. A note of caution was sounded by some about shifting the goalposts at every HLPF meeting. One participant suggested that for the three years when the HLPF convenes, diplomatic energy should be spent on implementation. In the fourth year of the cycle, however, when it meets at a higher level, the Forum could look at the lessons learned and shift the goal posts if needed.

One expert commenter said an emphasis on learning does not mean the review mechanism can only showcase achievements. He noted that learning also occurs by looking at cause-effect relationships between policies and outcomes.

Some participants cited the need for coherence and cautioned against crafting new things without links to what is already happening, with several noting that the work of the DCF and other bodies should not be duplicated. To this end, one expert commenter suggested that the review could be a decentralized process, with the HLPF playing a role to ensure higher-level accountability and comparability among processes.

One participant recalled the words of Sha Zukang, former Secretary-General of Rio+20, that “implementation, integration and coherence” are the key gaps that Rio+20 tried to address, and where big impact is needed. An expert commenter affirmed that the HLPF has an explicit mandate to focus on coherence and integration, noting this makes it unique and should drive the review process.

Regarding “who is being reviewed,” some countries suggested working at multiple levels, for example holding an internal review at the national level, followed by regional and then international reviews. Others suggested having small groups of countries review each other first, organized according to region or other criteria.

One participant argued for reviewing all countries, in order for each country to feel comfortable with the process. Another participant said, however, that, if countries present their reports during high-level ministers’ segments – “prime time” – there would only be time to review a few countries each year. He added that ministerial-level reviews also could result in a “rosy picture” rather than a critical examination of lessons learned.

One participant asked how developed countries could go beyond reporting just on their international development efforts and include their domestic efforts to promote sustainable development. Another participant stressed the importance of countries regarding the review mechanism as being in their interest. One commenter said developing countries should be supported to report and participate in the review, and that means of implementation must therefore be subject to the review.

On the question of “by whom,” that is, who will conduct the review, one participant suggested that this did not need to be either “horizontal” (peer) or “vertical” (hierarchical), but that it could be a state-led, neutral review with broad participation from stakeholders.

Some participants asked what arrangements would be politically feasible, given the “political contestation” over the HLPF’s nature, and legal and structural identity.

One participant argued that, contrary to one of the sponsoring governments’ opening remarks, the HLPF will not be the sole institutional home for the post-2015 development agenda. He said that instead, there should be multiple institutional bases of support for the agenda, including at national levels and in multilateral institutions, although the UN could provide a “center of gravity” for the agenda.

An expert commenter said participants had identified four purposes of a review: measuring, learning, enabling, and holding to account. One participant said the purposes of the review should be to ensure accountability on implementation, and promote policy changes.

An expert commenter also noted four challenges the design process would need to overcome: enabling participation and ensuring the benefits of participation are clear to participants; balancing the broad sustainability agenda with the need for focused review, which could perhaps be resolved by using the SDGs as a focus; ensuring coherence among the dimensions of sustainable development and among existing processes; and deciding whether the review would be a mutual one, and whether it would promote accountability on voluntary commitments.

Some participants suggested that the review design process must take into account an additional question that was not asked in the Background Paper: the question of “to whom,” or on whose behalf the review would be conducted.

One participant said stakeholders would provide accountability and legitimacy for the review, both by helping collect data on progress, and by attending the review meetings and offering feedback on the results. Another participant said the focus on accountability reflects frustration with the failure to fulfil commitments and that clarity about the causes of this failure would be useful.

A UN system representative highlighted the Global Reporting Initiative as the “gold standard” for sustainability reporting. He said the business community is becoming more proactive about issues that are “material for financial success,” such as supply chain issues, transparency and corruption. He added that, since “you can no longer hide dark sides deep in your supply chain,” private investment has gained a stronger focus on building markets, which creates greater overlap among private and public interests. Another participant stressed that private businesses are the primary producers of waste, not UN entities or governments, but that yet, they are rarely held accountable.

Participants also commented that: the review should not focus too much on environmental issues, but should bring the three dimensions of sustainable development to bear; each possible review mechanism should include its “price tag,” since the UNGA’s Fifth Committee will ask for this before approving the mechanism; and there is a need for high-quality data and analysis, and accompanying capacity building.

The moderator suggested that the discussion had raised the need for four “balancing acts” between: celebration and seriousness of the review; the broad mandate of sustainable development and a narrower focus for implementation; inspiration and the practical concerns to be addressed; and effort, which is easier to measure, and impact, which is the “great promise.”

He also said the list of words used most often during the discussion includes “integration” and “coherence,” predicting that the world will apply these yardsticks to the review mechanism.


In closing remarks, an IISD representative said there had been a call for governments to be accountable both to their citizens, and – at the global level – to all people including generations unborn. He described the challenge as a kind of “Rubik’s cube” because of remaining uncertainties about the HLPF.

He also noted the challenge of financing frequent reviews, but highlighted the need for enough frequency to have feedback loops of learning, and suggested two ways to resolve this: having a regional review process that would feed reports to the HLPF annual sessions; or having a UN Secretariat report pull together other relevant reviews for discussion in the HLPF. Finally, he observed a lack of discussion around the Global Sustainable Development Report.

Another IISD representative observed a strong sense among participants that they must get the review mechanism right. He said they were in the “discovery phase” of putting everything on the table, seeing how things can be organized, and boiling it down to the key elements that Member States must discuss and agree upon. He explained that the next steps for IISD would be to distill this conversation and hopefully help identify landing zones, which would enable the process to “come to earth at some point.”

Following concluding remarks and thanks from the Permanent Representative of Switzerland, the workshop was brought to a close shortly after 1 pm.


Posted on on February 15th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (


Green Prophet Headlines – BrightSource’s Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar thermal project, is live

Link to Green Prophet

BrightSource’s Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar thermal project, is live

Posted: 14 Feb 2014

BrightSource, Ivanpah, California, Mojave Desert, US Solar Projects, clean tech, concentrating solar energy, ISEGS, world's largest solar thermal plant, PG&E, NRG Solar, Google, Southern California Edison, renewable energy,

It has been a long, controversial and expensive road for BrightSource Energy, but their 392 megawatt concentrating solar plant is now finally delivering renewable energy to the California grid and it is the largest plant of its kind in the world.

Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS), which is comprised of 350,000 garage door-sized mirrors that reflect sunlight onto boilers atop 40 foot towers, is jointly owned by NRG Solar, Google and BrightSource Energy
a company that started out at Luz International in Israel.

BrightSource, Ivanpah, California, Mojave Desert, US Solar Projects, clean tech, concentrating solar energy, ISEGS, world's largest solar thermal plant, PG&E, NRG Solar, Google, Southern California Edison, renewable energy,

In addition to offsetting roughly 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, the massive solar facility located roughly 50 miles northwest of Needles, California, will deliver solar power to roughly 140,000 homes via California utility companies PG&E and Southern California Edison.

Despite this enormous boost for solar energy, BrightSource Energy has taken a lot of heat from environmentalists and social activists for their five square mile solar project in the Mojave desert.

BrightSource, Ivanpah, California, Mojave Desert, US Solar Projects, clean tech, concentrating solar energy, ISEGS, world's largest solar thermal plant, PG&E, NRG Solar, Google, Southern California Edison, renewable energy,

It took months to resolve the issue of relocating desert tortoises that call the desert home, to make way for thousands of concentrating mirrors, and Native Americans complained that the project destroys sites that are sacred to them.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the towers, which reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, have scorched an astonishing number of birds.

The paper also notes that the energy produced at Ivanpah will cost four times as much as natural gas and boasts a smaller generation capacity to land ratio than conventional plants. In other words, CSP projects like ISEGS require more land than fossil fuel plants.

BrightSource, Ivanpah, California, Mojave Desert, US Solar Projects, clean tech, concentrating solar energy, ISEGS, world's largest solar thermal plant, PG&E, NRG Solar, Google, Southern California Edison, renewable energy,

Despite these downsides, the $2.2 billion plant will produce one third of all solar thermal energy in the United States, and potentially pave the way for similar projects to take flight as well.

:: WSJ


Posted on on January 14th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (


If we refuse to understand environment – let us talk economics:

Rising Sea, Sinking Land.

Tide gauges along the East Coast show a long-term increase in relative sea levels, in part because the ocean is rising and in part because areas of the coast are sinking.

Each unit of those barrels signifies half an inch per decade. The line as function of time signifies the losses for Norfolk, Virginia, and Battery Park, New York City.


Posted on on July 6th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

E Pluribus Unum

By Paul Krugman, The New York Times

05 July 13

It’s that time of year – the long weekend when we gather with friends and family to celebrate hot dogs, potato salad and, yes, the founding of our nation. And it’s also a time for some of us to wax a bit philosophical, to wonder what, exactly, we’re celebrating. Is America in 2013, in any meaningful sense, the same country that declared independence in 1776?

The answer, I’d suggest, is yes. Despite everything, there is a thread of continuity in our national identity – reflected in institutions, ideas and, especially, in attitude – that remains unbroken. Above all, we are still, at root, a nation that believes in democracy, even if we don’t always act on that belief.

And that’s a remarkable thing when you bear in mind just how much the country has changed.

Krugman writes further: “Today’s America is a place where everyone claims to support equality of opportunity, yet we are, objectively, the most class-ridden nation in the Western world – the country where children of the wealthy are most likely to inherit their parents’ status. It’s also a place where everyone celebrates the right to vote, yet many politicians work hard to disenfranchise the poor and nonwhite.”


But the same page that reported the Krugman thoughts had also a further call to action:

The 21st Century Declaration of Independence

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

04 July 13

A living document, to be amended, revised, and published by July 4th, 2013

e, the human race, are riding along the wave of revolution against greed, injustice, hatred, and oppression that has swept across the globe over the past two years. Countries around the world have begun to cast off the shackles that a few have put on the majority of humanity. In the United States, citizens of all walks of life have tried to stop this tyrannical oligarchy from continuing their class war on humanity as a whole. Despite our best efforts, we have been treated with disdain and brutality by the government of the United States and those associated with it.

Our reason for writing this document is a struggle against the moneyed corporate, military, and political powers not unlike the struggle faced by Thomas Jefferson when rebelling against the crown in 1776. The tyranny we face today, however, is global. The people of Iceland, Spain, the UK, Greece, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Portugal, Bulgaria and others are all rising up against corporate-owned governments that work in the interests of the few rather than for the good of all.

In the course of human events, it is often necessary for the people to dissolve the political and economic bands which have endeavored to enslave them, and gather as one to devise a new, just political system that works for all those who must live within it. A decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that we should declare our grievances for all who are affected by the monumental decisions that are to be made as one people.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all persons are created equal, that they along with nature are endowed with unalienable rights from the very beginning of their existence, of which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights for all, regardless of race, class, gender, ethnic background, abilities and limitations, sexual orientation or political ideology, the people must form a government that is capable of holding their nation’s political and economic powers accountable. A just government’s authority is only legitimate with the consent of the governed. And whenever any form of government becomes too corrupt to truly represent the people whom it has been elected to govern, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government if they so choose. A truly representative government must lay its foundation on just principles, and only wield its authority in ways in which it will be most likely to improve upon the safety and happiness of all people.

That being said, an established government should not be changed for light and transient causes. Human history has shown that while all political and economic systems will inevitably come with imperfections and have aspects that are not agreed upon by a full consensus of the people, to hastily abolish a political system to which a great majority of the people are accustomed is unwieldy and likely to create more problems than it would solve. But when a long train of human rights violations, violations of the natural world, and outright redistribution of wealth and resources from the poor and impoverished to the wealthy and privileged power elite are regularly forced upon the people, it is the people’s right to throw off such government and firmly establish new sets of rules to check abuses by political and financial powers. The people have, for too long, politely tolerated such abuses and are now called together out of necessity to right the wrongs that beset us. The history of the present Congress, Executive Branch, and Supreme Court is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all of which project an absolute Tyranny over all fifty United States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.


They have ignored and breached long-established fundamental rights bestowed upon the people in the U.S. Constitution, most notably our First Amendment rights to Free Speech, Free Assembly, and a Free Press.
* They have established habitual breaches of our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, as evidenced in the National Security Agency’s warrantless monitoring of all citizens’ emails, calls, texts and social media.

* They have intentionally disenfranchised people of color through wage theft and discrimination in the workplace, attacks on voting rights, and excessive, unprovoked brutality at the hands of law enforcement, as seen in the stop-and-frisk policy of the New York Police Department and frequent abuses of power by various other law enforcement agencies.

* They have deemed 9 of themselves “Supreme” and used this arbitrary label to strip disenfranchised Americans of their right to vote, enabling states wishing to further disenfranchise those groups with unfair and discriminatory laws to do so.

* The country’s highest court has ruled in favor of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – the chief lobbying firm for multinational corporations – moreso than at any other point since the 1940s. This has resulted in the steady chipping away of workers’ rights and domination of our food supply, conducted by judges with ties to the corporate world.

* They have breached our fundamental rights to a speedy and fair trial by jury, as evidenced in the case of Private First Class Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, and other political activists and whistleblowers.

* They have shown utter contempt for the right of Habeus Corpus, as evidenced in the indefinite detention language included in the passage of the 2012 and 2013 National Defense Authorization Acts, the existence of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, CIA-sanctioned “black sites” where unlawful torture of political prisoners is conducted in foreign jurisdictions, among other facilities known and unknown to the people.

* They have allowed the unprecedented concentration of wealth into the hands of a minute fraction of the population, despite longer working hours imposed on workers, stagnant wages, and record profits enjoyed by those who own at the expense of those who create.

* They have recklessly plundered funds for Social Security, repeatedly attempted to undermine necessary health care programs, and attacked the Constitutionally authorized U.S. Postal Service, which the people have spent their whole lives supporting, under the false guise of financial prudence. Meanwhile, they exempt the lavish tax subsidies and tax breaks lobbied for by their campaign contributors.

* They have halted all passage of laws through unprecedented partisan obstruction, slowing necessary governmental functions to a standstill in their failure to compromise on even the most basic legislative tasks. The few laws they do allow to pass intended to do good for the public or hold criminal enterprises accountable, have been riddled with loopholes and exemptions at the behest of corporate lobbyists, allowing evildoers to escape unscathed.

* They have refused to pass laws that aimed to protect large swaths of natural resources and a stable climate, which are essential to the survival of the planet and the continuation of the human species.

* They have ensured that successful political campaigns must be funded by millions of dollars from wealthy corporations averse to being held accountable for wrongdoing. This process has compromised their positions as representatives of the people who elected them to serve, and converted them into puppet representatives of their corporate masters.

* They have allowed excessively unfair gerrymandering of districts to favor their own partisan ideology, which makes their political ouster impossible in spite of widespread discontent among the people of the district.

* They have used their vast surveillance infrastructure to treat nonviolent dissenters as terrorism suspects while letting actual terrorism suspects run free.

* They have trod upon the sovereignty of indigenous people both domestically and internationally, pillaged their resources for profit, and neglected to provide them with even the most basic of services while simultaneously refusing to share the benefits of the wealth they’ve generated on those oppressed people’s behalf.

* They have made a mockery of the judicial system, corrupting it to the point where justices work openly for the benefit of a privileged few in the corporate and financial halls of power.

* They have turned cabinet, executive, and judicial appointments into political payoffs for privileged friends and campaign donors, establishing a precedent of allowing only the most corrupt to serve on the judicial bench or at the top of regulatory agencies.

* They have erected a sweeping surveillance structure, a vast prison system, and an oppressive police state, whose key purpose has become to excessively monitor and violently suppress political dissent, as well as imprison nonviolent political activists, financed by tax dollars of taxpayers who have not consented to the authority of such agencies.

* They have acceded to the moneyed interests of the military-industrial complex, creating war not out of the necessity to protect the continued existence of the nation, but to fund the insatiable greed of the for-profit arms industry.

* They have breached the Constitution’s requirements for war, allowing war to be outsourced to privately-owned and operated mercenary agencies and conducted under a veil of secrecy, conducting extrajudicial assassinations of citizens whom they have deemed enemies of the state without affording them their right to a trial under the necessary and lawful presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

* They have allowed the military to be unaccountable to civil powers and to operate independently of oversight or regulation.

* They have allowed unaccountable private corporations to assume powers previously only afforded to accountable public institutions, such as prisons, schools, and law enforcement.

* They have allowed the monopolization of our food supply by a select few corporate conglomerates, without requiring due care for the health of the people affected by the foods they produce, and they have gone so far as to exempt them from laws and regulations that apply to other businesses and institutions.

* They have prolonged and exacerbated the enslavement of the people by debt, which has currently become the norm for attaining an education required for a career, or for receiving treatment for even the most basic of ailments, injuries and sicknesses.

* They have allowed banks to create fraudulent mortgage agreements for millions of homeowners, and to forcibly and violently evict those families from their homes while escaping all governmental accountability and oversight all for the sake of unchecked and untaxed profit.

* They have allowed control of our nation’s currency to fall into the hands of a select few private central bankers, who are unaccountable to all rules and regulations that normally apply to other government agencies.

* They have corrupted regulatory agencies through prolonging and encouraging a revolving door culture between corporate suites and government, allowing executives of corporations to serve as official regulators of the same corporations from which they came.

* They have refused implementation of contemporary replacements for outdated and unsustainable sources of energy, transportation, and other public infrastructure, putting the health and safety of the people and the planet at tremendous risk.

* They have allowed for the dangerous monopolization of our media by corporate entities, corrupting democracy by suppressing information necessary for the education of the people.

* They have enabled the corporate takeover of our healthcare system, allowing the pain, injury, sickness and suffering of the people to be commodities from which corporations can profit without effective regulatory oversight.

* They have repeatedly interfered with women’s rights to have access to birth control as well as safe reproductive health options. Further, they have continued to stand in the way of true equality for all women whether through gainful employment opportunities, financial parity with male counterparts, family and maternity medical leave accessibility, or justice for themselves and their children at the family court level.

* They have refused the right of workers to collectively organize and bargain for fairer wages, working conditions and hours, while simultaneously crushing their efforts to form unions aimed at accomplishing those goals.

* They have enabled the oppression of undocumented workers by legislating reckless free-trade agreements that exempt corporate entities from necessary regulations, creating an environment where those entities exploit the labor of their workers while simultaneously rendering workers incapable of speaking out for fear of deportation.

* They have established the rule of money, patriarchy, ableism and white male supremacy, in spite of a population that is becoming increasingly more diverse, and ignored the demands of the people for a government more representative of the poor and middle class, women, people of color, and persons with disabilities.

In the face of continued and constant oppression, we have lobbied peacefully through all necessary channels, whether through writing, calling, emailing, circulating and delivering petitions, or nonviolent street demonstrations. And despite our best efforts to be heard through all aforementioned channels, our cries for justice have only been met with the boot and the handcuff, and have not reached the eyes and ears of our elected officials. For these reasons, we deem our elected officials to be tyrants, no longer fit to govern.

We have, for a time, been attempting to make our voices heard through all available channels. When the corporate-owned media largely ignored our efforts, we established our own media to amplify our efforts to be heard. We have repeatedly visited our halls of government and met face-to-face with those elected to represent us. We have made films and documentaries seen by millions, written countless articles for publication in mainstream and alternative media sources, and exhausted all available means to make our demands heard loud and clear by those in power.

These calls for justice have fallen on deaf ears beholden not to the needs and wishes of their constituents, but to the orders of their campaign contributors. For these reasons, we deem it necessary to abolish this current government through the constitutionally-granted mechanism outlined in Article V of the U.S. Constitution and to address our grievances by forming a new sovereignty which we will, through our own unmolested will and consent, grant legitimacy.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these fifty United States and its Territories, solemnly publish and declare, That these United States are, and of right are absolved from all governance by the 113th Congress, the Supreme Court, and the administration of Barack Obama, and that all political connection between them and the states ought to be totally dissolved.

As citizens of these United States, We acknowledge the fact that a two-thirds numerical threshold is required in Congress to call for an Article V Convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. In our capacity as oppressed and exploited citizens, we demand that Congress call an Article V Convention to order, with the explicit purpose of addressing the aforementioned charges and establishing true and final accountability to Us, the People. Barring such action, we regard the current government to be illegitimate, choose to live our lives free of coercion from it, and advocate for its dissolution. We call on our fellow citizens to do the same. For the support of this Declaration we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Honor.


Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary “We’re Not Broke,” which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at  carl at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it, and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.


Posted on on March 30th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


James Hansen
Faustian Bargain & The Missing Climate Data

A short scientific story, Doubling Down on Our Faustian Bargain, is available here and on my web site.  It contains the main points in a paper just published in Environmental Research Letters.  It is a sorrowful tale of missing climate data, which makes quantification of human-made climate change far more difficult than it needed to be — maybe enough to make one look for new work.

29 March 2013

1.   Dr. Faustus contemplates the bargain with Mephistopheles – a painting that starts the Hansen article.
2.   Doubling Down on Our Faustian Bargain.


Humanity is doubling down on its Faustian climate bargain by pumping up fossil fuel particulate and nitrogen pollution. The more the Faustian debt
grows, the more unmanageable the eventual consequences will be. Yet there are plans to build more than 1000 coal-fired power plants and plans to develop some of the dirtiest oil sources on the planet. These plans should be vigorously resisted. We are already in a deep hole — it is time to stop digging.
Humanity’s Faustian climate bargain is well known.


 Humans have been pumping both greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) and aerosols (fine particles) into the atmosphere for more than a century.
The CO2 accumulates steadily, staying in the climate system for millennia, with a continuously increasing warming effect. Aerosols have a cooling effect (by reducing solar heating of the ground) that depends on the rate that we pump aerosols into the air, because they fall out after about five
3. Aerosol cooling probably reduced global warming by about half over the past century, but the amount is uncertain because global aerosols and their effect on clouds are not measured accurately.
Aerosols increased rapidly after World War II as fossil fuel use increased ~ 5%/year with little pollution control (Fig. 1 in the article you can open with the link given).
Aerosol growth slowed in the 1970s with pollution controls in the U.S. and Europe, but accelerated again after ~2000.
 The rapid growth of fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the past decade is mainly from increased coal use, mostly in China, with little control of aerosol emissions. It is thus likely that there has been an increase in the negative (cooling) climate forcing by aerosols in the past decade, as suggested by regional aerosols measurements in the Far East, but until proper global aerosol monitoring is initiated, as discussed in this article, the aerosol portion of the amplified Faustian bargain remains largely unquantified.
In our current paper we describe another component to the fossil fuel Faustian bargain, which is suggested by a careful look at observed atmospheric CO2 change (Fig. 2 in the article to which we have above link).


An interesting point, however, is the failure of the observed increases in atmospheric CO2 to increase as rapidly as the fossil fuel source has increased. This fact is contrary to suggestions that terrestrial and ocean carbons increases are tending to  saturate as CO2 emissions continue.
An informative presentation of CO2 observations is the ratio of annual CO2 increase in the air divided by annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions, the “airborne fraction” (Figure 3 in the paper) and much more to be found in the paper.



Posted on on January 30th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


The problems are very real, but who will have the political courage to propose the right thing for the US?
Switzerland produces no oil or gas – imports them – and taxes them very hard – and the economy thrives because it adjusted – seems magic.

Economic Scene

In Energy Taxes, Tools to Help Tackle Climate Change.

Published by The New York Times on-line: January 29, 2013

To understand the complicated politics of climate change in the United States, you may want to talk to Pamela Johnson, president of the National Corn Growers Association’s Corn Board.

She is concerned about the weather. The drought that parched the lower 48 states cut the harvest at her northern Iowa farm by about 40 bushels an acre. For the first time in memory, she says, she had to rely on the federally subsidized crop insurance program to stay afloat.

And yet Ms. Johnson’s main concern, and that of most other growers in the association, is not about how to deal with a changing climate — how to slow the pace of warming and how to adapt to a warmer world with more erratic weather.

Rather, growers worry that political support for crop insurance might flag after a year in which taxpayers paid billions in subsidies to farmers while virtually everybody else faced deep budget cuts.

“We are Americans before we are farmers,” Ms. Johnson said. “We know we have budget problems.” Still, she added: “For our farmers, crop insurance is the main concern. It helps keep us in business.”

The erratic weather across the country in the last couple of years seems to be softening Americans’ skepticism about global warming. Most New Yorkers say they believe big storms like Sandy and Irene were the result of a warming climate. Whether climate change is directly responsible or not, the odd weather patterns have underscored the risk that it poses to all of us.

What’s yet to be seen is whether this growing awareness of the risks will translate into sufficient political support to address climate change, especially after we figure out the costs we will have to bear to do so.

In his inaugural address, President Obama wove Hurricane Sandy and last year’s drought into a stirring plea to address climate change. “The failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” the president said.

But even as he put global warming at the top of his agenda, he avoided dwelling on how much it would cost to address. And nowhere in his speech {President Obama} did he allude to the most powerful tool to address the problem: a tax on the use of energy.

Dealing with global warming will be expensive. The price tag last year for the drought was about $35 billion, according to the reinsurer Aon Benfield. Hurricane Sandy cost a further $65 billion. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that last year ranked as the second-costliest in terms of natural disasters since 1980 — lagging only 2005 when Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans.

And yet this is nothing compared with what the future will bring.

“The impact to date has been pretty small,” said William Nordhaus of Yale, one of the leading economists studying the impact of climate change.

Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics, another expert on the costs of climate change, said: “What we are seeing is on the back of warming of only 0.8 degrees centigrade” since the second half of the 19th century. “What we risk is 4, 5, 6 degrees even by the end of this century.”

For all the damage wrought by Sandy and Katrina, weather disasters in recent years have cost us probably less than a tenth of 1 percent of our economic product. Yet, according to Professor Nordhaus, “Damages will rise more sharply than the temperature curve.”

The president’s speech notwithstanding, the cost of dealing with these looming disasters is not to be found in the budgets discussed by the White House and Congressional Republicans, which would shrink much of the government to its smallest share of the economy since the early 1960s.

Neither is the cost of steering the economy away from the fossil fuels that are to blame for a warming atmosphere. A report from the World Economic Forum estimated that would cost $700 billion a year in public and private investment.

The reluctance is not because we have no idea how to finance these efforts. We do. Top economists agree a tax on fuels and the carbon they spew into the atmosphere would be the cheapest way to combat climate change. Most advanced countries rely on some variant of this tax. The question is whether the prospect of more droughts and more powerful hurricanes will push Americans to embrace it, too.

Among the 34 industrialized nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, these taxes average about $68.4 per metric ton of carbon dioxide. The United States, by contrast, has a gas tax to pay for highway improvement, and that’s about it. Total federal taxes on energy amount to $6.30 per ton.

Some states add excise taxes — California has a gas tax equivalent to about $46.50 per ton of carbon dioxide and a $2.33-per-ton tax on jet kerosene. But, according to a review by the O.E.C.D., the federal government is unique in imposing no taxes on other energy use, from residential heating to power generation.

A tax on energy could single-handedly take on climate change. For starters, it would encourage people and businesses to burn less, reducing emissions at a stroke. One study found that a carbon tax of $15 per ton would reduce greenhouse emissions by 14 percent as people sought to save energy by driving less, insulating their homes and switching to renewable fuels, among other things.

What’s more, it would raise lots of money. Estimates reviewed in a report by the Tax Policy Center ranged from 0.6 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product — for a tax of $20 per ton of carbon dioxide — to 1.6 percent of G.D.P. for a tax of $41 per ton. Consider this: 1.6 percent of G.D.P. is $240 billion a year. And $41 per ton amounts to an extra 35 cents a gallon of gas.

By way of comparison, the Swiss economy does fairly well even while shouldering an effective carbon tax rate of more than $140 per ton.

Some of the money raised through more taxes on energy could be spent steeling communities to cope with more intense hurricanes and moving others out of harm’s way. It could even help ease the fiscal squeeze that so consumes our elected officials.

There are drawbacks. A carbon tax would fall more heavily on the poor — the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the poorest fifth of Americans spend 21.4 percent of their income on gas and utilities while the richest 20 percent spend only 6.8 percent. But economists at the budget office have pointed out that there are several ways to compensate lower-income Americans.

For all the merits of an energy tax, the United States seems a long way from embracing one. It was only three years ago that the corn growers and the rest of the farm lobby allied with energy producers and other corporations to derail President Obama’s first shot at climate change legislation, which would have set a limit on carbon emissions and required businesses to buy permits to emit.

As things stand, drought is unlikely to change their minds. Farmers are still covered by crop insurance, and they have powerful allies in Congress who will fight to keep the subsidies in place. They may see little reason to support legislation that would make energy or fertilizer more expensive.

“Farmers would be deeply affected by an energy tax,” Ms. Johnson said.

As things stand for them, it is probably cheaper to deal with the occasional drought.

E-mail:  eporter at;

She is concerned about the weather.

The New York Times
January 30, 2013


Posted on on December 21st, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

The Lesson – You must be on the point and go out to demonstrate it: Just talking about it does not do it.


The Atlantic Wins Magazine Cover of The Year.

By Chris O’Shea on December 20, 2012 11:47 AM…

The voting is over, and the winner of the first FishbowlNY Magazine Cover of The Year is The Atlantic. It was a virtual tie between New York (who we thought would win) and its cover of a post-Sandy Manhattan and The Atlantic right up until the end. However, The Atlantic ended up with 41 percent of the vote, while New York grabbed 34 percent. Those two covers pretty much blew away the competition, as the next closest was ESPN The Magazine, with 9.9 percent of the vote.

Congrats to the Atlantic, and to Darhil Crooks, the magazine’s creative director. The winning cover was the first Atlantic issue with Crooks’ imprint, and it obviously made an impact on readers.


The Runner Up:

New York Magazine Captures Hurricane Sandy with Brilliant Cover.

By Chris O’Shea on November 5, 2012 9:53 AM…

We were going to include the latest New York cover in our weekly Cover Battle on Thursday, but that wouldn’t have been fair, because this cover is just too good.

This picture was snapped by architecture photographer Iwan Baan, while he was sitting in a helicopter 5,000 feet about the city. He told Poynter, “It was the only way to show that New York was two cities, almost.”


With the Editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal sold to the American extreme right the paper tries to put on a new face by changing its Page One leadership.  At least for us – it will not work.

Rupert Murdoch Calls for Gun Control, While Fox News is Told to Stay Silent.

Is this incongruous to you? To us it is!

Alex Martin Named WSJ Page One Editor

Alex Martin has been named page one editor of The Wall Street Journal. Martin was most recently national editor and deputy managing editor – the latter role he will maintain. Additionally, according to a memo from Gerard Baker, Mike Allen has been named global enterprise editor and Jason Anders deputy editor of page one. The full memo from Baker is below. I’m pleased to announce that Alex Martin is appointed Page One Editor. Alex’s… read more>>


Bernstein writes: “So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch’s ultimate and most audacious attempt – thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance – to hijack America’s democratic institutions.” He writes this for The Guardian – but The Washington Post put it only in the Style Section and not on PAGE ONE where it belonged – it is assumed that because of fear of Mr. Murdoch. IS IT NOT SHORT OF AMAZING?

Rupert Murdoch's ultimate and most audacious attempt - thwarted. (photo: Reuters)
Rupert Murdoch’s ultimate and most audacious attempt – thwarted. (photo: Reuters)

go to original article

Murdoch’s Bid to Hijack the US Presidency

By Carl Bernstein, Guardian UK

21 December 12

Did the Washington Post and others underplay the story through fear of the News Corp chairman, or simply tin-eared judgment?

o now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch’s ultimate and most audacious attempt – thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance – to hijack America’s democratic institutions on a scale equal to his success in kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic institutions of Great Britain through money, influence and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press.

In the American instance, Murdoch’s goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire – notably Fox News – to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election.

Thus in the spring of 2011 – less than 10 weeks before Murdoch’s centrality to the hacking and politician-buying scandal enveloping his British newspapers was definitively revealed – Fox News’ inventor and president, Roger Ailes, dispatched an emissary to Afghanistan to urge Petraeus to turn down President Obama’s expected offer to become CIA director and, instead, run for the Republican nomination for president, with promises of being bankrolled by Murdoch. Ailes himself would resign as president of Fox News and run the campaign, according to the conversation between Petraeus and the emissary, K T McFarland, a Fox News on-air defense “analyst” and former spear carrier for national security principals in three Republican administrations.

All this was revealed in a tape recording of Petraeus’s meeting with McFarland obtained by Bob Woodward, whose account of their discussion, accompanied online by audio of the tape, was published in the Washington Post – distressingly, in its style section, and not on page one, where it belonged – and, under the style logo, online on December 3.

Indeed, almost as dismaying as Ailes’ and Murdoch’s disdain for an independent and truly free and honest press, and as remarkable as the obsequious eagerness of their messenger to convey their extraordinary presidential draft and promise of on-air Fox support to Petraeus, has been the ho-hum response to the story by the American press and the country’s political establishment, whether out of fear of Murdoch, Ailes and Fox – or, perhaps, lack of surprise at Murdoch’s, Ailes’ and Fox’s contempt for decent journalistic values or a transparent electoral process.

The tone of the media’s reaction was set from the beginning by the Post’s own tin-eared treatment of this huge story: relegating it, like any other juicy tidbit of inside-the-beltway media gossip, to the section of the newspaper and its website that focuses on entertainment, gossip, cultural and personality-driven news, instead of the front page.

“Bob had a great scoop, a buzzy media story that made it perfect for Style. It didn’t have the broader import that would justify A1,” Liz Spayd, the Post’s managing editor, told Politico when asked why the story appeared in the style section.

Buzzy media story? Lacking the “broader import” of a front-page story? One cannot imagine such a failure of news judgment among any of Spayd’s modern predecessors as managing editors of the Post, especially in the clear light of the next day and with a tape recording – of the highest audio quality – in hand.

“Tell [Ailes] if I ever ran,” Petraeus announces on the crystal-clear digital recording and then laughs, “but I won’t … but if I ever ran, I’d take him up on his offer. … He said he would quit Fox … and bankroll it.”

McFarland clarified the terms: “The big boss is bankrolling it. Roger’s going to run it. And the rest of us are going to be your in-house” – thereby confirming what Fox New critics have consistently maintained about the network’s faux-news agenda and its built-in ideological bias.

And here let us posit the following: were an emissary of the president of NBC News, or of the editor of the New York Times or the Washington Post ever caught on tape promising what Ailes and Murdoch had apparently suggested and offered here, the hue and cry, especially from Fox News and Republican/Tea Party America, from the Congress to the US Chamber of Commerce to the Heritage Foundation, would be deafening and not be subdued until there was a congressional investigation, and the resignations were in hand of the editor and publisher of the network or newspaper. Or until there had been plausible and convincing evidence that the most important elements of the story were false. And, of course, the story would continue day after day on page one and remain near the top of the evening news for weeks, until every ounce of (justifiable) piety about freedom of the press and unfettered presidential elections had been exhausted.

The tape of Petraeus and McFarland’s conversation is an amazing document, a testament to the willingness of Murdoch and the wily genius he hired to create Fox News to run roughshod over the American civic and political landscape without regard to even the traditional niceties or pretenses of journalistic independence and honesty. Like the revelations of the hacking scandal, which established beyond any doubt Murdoch’s ability to capture and corrupt the three essential elements of the British civic compact – the press, politicians and police – the Ailes/Petraeus tape makes clear that Murdoch’s goals in America have always been just as ambitious, insidious and nefarious.

The digital recording, and the dead-serious conspiratorial conversation it captures so chillingly in tone and substance (“I’m only reporting this back to Roger. And that’s our deal,” McFarland assured Petraeus as she unfolded the offer) utterly refutes Ailes’ disingenuous dismissal of what he and Murdoch were actually attempting: the buying of the presidency.

“It was more of a joke, a wiseass way I have,” Ailes would later claim while nonetheless confirming its meaning. “I thought the Republican field [in the primaries] needed to be shaken up and Petraeus might be a good candidate.”

The recording deserves to be heard by any open-minded person trying to fathom its meaning to the fullest.

Murdoch and Ailes have erected an incredibly influential media empire that has unrivaled power in British and American culture: rather than judiciously exercising that power or improving reportorial and journalistic standards with their huge resources, they have, more often than not, recklessly pursued an agenda of sensationalism, manufactured controversy, ideological messianism, and political influence-buying while masquerading as exemplars of a free and responsible press. The tape is powerful evidence of their methodology and reach.

The Murdoch story – his corruption of essential democratic institutions on both sides of the Atlantic – is one of the most important and far-reaching political/cultural stories of the past 30 years, an ongoing tale without equal. Like Richard Nixon and his tapes, much attention has been focused on the necessity of finding the smoking gun to confirm what other evidence had already established beyond a doubt: that the elemental instruments of democracy, ie the presidency in Nixon’s case, and the privileges of free press in Murdoch’s, were grievously misused and abused for their own ends by those entrusted to use great power for the common good.

In Nixon’s case, the system worked. His actions were investigated by Congress, the judicial system held that even the president of the United States was not above the law, and he was forced to resign or face certain impeachment and conviction. American and British democracy has not been so fortunate with Murdoch, whose power and corruption went unchecked for a third of a century.

The most important thing we journalists do is make judgments about what is news. Perhaps no story has eluded us on a daily basis (for lack of trying) for so many years as the story of Murdoch’s destructive march across our democratic landscape. Only the Guardian vigorously pursued the leads of the hacking story and methodically stuck with it for months and years, never ignoring the underlying context of how Rupert Murdoch conducted his take-no-prisoners business and journalism without regard for the most elemental standards of fairness, accuracy or balance, or even lawful conduct.

When the Guardian’s hacking coverage reached critical mass last year, I quoted a former top Murdoch deputy as follows: “This scandal and all its implications could not have happened anywhere else. Only in Murdoch’s orbit. The hacking at News of the World was done on an industrial scale. More than anyone, Murdoch invented and established this culture in the newsroom, where you do whatever it takes to get the story, take no prisoners, destroy the competition, and the end will justify the means.”

The tape that Bob Woodward obtained, and which the Washington Post ran in the style section, should be the denouement of the Murdoch story on both sides of the Atlantic, making clear that no institution, not even the presidency of the United States, was beyond the object of his subversion. If Murdoch had bankrolled a successful Petraeus presidential campaign and – as his emissary McFarland promised – “the rest of us [at Fox] are going to be your in-house” – Murdoch arguably might have sewn up the institutions of American democracy even more securely than his British tailoring.

Happily, Petraeus was not hungering for the presidency at the moment of the messenger’s arrival: the general was contented at the idea of being CIA director, which Ailes was urging him to forgo.

“We’re all set,” said the emissary, referring to Ailes, Murdoch and Fox. “It’s never going to happen,” Petraeus said. “You know it’s never going to happen. It really isn’t. … My wife would divorce me.”


Posted on on November 25th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (


Is This the End?


Whether in 50 or 100 or 200 years, there’s a good chance that New York City will sink beneath the sea. Comment

Is This the End?…


Related in Sunday Review


By JAMES ATLAS,  Published: November 24, 2012  3 Comments
WE’D seen it before: the Piazza San Marco in Venice submerged by the acqua alta; New Orleans underwater in the aftermath of Katrina; the wreckage-strewn beaches of Indonesia left behind by the tsunami of 2004. We just hadn’t seen it here. (Last summer’s Hurricane Irene did a lot of damage on the East Coast, but New York City was spared the worst.) “Fear death by water,” T. S. Eliot intoned in “The Waste Land.” We do now.

There had been warnings. In 2009, the New York City Panel on Climate Change issued a prophetic report. “In the coming decades, our coastal city will most likely face more rapidly rising sea levels and warmer temperatures, as well as potentially more droughts and floods, which will all have impacts on New York City’s critical infrastructure,” said William Solecki, a geographer at Hunter College and a member of the panel. But what good are warnings? Intelligence agents received advance word that terrorists were hoping to hijack commercial jets. Who listened? (Not George W. Bush.) If we can’t imagine our own deaths, as Freud insisted, how can we be expected to imagine the death of a city?

History is a series of random events organized in a seemingly sensible order. We experience it as chronology, with ourselves as the end point — not the end point, but as the culmination of events that leads to the very moment in which we happen to live. “Historical events might be unique, and given pattern by an end,” the critic Frank Kermode proposed in “The Sense of an Ending,” his classic work on literary narrative, “yet there are perpetuities which defy both the uniqueness and the end.” What he’s saying (I think) is that there is no pattern. Flux is all.

Last month’s “weather event” should have taught us that. Whether in 50 or 100 or 200 years, there’s a good chance that New York City will sink beneath the sea. But if there are no patterns, it means that nothing is inevitable either. History offers less dire scenarios: the city could move to another island, the way Torcello was moved to Venice, stone by stone, after the lagoon turned into a swamp and its citizens succumbed to a plague of malaria. The city managed to survive, if not where it had begun. Perhaps the day will come when skyscrapers rise out of downtown Scarsdale.

Humans are ingenious. Our species tends to see nature as something of a nuisance, a phenomenon to be outwitted. Consider efforts to save Venice: planners have hatched one scheme after another to prevent the city from sinking. Industrial development has been curtailed. Buildings dating from the Renaissance have been “relocated.”

The most ambitious project, begun a decade ago, is the installation of mobile gates in the lagoons. Known by the acronym MOSE — the Italian name for Moses, who mythically parted the Red Sea — it’s an intricate engineering feat: whenever the tide rises, metal barriers that lie in concrete bunkers on the sea floor are lifted by compressed air pressure and pivoted into place on hinges.

Is the Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico — the project’s official name — some engineer’s fantasy? It was scheduled for completion this year, but that has been put off until 2014. Even if, by some miracle, the gates materialize, they will be only a stay against the inevitable. Look at the unfortunate Easter Islanders, who left behind as evidence of their existence a mountainside of huge blank-faced busts, or the Polynesians of Pitcairn Island, who didn’t leave behind much more than a few burial sites and a bunch of stone tools. Every civilization must go.

Yet each goes in its own way. In “Collapse,” Jared Diamond showed how the disappearance of a civilization has multiple causes. A cascade of events with unforeseen consequences invariably brings it to a close. The Norse of Greenland cut down their trees (for firewood and other purposes) until there were no more trees, which made it a challenge to build houses or boats. There were other causes, too: violent clashes with the Inuit, bad weather, ice pileups in the fjords blocking trade routes. But deforestation was the prime factor. By the end, no tree fell in the forest, as there was none; and there would have been no one to hear it if it had.

“Some say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice,” declared Robert Frost. Another alternative would be lava. Pliny the Younger’s letters to Tacitus described the eruption of Mount Vesuvius: A plume of dirt and ash rose in the sky; rocks pelted Pompeii; and then darkness arrived. “It was not like a moonless or cloudy night, but like being in an enclosed place where the light has been doused.” Who did this? It must have been the gods. “Many were raising their hands to implore the gods, but more took the view that no gods now existed anywhere, and that this was an eternal and final darkness hanging over the world.” But of course it wasn’t the end of the world: it was just the end of them.

Contemplating our ephemerality can be a profound experience. To wander the once magnificent Roman cities strung along the Lycian coast of Turkey — now largely reduced to rubble, much still unexcavated — is to realize how extensive, how magisterial this civilization was. Whole cities are underwater; you can snorkel over them and read inscriptions carved into ancient monoliths. Ephesus, pop. 300,000 in the second century A.D., is a vast necropolis. The amphitheater that accommodated nearly 25,000 people sits empty. The Temple of Artemis, said to have been four times larger than the Parthenon, is a handful of slender columns.

YET we return home from our travels intoxicated by beauty, not truth. It doesn’t occur to us that we, too, will one day be described in a guidebook (Fodor’s North America 2212?) as metropolitans who resided in 60-story towers and traveled beneath the waves in metal-sheathed trains.

It’s this willed ignorance, I suspect, that explains why it’s difficult to process the implications of climate change for New York, even in the face of explicit warnings from politicians, not the most future-oriented people. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has been courageous to make global warming a subject of public debate, but will taxpayers support his proposal to build a levee in New York Harbor? Wouldn’t it be easier to think of Sandy as a “once in a lifetime” storm? Even as Lower Manhattan continues to bail itself out — this time in the literal sense — One World Trade Center rises, floor by floor. The governor notes that “we have a 100-year flood every two years now,” which doesn’t stop rents from going up in Battery Park City.

Walking on New York’s Upper East Side, I was reminded by the gargantuan white box atop a busy construction site that the Second Avenue line, first proposed in 1929, remains very much in the works. And why not? Should images of water pouring into the subway tunnels that occupied our newspapers a few weeks back be sufficient to stay us from progress? “I must live till I die,” says the hero of a Joseph Conrad novel. The same could be said of cities.

When, on my way home at night, I climb the steps from the subway by the American Museum of Natural History — itself a monument to transience, with its dinosaurs and its mammoth and its skeleton of a dodo bird, that doomed species whose name has become an idiom for extinction — I feel more keenly than ever the miraculousness, the improbability of New York.

Looking down Central Park West, I’m thrilled by the necklace of green-and-red traffic lights extending toward Columbus Circle and the glittering tower of One57, that vertical paradise for billionaires. And as I walk past the splashing fountain in front of the museum’s south entrance on West 77th Street, I recall a sentence from Edward Gibbon’s ode to evanescence, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” in which “the learned Poggius” gazes down at the remains of the city from the Capitoline hill: “The public and private edifices, that were founded for eternity, lie prostrate, naked, and broken, like the limbs of a mighty giant; and the ruin is the more visible, from the stupendous relics that have survived the injuries of time and fortune.”

This is our fate. All the more reason to appreciate what we have while we have it.

James Atlas is a contributing opinion writer and the author of a forthcoming book about biography.

Interactive Graphic

What Could Disappear

Coastal and low-lying areas that would be permanently flooded in three levels of higher seas.


Rising Seas, Vanishing Coastlines

Hurricane Sandy offered a preview of the dangers to come as the planet warms.

Rising Seas, Vanishing Coastlines.

Published: November 24, 2012

Now we are in a new warming phase, and the oceans are rising again after thousands of years of stability. As scientists who study sea level change and storm surge, we fear that Hurricane Sandy gave only a modest preview of the dangers to come, as we continue to power our global economy by burning fuels that pollute the air with heat-trapping gases.

This past summer, a disconcerting new scientific study by the climate scientist Michiel Schaeffer and colleagues — published in the journal Nature Climate Change — suggested that no matter how quickly we cut this pollution, we are unlikely to keep the seas from climbing less than five feet.

More than six million Americans live on land less than five feet above the local high tide. (Searchable maps and analyses are available at for every low-lying coastal community in the contiguous United States.) Worse, rising seas raise the launching pad for storm surge, the thick wall of water that the wind can drive ahead of a storm. In a world with oceans that are five feet higher, our calculations show that New York City would average one flood as high as Hurricane Sandy’s about every 15 years, even without accounting for the stronger storms and bigger surges that are likely to result from warming.

Floods reaching five feet above the current high tide line will become increasingly common along the nation’s coastlines well before the seas climb by five feet. Over the last century, the nearly eight-inch rise of the world’s seas has already doubled the chance of “once in a century” floods for many seaside communities.

We hope that with enough time, most of our great coastal cities and regions will be able to prepare for a five-foot increase. Some will not. Barriers that might work in Manhattan would be futile in South Florida, where water would pass underneath them by pushing through porous bedrock.

According to Dr. Schaeffer’s study, immediate and extreme pollution cuts — measures well beyond any discussion now under way — could limit sea level rise to five feet over 300 years. If we stay on our current path, the oceans could rise five feet by the first half of next century, then continue rising even faster. If instead we make moderate shifts in energy and industry — using the kinds of targets that nations have contemplated in international talks but have failed to pursue — sea level could still climb past 12 feet just after 2300. It is hard to imagine what measures might allow many of our great coastal cities to survive a 12-foot increase.

WE might find comfort in the fact that this is just one set of projections, and projections are notoriously tough to get right. But a second study that also came out this past summer erases any such comfort.

Led by the geochemist Andrea Dutton and published in the journal Science, the second paper uses deep history, not model projections, for clues to the future. About 125,000 years ago, before the last ice age, there was a warm period that lasted 10,000 to 15,000 years. It was perhaps a little warmer than today, but cooler than the temperatures that climate scientists expect later in this century without sharp pollution cuts. Dr. Dutton’s research strongly reinforces a prior study led by one of us, which found that the warm-period sea levels rose roughly 20 to 30 feet higher than those of today. We just don’t have a clear picture of how fast that could happen again.

Any sea level forecast must be interpreted carefully: things could be better, or worse.

The Schaeffer study uses the relationship between global temperature and sea level over the past 1,000 years — when it was cool, and the great ice sheets were generally stable — to extrapolate over the next 300 years — when it will be hot, and the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica may behave differently. Other scientific teams have tried the notoriously difficult task of forecasting ice sheet decay in physical detail, and this has tended to produce slower estimates of sea level rise than the Schaeffer team’s method. But any projection is compromised by the fact that we are sending heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere far faster than anything the planet has seen for at least 55 million years.

The Dutton study comes with caveats, too. Earth’s orbit was different during the last warm period, bringing more sunshine to the Arctic and complicating the analogy with today. But today we are on a path to a planet that will be much hotter than it was in the period Dr. Dutton studied.

There are two basic ways to protect ourselves from sea level rise: reduce it by cutting pollution, or prepare for it by defense and retreat. To do the job, we must do both. We have lost our chance for complete prevention; and preparation alone, without slowing emissions, would — sooner or later — turn our coastal cities into so many Atlantises.

Benjamin Strauss is the chief operating officer and director of the program on sea level rise at Climate Central, a research group. Robert Kopp is an assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences at Rutgers University and associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute.



Paying for Future Catastrophes

Hurricane Sandy pulled a cabana complex in Sea Bright, N.J., off its foundations. Even with subsidized premiums, many homeowners drop their flood insurance, thinking it’s a bad investment.

Paying for Future Catastrophes.

Seth Wenig/Associated PressHurricane Sandy pulled a cabana complex in Sea Bright, N.J., off its foundations.

Published: November 24, 2012

HURRICANE SANDY could cost the nation a staggering $50 billion, about a third of the cost of Hurricane Katrina — to date the most costly disaster in United States history.

But Hurricane Sandy was not an isolated event. Indeed, the incidence of extreme events is far more frequent. Twenty of the 30 most expensive insured catastrophes worldwide from 1970 to 2011 have occurred since 2001 — and 13 of them were in the United States. Aside from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all were natural disasters. The increase is most likely because of the location in high-risk areas of more people, and more valuable properties, along with a changing climate.

What’s next? And who will pay?

Schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, utilities and transportation services are primarily rebuilt with federal funds through the Stafford Act, with 25 percent picked up by state and local governments.

For families and businesses, insurance plays an important role in assisting financial recovery. However many people, including those in high-risk areas, don’t have coverage, either put off by its cost or by the belief that the next disaster “will not happen to me.” Ninety percent of Californians, for example, are without earthquake coverage.

Because of the quickening pace of disaster, those who want insurance or are required to buy it now face much higher costs in risky areas. Premiums for homeowners’ insurance (which covers wind damage) doubled in Florida between 2002 and 2007, tripling in some areas after the 2004-5 hurricane seasons, if insurance was available at all.

Many insurers have raised their premiums because of increased risk estimates, higher cost of reinsurance (insurers transfer part of their risk to international reinsurers), the requirement by regulators and rating agencies that insurers hold more capital in order to reduce the likelihood of insolvency, and the need to provide shareholders with an attractive return.

In response to this insurance crisis, several states developed state-run wind insurance pools intended to serve as insurers of last resort. These institutions typically offer hurricane coverage for residences in high-risk areas at a much lower premium than coverage provided by the private market. Today, the largest wind pool, Citizens, covers nearly $500 billion of assets and has the biggest market share of all homeowner insurers in Florida.

Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas also have such wind pools, although they’re much smaller.

These hybrid mechanisms are obviously popular: homeowners pay less than if they purchased private insurance, builders have an easier time selling properties in hazard-prone areas since insurance premiums are kept artificially low, and elected officials look good, having “solved” the problem.

The untold story, however, is that all insurance policyholders in the state will be forced to pay if the pool does not have enough funding to honor its claims, which is most likely when the next large-scale disaster hits.

Those who live in nonrisky areas are subsidizing the choices of others. Take residential flood insurance. Most insurers refuse to cover the risk, so the National Flood Insurance Program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was established in 1968 with subsidized rates for those then living in flood-prone areas.

Today, the program covers 5.6 million policyholders, who are paying an average of $55 per month. About one million of them are still getting flood insurance for less than half price because the house was built before the flood hazard maps were established.

So it is unsurprising that the program had to borrow $18 billion from the United States Treasury to pay for its claims after the historic 2005 and 2008 hurricane seasons, an amount it has yet to pay back. It will have to borrow even more after Hurricane Sandy.

But even with a subsidized premium, many people drop coverage. (Banks might require it, but apparently if they do, they are not always enforcing that provision.) Our research shows that half of all policyholders cancel their flood coverage after only three or four years. Why? Because they paid premiums without getting anything in return and are likely to think “Bad investment!” But insurance is a safety net, not a bet.

UNINSURED disaster victims have to rely on family, friends or donations; apply for limited federal individual assistance grants; or take on low-interest disaster loans, if they qualify. Although the number of presidential disaster declarations prompting federal relief is at a record high (99 declarations last year alone), the truth is that most of that money goes to affected states to rebuild their public assets, not to individual victims. The status quo is unacceptable: our already fragile economy cannot afford more of those huge losses from extreme events. A more coherent strategy can encourage personal responsibility and proper protection.

First, premiums should reflect risk. This makes transparent the magnitude of the hazards one faces and could limit new construction in high-risk areas. Residents would be encouraged to reduce risk by getting discounts for, say, elevating a house or strengthening the roof.

Second, we should address equity and affordability. If premiums are risk-based, those who live in hazard-prone areas and cannot afford insurance will require assistance. We propose establishing a federal disaster insurance means-tested voucher program similar to the food stamp program.

We also propose having multiyear disaster insurance contracts with rates locked in so that customers won’t capriciously abandon their contracts after a couple of years without a disaster. Currently contracts are for a single year. The multiyear contracts would be attached directly to the property, not the individual, and could be complemented by a home improvement loan for financing loss-reduction measures.

A presidential commission tasked with redesigning our national disaster financing strategy could quantify risk in dollar terms and make it very clear who was responsible for what — whether private or public risk was involved.

Let’s act while attention is still focused on avoiding the consequences of another Hurricane Sandy.

Erwann Michel-Kerjan and Howard Kunreuther teach at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and are co-authors of “At War with the Weather.”


What Could Disappear

Maps show coastal and low-lying areas that would be permanently flooded, without engineered protection, in three levels of higher seas. Percentages are the portion of dry, habitable land within the city limits of places listed that would be permanently submerged.

  • Today’s waterways
  • Land submerged by rising oceans
Select sea level rise over current level:

Notes on sea level estimates

0 feet: Today’s sea levels and land area.
5 feet: Probable level in about 100 to 300 years.
12 feet: Potential level in about 2300 if nations make only moderate pollution cuts.
25 feet: Potential level in coming centuries, based on historical climate data.


0%1%5%12% flooded

Land around the many Patapsco River inlets is flooded. Fells Point and the city’s ports are submerged. Flooding extends over much of downtown and many waterfront communities, like Dundalk.



0%9%24%37% flooded


0%26%51%86% flooded

Logan Airport starts to disappear. Boston Harbor begins to encroach on downtown; the Charles River floods southern Cambridge. Back Bay, the South End and the airport are permanently submerged. What’s left of downtown is an island. The downtown island shrinks to mostly Beacon Hill. Many shore communities are flooded.

Charleston, S.C.

0%19%42%80% flooded

The Atlantic coast pushes several miles inland. Much of the original city and its ports are flooded. The coast moves up to 10 miles inland. The old city is submerged.



0%0%1%5% flooded


0%68%97%100% flooded

Barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico are mostly covered. Galveston Bay laps at the Johnson Space Center; Galveston is submerged. The Space Center and the vast industrial zone along the Houston Ship Channel are inundated; the sea moves inland as much as 15 miles.

Jacksonville, Fla.

0%3%17%56% flooded

Much of the region’s low-lying wetlands disappear. The Atlantic coast moves about 4 miles inland; downtown begins to flood. Most of the built-up areas in the city are submerged.

Los Angeles area

Los Angeles

0%1%2%3% flooded

Long Beach

0%7%20%45% flooded

Huntington Beach

0%27%50%72% flooded

Low coastal areas, like the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, disappear. The Port of Long Beach is permanently submerged. In much of Long Beach and Huntington Beach, the Pacific moves up to four miles inland.

Long Island

0%5%12%21% flooded

Barrier islands start to submerge; other islands in Middle and East Bays disappear. Shore of main island moves inland. Portions of North and South Forks flood, turning remaining land to islands. All barrier islands gone. The southern shore has moved one to five miles inland in most places.



0%20%73%99% flooded

Miami Beach

0%94%100%100% flooded

Much of suburban Miami and the area’s barrier islands, including Miami Beach, are submerged. Miami is reduced to small islands; the downtown district is mostly flooded. Miami Beach is gone.
The entire metropolitan area is permanently flooded.

Mobile, Ala.

0%4%19%36% flooded

The vast Mobile delta wilderness is flooded. Downtown starts to flood, as does much of southern Mobile. Downtown is inundated. Mobile Bay is several miles wider.

New Jersey

Atlantic City

0%62%97%100% flooded


0%2%35%52% flooded

Jersey City

0%20%46%62% flooded

Barrier islands start to disappear, much of Atlantic City and the Meadowlands are flooded, and the mainland shrinks a mile or more in places. Most of the Cape May peninsula is gone. Port Newark and Newark International Airport flood. Downtown Newark, downtown Jersey City, Atlantic City, most of the state’s coastal towns and the Cape May peninsula are all gone.

New Orleans

0%88%98%100% flooded

If levees breach, almost all of the city would flood. The surrounding region is also mostly flooded. Every community in the delta region is swamped. The gulf shore advances to Interstate 12.

New York City

0%7%22%39% flooded

The East River starts to eat away at La Guardia Airport. Port complexes are flooded. La Guardia and John F. Kennedy airports are permanently submerged, as are Coney Island, the Rockaways and neighborhoods along Jamaica Bay. Large portions of all five boroughs are gone, including much of Manhattan below 34th Street.

Northern California

San Francisco

0%6%11%19% flooded


0%4%27%62% flooded

Flooding in low-lying estuaries of San Francisco Bay and, if levees fail, the expansive Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta. Northern and southern sections of Sacramento flood. Nearly two-thirds of Sacramento, including downtown, is inundated.


0%1%6%21% flooded

Some flooding close to the Delaware River. Philadelphia International Airport is largely swamped. Much of the historic district and South Philadelphia are submerged, as is the vast refinery complex along the Schuylkill. The Delaware swells to five miles wide.

Portland, Me.

0%3%6%16% flooded

Prouts Neck becomes an island. Flooding of wharf areas. Water encroaches on parts of the downtown district and much of South Portland.

Portland, Ore.

0%3%8%16% flooded

The Columbia River swells and floods natural habitats like the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Portland International Airport floods. The Columbia shaves two miles off the north side of Portland.

Providence, R.I.

0%1%6%13% flooded

Flooding along Narragansett Bay inlets. Downtown Providence begins to flood. A larger section of the downtown area is under water.

San Diego

0%0%3%6% flooded

Minor flooding. San Diego International Airport is largely underwater. San Diego Bay encroaches on downtown and ports. Coronado Island is mostly gone.

Savannah, Ga.

0%8%40%87% flooded

Widespread flooding of estuaries along the Atlantic coast. Savannah is reduced to several islands. Most of the region is under water, with only small sections of Savannah spared.



0%4%9%13% flooded


0%10%13%14% flooded

River deltas in Tacoma, Everett and Seattle flood. The Duwamish Waterway in Seattle, lined with ports and industry, swells to a mile wide or more. Much of the large suburb of Kent is flooded.

Tampa Bay area


0%18%32%50% flooded

St. Petersburg

0%32%49%70% flooded

Tampa Bay pushes inland one to four miles and eats away at MacDill Air Force Base. Beach communities flood. MacDill and most of the peninsula it sits on disappear. Downtown Tampa, Tampa International Airport and Tarpon Springs are swamped. Parts of Clearwater survive on an island; St. Petersburg is reduced to a smaller island.


Virginia Beach-Norfolk



0%9%78%100% flooded

Virginia Beach

0%21%63%99% flooded

Newport News

0%8%16%39% flooded

Large areas of low coastal wetlands disappear. Downtown Norfolk and many of the area’s military installations are under water. Most of the region is permanently submerged.



0%2%7%14% flooded


Riverfront areas flood, including a portion of Bolling Air Force Base. Reagan National Airport and the National Mall begin to submerge. Much of central Washington below Constitution Avenue is inundated, as are National Airport and parts of Old Town Alexandria.


Wilmington, Del.

0%11%31%41% flooded


Flooding along the Delaware and Christina rivers. Much of eastern Wilmington and historic New Castle are under water. The Delaware is about 10 miles wide at New Castle.

Notes: These maps are based on elevation data from the U.S. Geological Survey and tidal level data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Maps show the extent of potential flooding relative to local high tide.

The 25-foot sea level rise is based on a 2012 study in the journal Science, which augmented findings from a 2009 Nature study. They found that 125,000 years ago — a period that may have been warmer than today but cooler than what scientists expect later this century without sharp pollution cuts — the seas were about 20 to 30 feet higher than today. If temperatures climb as expected in this century, scientists believe it would take centuries for seas to rise 20 to 30 feet as a result, because ice sheet decay responds slowly to warming.


Send Feedback

Sources: Remik Ziemlinski, Climate Central; U.S. Geological Survey; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Posted on on November 22nd, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

If you’re 27 or younger, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month.

By Philip Bump

This image sums up 2012, temperature-wise.

NOAAClick to embiggen.

Nowhere on the surface of the planet have we seen any record cold temperatures over the course of the year so far. Every land surface in the world saw warmer-than-average temperatures except Alaska and the eastern tip of Russia. The continental United States has been blanketed with record warmth — and the seas just off the East Coast have been much warmer than average, for which Sandy sends her thanks.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration summarizes October 2012:

The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63°C (58.23°F). This is 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature.

Emphasis added. If you were born in or after April 1985, if you are right now 27 years old or younger, you have never lived through a month that was colder than average. That’s beyond astonishing.

The year has also been remarkably dry, particularly in the United States.

NOAAClick to embiggen.

And as Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters notes, that means drought — which can be far more damaging than a superstorm.

[S]hockingly, Sandy is probably not even the deadliest or most expensive weather disaster this year in the United States — Sandy’s damages of perhaps $50 billion will likely be overshadowed by the huge costs of the great drought of 2012. While it will be several months before the costs of America’s worst drought since 1954 are known, the 2012 drought is expected to cut America’s GDP by 0.5 – 1 percentage points, said Deutsche Bank Securities this week. …

While Sandy’s death toll of 113 in the U.S. is the second highest death toll from a U.S. hurricane since 1972, it is likely to be exceeded by the death toll from the heat waves that accompanied this year’s drought. The heat waves associated with the U.S. droughts of 1980 and 1988 had death tolls of 10,000 and 7,500 respectively, according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, and the heat wave associated with the $12 billion 2011 Texas drought killed 95 Americans.

There’s not much else to say. At this point, we’re just doctors taking a fading pulse. Or, I suppose, tracking a rising fever.


Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.


A chat with Al Gore on carbon taxes, natural gas, and the ‘morally wrong’ Keystone pipeline

In a wide-ranging conversation with Grist, Gore also talks about Obama’s recent climate comments, coal export terminals, and climate progress around the world.

Read more.


10 reasons a carbon tax is trickier than you think

A well-designed carbon tax would be a wonderful thing. But all carbon taxes are not created equal. Climate hawks should be aware of the pitfalls and perils on the road to a tax, says David Roberts.

Read more.


Climate scientists are Nate Silver, radio edition

Just as Republicans chose to ignore projections that Romney would lose, many Americans are choosing to ignore dire climate projections, says David Roberts.

Read more.


Susanne Torriente fights to keep ‘America’s Venice’ from slipping into the sea

Fort Lauderdale, a town known for yachts and oceanfront second homes, has some tough decisions ahead as climate change laps at its door.

Read more.



Posted on on August 31st, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (


No.30, 14 August 2012

SOUTHVIEWS is a service of the South Centre to provide opinions and analysis of topical issues from a South perspective.

Visit the South Centre’s website:

What Explains the South’s Recent High Growth — And Can It Continue?

Recently there emerged a view that developing countries had “de-coupled” their economies from the developed countries and had taken off to a path of high growth. But this is an overly-optimistic view. This article by the South Centre’s Chief Economist examines the growth record of developing countries and analyses how the good performance was based mainly on external factors that no longer exist.

The next issue of SouthViews will have a follow-up article on the need for a new development strategy in the South.


By Yilmaz Akyüz, Chief Economist, South Centre

The Growth Record of Developing Countries, 1990-2011

At the end of the 1990s and the early 2000s, many economies in the developing world were in disarray.  East Asia was still recovering from the 1997 crisis while a host of other emerging economies were falling into payments and financial crises one after another; Brazil and Russia in 1998, Turkey 2000-01 and Argentina 2001-2002.  The prospects for the global economy were dimmed by the bursting of the dot-com bubble in the US at the beginning of the decade, coming on top of prolonged deflation in Japan and uneven growth in the EU.

For the entire period from 1990 to 2002, the average growth in DEEs (developing and emerging economies) exceeded the average growth in AEs (advanced economies) by just over 1 percentage point and in per capita terms there was hardly any income convergence.  The picture was even worse in the 1980s when a large number of DEEs were suffering from severe payments difficulties caused by a debt overhang and sharp declines in commodity prices.  Until the new millennium the only major economy in the South that was able to close the income gap with AEs by leaps and bounds was China, with an average growth rate close to 10 per cent during 1990-2002 compared to less than 4 per cent in the rest of the developing world.

All these changed in the new millennium.  From 2002 until the outbreak of the subprime crisis, the growth difference between the DEEs and AEs shot up to 5 percentage points.  This was not because of deceleration in AEs, but an unprecedented acceleration in DEEs where the average growth rate almost doubled from the 1990s.  The global crisis led to a loss of momentum in DEEs during 2008-09, but their growth difference with AEs widened further because of a severe recession in the latter countries.  Despite subsequent recovery in AEs, growth in DEEs has continued to be faster by about 4 percentage points in 2010-2011 – a margin still considerably larger than those during the 1980s and 1990s.  Taking the whole decade from 2002 until 2012, the average growth in DEEs exceeds the average growth in AEs by more than 5 per cent per annum.  This is unprecedented.  As noted, during the post-war golden age DEEs also grew at a very fast pace, by some 6 per cent per annum, but growth in AEs was also high, with the gap being no more than a couple of percentage points.

However, there has been considerable diversity in the pace of acceleration of growth among DEEs.  During pre-crisis years acceleration was faster in Africa than the two other main regions even though African growth rate remained below that of Asia.  By contrast, the Western Hemisphere saw only a modest rise in average growth compared to the 1990s.  Among analytical groups, fuel exporters saw faster acceleration than either the exporters of non-fuel commodities or manufactures – from just over 1 per cent in the 1990s to 7.5 per cent between 2003 and 2008.  Among the major emerging economies, Russia, Argentina, Turkey, India and South Africa enjoyed much faster acceleration than the others.  In the first three countries this was due to rapid recoveries from severe crises which had caused large output losses at the end of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

The acceleration of growth in DEEs since the beginning of the new millennium is not due to China.  Indeed, growth in China during the 1990s was almost as fast as that in the 2000s. However, it is notable that in the 1990s China was not widely perceived as an emerging economic power capable of challenging the US dominance until it had started running growing trade surpluses with the US and accumulating large dollar reserves.

International trade and investment

The new millennium witnessed a rapid growth in world trade which increased, in nominal dollars, by 2.5 times by 2008, with the average annual growth in total exports reaching twice the rate of growth of world output.  This period also saw a significant increase in the share of DEEs in world trade, rapid expansion of South-South trade and growing global imbalances.  The current accounts of AEs as a whole, which had already turned into red at the end of the 1990s, constantly deteriorated until the outbreak of the crisis.  This was entirely due to mounting deficits of the US and to a lesser extent the UK, as the eurozone was broadly in balance, and Japan and the remaining AEs were running surpluses.  This was reflected in growing surpluses of DEEs, which came to exceed $600 billion in 2007 of which two-thirds belonged to China and smaller East Asian DEEs and the rest to Fuel Exporters (FEs).  This, together with large inflows of capital, resulted in an unprecedented rise in the international reserves of DEEs, which reached $5 trillion in 2007 despite substantially increased capital outflows.

The rapid expansion of exports and growing current account surpluses of DEEs owe a great deal to US spending extravaganza.  The US private savings had already began to fall and current account deficits to rise in the mid-1990s largely because of a strong wealth effect of the dot-com equity market bubble on private consumption and a boom in the property market.  The spending spree continued with greater force in the 2000s when the Fed responded to the bursting of the dot-com bubble by bringing down policy rates to historical lows for fear of asset deflation and recession, and new legislation introduced in the late 1990s allowed greater room for banks to expand high-risk lending for property.  Capital gains from rising house prices in the 2000s sustained the spending boom as homeowners increasingly extracted equity to finance consumption.  As a result, household savings, which was some 6 per cent of GDP in the early 1990s, started to fall rapidly and disappeared altogether on the eve of the 2008 crisis.  This was mirrored by growing external deficits ? the US current account was broadly balanced in the early 1990s, but it registered a deficit of over 6 per cent in 2007.  Indeed the evidence provided by research in New York Fed shows a strikingly strong positive correlation between house price appreciations and current account deficits not only in the US but also in other countries that have subsequently experienced the highest degree of financial turmoil (Ferrero 2012).

In Europe, the UK went through a similar property bubble, but was running a relatively small current account deficit.  In the eurozone, deficits in peripheral countries were rising not only vis-à-vis the core economies, notably Germany, but also the rest of the world, reaching on average 7 per cent of GDP in Spain and 9 per cent in Portugal and Greece.  These deficits resulted from loss of competitiveness due to wage settlements in excess of productivity increases in conditions of rising private consumption and property spending.  The participation of these countries in the European Monetary Union facilitated the financing of these deficits by significantly lowering the risk premium.  Banks in Germany, France and elsewhere in Europe were more than willing to pump in funds to finance these deficits – a process which culminated in the eurozone crisis, in much the same way as the boom-bust cycles in lending to several emerging economies in the past.  Germany pursued a policy of wage deflation – competitive disinflation – running surpluses against most other eurozone members and the rest of the world, including the US.  Japan was in a similar situation, relying for growth on exports and generating current account surpluses which reached 5 per cent of GDP in 2007.  Thus, the US was acting as a locomotive not only to export-led East Asian DEEs but also to Japan and Germany (Akyüz 2011b).

The increased outsourcing to the Sino-centric production network by transnational corporations from AEs has made a significant contribution to growing exports from East Asia.  FDI to China doubled the levels of the late 1990s to reach $80 billion in 2007.  Thus, China and other East Asian DEEs participating in the Sino-centric production network benefited not only from growing exports to AEs, but also from investment and technology brought in by transnational corporations to expand exportables. Until the global crisis, Chinese exports to AEs and FDI inflows reinforced each other.  After 2008, when exports slowed down considerably, FDI inflows to Chinese manufacturing remained sluggish, even though China was able to restore growth on the basis of expansion of domestic demand.

Capital flows and remittances

The new millennium witnessed the beginning of the third post-war boom in capital flows to DEEs, mainly as a result of exceptionally low interest rates and rapid expansion of liquidity in AEs, including the US, the EU and Japan.  Both net flows and net inflows to DEEs peaked in 2007 before the outbreak of the subprime debacle. The surge in capital inflows was accompanied by rapidly narrowing spreads on emerging-market debt, brought about by significantly improved risk appetite.  This, together with low interest rates in AEs, resulted in a sharp decline in the cost of external financing for DEEs.  Most DEEs enjoyed the increased risk appetite and shared in the boom in capital inflows irrespective of their underlying fundamentals.

Although capital flows among DEEs have also been increasing rapidly and China has become a major investor in some resource-rich DEEs, a very large proportion of capital came to DEEs from lenders and investors in AEs.  However, China contributed to the expansion of capital inflows to DEEs by investing its twin surpluses in current and capital accounts in reserves, mostly in dollars.  Large acquisitions of US Treasuries by China and FEs helped to keep long-term rates relatively low even as the US Fed started to raise short-term rates.  Thus, while growing US external deficits were being financed “officially” there was plenty of highly-leveraged private money searching for yield in DEEs.  A mutually reinforcing process emerged between private flows to DEEs and official flows to the US – the former were translated into reserves of DEEs and constituted an important part of official flows to the US, and supported lower rates there and private flows to DEEs.

Private capital inflows to DEEs held up initially during the subprime debacle despite growing strains in credit and asset markets in the US and Europe.  However, with the collapse of a number of leading financial institutions in the US, notably the Lehman Brothers, the boom came to a halt in the second half of 2008.  The rapidly growing volatility in financial markets led to an extreme and generalized risk aversion, pushing up spreads on emerging-market debt and triggering a flight to safety into US Treasuries and appreciation of the dollar vis-à-vis other major currencies, even though the US was the epicentre of the crisis.

However, the contraction of private capital inflows to DEEs was short-lived.  They started to recover in the first half of 2009, driven by historically low interest rates and rapid expansion of liquidity in major AEs brought about by monetary policy response to the crisis as well as better growth performance in DEEs and a shift in risk perceptions against AEs.  In the second half of 2011, a generalized increase in risk aversion led to exit of capital from several DEEs (IMF WEO 2012 January update), but according to the latest available projections by the IMF (WEO September 2011), both net private inflows and net flows will continue to remain strong in 2012, though still below the 2007 peaks.

DEEs also enjoyed a rapid growth of workers remittances, at an average annual rate of some 20 per cent between 2002 and 2008, rising from less than $100 billion at the beginning of the decade to more than $320 billion in 2008, exceeding all categories of capital inflows except FDI.  Much of these also came from AEs, with Europe accounting for almost half of total inflows followed by the US.  Some major emerging economies were among the top receivers, including India, China, Mexico and Indonesia.  In 2007 remittances amounted to 1–1.5 per cent of GDP in China and Indonesia, around 3 per cent in India and Mexico, over 4 per cent in Pakistan and 11 per cent in the Philippines.  In many of these countries they led to a significant improvement in the current account, reducing deficits and even generating surpluses despite large trade deficits.

With the outbreak of the crisis remittances registered a moderate decline in 2009.  However, the subsequent recovery has been weak; during 2010-11 they are estimated to have grown by less than half of the rate observed during pre-crisis years.  According to recent projections by the World Bank (Mohapatra et al. 2011) they would grow by 7-8 per cent per annum in the coming years, subject to serious downside risks associated with persistent unemployment in Europe and the US and hardening political attitudes toward new migration.

Commodity prices

With rapid liquidity expansion and acceleration of growth in the global economy, commodity prices started to rise in 2003, gaining further momentum in 2006.  The factors driving the boom included a strong pace of activity in DEEs, notably in China, where commodity-intensity of growth is high, low initial stocks, weak supply response and relatively weak dollar.  These markets also became increasingly financialized after the beginning of the decade as financial investors sought to diversify into commodity-linked assets and low interest rates led to a search for yield in commodity markets (UNCTAD TDR 2011).  In the case of food, diversion to bio-fuels and rising cost of fertilizers and transport due to high oil prices also played a role.

Despite growing financial strains in the US, commodity prices continued to increase before they made a sharp downturn in August 2008.  This boom-bust cycle in commodity prices in the middle of the subprime crisis was largely due to shifts in market sentiments regarding the future course of prices.  Initially, the subprime crisis was seen as a hiccup and the downturn in economic activity was expected to be short-lived, including by the IMF (WEO, July 2008), followed by a rapid and robust recovery.  However, with mounting financial difficulties in the US and the collapse of the Lehman Brothers, sentiments turned sour and growth prospects were dampened.  Investors pulled out large amounts of money from oil and non-oil futures, more or less at the same time as capital flows to DEEs were reversed and the dollar started to strengthen.  By the end of October 2008, food was 27 per cent and oil 45 per cent below their peaks.

Again the downturn in commodity prices was short-lived and the upturn in 2009 coincided with the recovery of capital flows to DEEs and the decline of the dollar.  After falling in late 2008 and early 2009, index trading also started to gain momentum as commodity prices turned up in spring 2009 as a result of increased demand from DEEs, notably China, in conditions of continued expansion of international liquidity and historically low interest rates.  Investment in commodities recovered rapidly while the number of exchange traded options and futures rose to unprecedented levels (BIS 2010).  Despite recent weakening of markets for metals and minerals and several agricultural commodities, prices remain significantly above the levels of the early 2000s.

Improved domestic economic indicators — but significantly due to external factors

The past ten years have witnessed considerable improvements in macroeconomic conditions in DEEs.  Alongside the acceleration of growth, fiscal and payments deficits have declined considerably and inflation has been brought under control in a large majority of countries.  Improvements in economic management and institutions, following a number of policy errors resulting from adherence to the Washington Consensus, have no doubt played an important role in bringing these about.   However, extremely favourable global conditions have also made a major contribution and indeed played a more crucial part in many countries.

DEEs have generally manifested greater fiscal discipline in recent years.  Average central government deficits were hovering around 3.5 per cent of GDP at the beginning of the 2000s (IMF WEO October 2007).  By 2006-07 they came down to around 0.5 per cent.  During the same period, the average external debt of DEEs declined from around 40 per cent of GDP to 25 per cent.  Total public debt as a proportion of GDP also declined considerably in many highly-indebted emerging economies, particularly on account of rapidly falling external debt.

Considerable progress has also been made in bringing inflation under control since the beginning of the decade.  Average consumer inflation in DEEs was close to 30 per cent per annum throughout the 1990s.  It came down to single-digit levels, just over 6 per cent during 2003-07.  This is largely because of sharp declines in inflation in Latin America towards the levels of more stable Asian economies.

Drawing on the lessons from past crises, DEEs have generally been more successful in managing exchange rates, capital flows and balance of payments, even though there are notable exceptions, including many countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Turkey and South Africa – those more seriously affected by the 2008-09 crisis.  The resilience of domestic financial institutions and markets to shocks has also been improved through tighter prudential regulations and supervision, and significantly increased capitalization.  All these have been reflected in significantly improved credit ratings of major emerging economies.

However, improvements in macroeconomic balances in DEEs have not been independent of the favourable international economic environment.  In Latin America, an important part of the decline in budget deficits after 2002 was due to rising commodity prices, with revenues from commodity taxes, profits and loyalties accounting for as much as 50 per cent of the total increase in the fiscal revenue ratio in some countries (Cornia et al. 2011). An ECLAC report (Jiménez and Gómez-Sabaini 2009) argued that much of the improvement in the fiscal situation after 2002 was the result of the steady increase in commodity prices and warned that a sharp decline in these prices could seriously jeopardize the fiscal achievements.  Indeed, the fiscal space gained during the subprime expansion was largely lost with the reversal of commodity prices in 2008-09 when budgets went into deficits in the region by some 3 per cent of GDP (ECLAC 2010).

The situation is much the same for current account balances in commodity exporters in Latin America and Africa.  At the end of the 1990s and early 2000s current accounts in these regions registered deficits in the order of 3-4 per cent of GDP.  By 2007, both regions had moved to a surplus, at a rate of some 1 per cent of GDP in Latin America and over 3 per cent in Africa.   Again, an important reason was the increase in oil and non-oil commodity prices, which resulted in a 50 per cent improvement in the terms-of-trade in Latin America between 2002 and 2006.  It is estimated that without terms-of-trade gains from commodity price increases, the current account of the region would have shown a deficit of about 4 per cent of GDP.  Indeed, external deficits started to grow after 2008 with the decline in commodity prices and increased reliance on domestic demand for growth.

In several cases, success in bringing inflation under control also owes a greater deal to favourable international financial conditions and the generalized surge in capital flows. The exchange rate operated as an anchor for inflationary expectations, as net capital flows exceeded current account deficits and led to nominal appreciations.

Finally and more importantly, not all DEEs enjoying acceleration of growth in the 2000s have seen commensurate improvements in domestic savings, capital accumulation or productivity – a factor which raises considerable doubt about sustainability of strong growth.  The average savings rate in middle-income countries during 2000-08 was lower than the rate in the 1990s while the record on investment and productivity was mixed (World Bank 2011).

Again there is considerable diversity in the pace of capital accumulation among the DEEs which enjoyed a significant acceleration of growth in the 2000s.  In Latin America private investment rose as a share of GDP, but remained well below the levels in other regions (IMF REO October 2008). Low rates of investment in Brazil, as well as some other DEEs in the region, is a major reason why Latin America continues to have a poor record in productivity compared to East Asia (Palma 2011).

In several economies in East Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan (China) and Indonesia, investment rates have been hovering around 20 per cent of GDP in recent years, less than half the rate in China.  Large current account surpluses in some of these economies reflect low rates of domestic investment rather than exceptionally high domestic savings rates. In none of these East Asian economies have investment rates recovered the levels attained before the 1997 crisis. Recent investment rates have been too low to produce rapid and sustained growth of the kind many of these economies had enjoyed during the earlier phases of their industrialization, creating concerns that some of them run the risk of getting caught in a middle-income trap (Radhi and Zeufack 2009).

Conclusion: What then accounts for the South’s Growth?

The exceptionally favourable global economic conditions prevailing before the outbreak of the crisis not only improved internal and external balances and stability in DEEs, but also contributed to the expansion of economic activity, directly or indirectly.  China and other export-oriented East Asian DEEs benefited significantly from credit, consumption and property bubbles created by speculative lending and investment in the US and Europe, growing rapidly based on exports to these markets, running increasing current account surpluses and accumulating large amounts of reserves.   In most DEEs in Latin America and Africa, the combination of increasing commodity prices and declining cost of external financing significantly reduced the payments deficits and allowed to expand domestic demand and accelerate growth.  In oil-importing emerging economies such as India and Turkey, capital inflows were more than sufficient to meet the deficits created by oil price shocks, again allowing rapid growth based primarily on domestic demand.  India additionally enjoyed a rapid growth in workers’ remittances which reached 3.3 per cent of GDP in 2007.

Low interest rates in AEs and the surge in capital inflows also allowed most emerging economies to pursue expansionary monetary policies and maintain historically low interest rates, stimulating domestic demand.  Large inflows of capital in excess of current account needs in deficit countries or coming on top of current account surpluses in surplus countries, contributed to expansion by creating asset bubbles.   Equity prices rose sharply between 2002 and 2007 both in dollar and local currency terms.  The increase was particularly strong in Brazil, China, India and Turkey, and many of these also experienced credit and property booms both due to increased entry of non-residents to domestic asset markets and the impact of capital inflows on domestic monetary conditions (Akyüz 2010). In several countries growing workers’ remittances from abroad were also translated into domestic consumption, thereby adding to demand, output and employment.

It is not always easy to identify precisely the relative contributions of global conditions and domestic policies to growth in DEEs.  However, evidence strongly suggests that extremely favourable global conditions played a much more predominant role in the acceleration of growth in DEEs in the new millennium than is typically appreciated in the popular debate on the rise of the South.  This is particularly true for commodity-rich economies of Latin America and Africa which, together with India and Turkey, account for much of the recent acceleration of growth in the South.

Empirical research in the Inter-American Development Bank on the role of external factors in boom-bust cycles in Latin America over 1990-2006 has come to the conclusion that an important part of growth in the period after 2002 could be explained by improved global conditions (Izquierdo et al. 2008; IDB 2008). It is found that growth in Latin America after 2002 would have been lower by 2 per cent had these variables remained at the levels predicted in the late 1990s.  Growth would have been lower even by a greater margin if the unfavourable global economic conditions (high risk spreads and interest rates, low commodity prices and severely depressed capital inflows) that were prevailing in the aftermath of the Russian crisis had persisted.

Until the outbreak of the crisis, growth in East Asian DEEs relied heavily on exports.  In China during 2002-08 exports grew on average by 25 per cent per annum while domestic consumption lagged income growth.  During this period, about one-third of GDP growth in China was due to exports, taking into account their direct and indirect import contents.  If the multiplier effect of exports on domestic consumption and knock-on effect on domestic investment are added, this proportion goes up to almost 50 per cent.  Much of these exports went to AEs.

Exports of East Asian DEEs closely linked to the Sino-centric production network, including Korea and Taiwan (China) and the major ASEAN countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) also grew rapidly during this period, but except Vietnam, not as rapidly as China’s.  The share of exports in GDP is higher in the majority of these countries than in China, both in gross-value and value-added terms.  This, together with relatively rapid growth of exports, meant that pre-crisis growth in ASEAN+2 depended even more on exports than in China.  Indeed estimates suggest that during 2003-07 about 60 per cent of growth in Korea, Taiwan (China) and Thailand and even a greater proportion of growth in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam came from exports, taking into account their import contents.  Most of the exports went to AEs, directly, or through China by providing the latter country parts and components for its exports to AEs.

Author: Yilmaz Akyuz is the Chief Economist of the South Centre. Contact:

This article was published in the South Bulletin (2 August 2012). The full South Centre Research Paper No.44 on The Staggering Rise of the South? can be obtained from

To view other articles in SouthViews, please click here.

For more information, please contact Vicente Paolo Yu of the South Centre: Email, or telephone +41 22 791 80 50.


Think back to 1967. The job you have today may not even have existed. The Internet, and all the jobs that have come with it, were decades away. The Detroit automakers were dominant. Quality of life was different, too: The median household income was an inflation-adjusted $40,261, compared with $50,303 in 2008. There were also a hundred million fewer of us; 1967 was the year the U.S. population hit 200 million. We passed the 300 million mark in 2006, and by 2050, there will very likely be more than 400 million Americans. The lifestyle of the average American may change just as much from 2010 to 2050 as it did from 1967 to 2006. The economy will especially undergo change.

10. India

GDP: $1.676 trillion

Population: 1,210,193,422

Mumbai skyline88907 10 Largest Economies In the World 2012

India recorded the highest growth rates in the mid-2000s, and is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The growth was led primarily due to a huge increase in the size of the middle class consumer, a large labor force and considerable foreign investments. India is the nineteenth largest exporter and tenth largest importer in the world. Economic growth rates are projected at around 7% for the 2011-12 fiscal year. India adopted free market principles and liberalized its economy to international trade under the guidance of Manmohan Singh, who then was the Finance Minister of India under the leadership of P.V.Narasimha Rao the then Prime Minister. Following these strong economic reforms, the country’s economic growth progressed at a rapid pace with very high rates of growth and large increases in the incomes of people.

9. Russia

GDP: $1.850 trillion

Population: 143,030,106

Moscow City 28 03 2010 2 10 Largest Economies In the World 2012

In 2011 Russia’s gross domestic product grew by 4.2 percent, the world’s third highest growth rate among leading economies. The government expects it to grow 3.7 percent in 2012. “Following 4.2 percent growth in 2011, we think the slowdown will lead to GDP growth of about 3.5 percent for the full year,” S&P Chief Economist for Europe Jean-Michel Six said in a statement. Russia has an abundance of natural gas, oil, coal, and precious metals. Russia has undergone significant changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union, moving from a centrally planned economy to a more market-based and globally integrated economy.

8. Italy

GDP: $2.198 trillion

Population: 60,681,514

italy 10 Largest Economies In the World 2012

Italy has a diversified industrial economy with high gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and developed infrastructure. According to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the CIA World Factbook, in 2010 Italy was the seventh-largest economy in the world and the fourth-largest in Europe in terms of nominal GDP, and the tenth-largest economy in the world and fifth-largest in Europe in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP. Italy is member of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations, the European Union and the OECD.

7. United Kingdom

GDP: $2.417 trillion

Population: 62,262,000

gherkin rex 1636619c 10 Largest Economies In the World 2012

The UK is one of the world’s most globalised countries. London is the world’s largest financial centre alongside New York and has the largest city GDP in Europe. As of December 2010 the UK had the third-largest stock of both inward and outward foreign direct investment (in each case after the United States and France). The aerospace industry of the UK is the second- or third-largest national aerospace industry, depending upon the method of measurement. The pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in the UK economy and the country has the third-highest share of global pharmaceutical R&D expenditures (after the United States and Japan). The British economy is boosted by North Sea oil and gas reserves, valued at an estimated £250 billion in 2007. The UK is currently ranked seventh in the world (and third in Europe) in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index.

6. Brazil

GDP: $2.493 trillion

Population: 192,376,496

brazil economy OV25 wide horizontal 10 Largest Economies In the World 2012

The economy of Brazil is the world’s sixth largest by nominal GDP and is expected to become fifth by the end of 2012. Brazil has moderately free markets and an inward-oriented economy. Its economy is the largest in Latin American nations and the second largest in the western hemisphere. Brazil is one of the fastest-growing major economies in the world with an average annual GDP growth rate of over 5 percent. In Brazilian reals, its GDP was estimated at R$ 3.143 trillion in 2009. The Brazilian economy has been predicted to become one of the five largest economies in the world in the decades to come. Brazil is a member of diverse economic organizations, such as Mercosul, Unasul, G8+5, G20, WTO, and the Cairns Group. Its trade partners number in the hundreds, with 60 percent of exports mostly of manufactured or semimanufactured goods.

5. France

GDP: $2.776 trillion

Population: 65,350,000

Ladefensepartienord 10 Largest Economies In the World 2012

France has the world’s fifth largest economy by nominal figures and the ninth largest economy by PPP figures. It has the second largest economy in Europe (behind its main economic partner Germany) in nominal figures and third largest economy in Europe in PPP figures (behind Germany and the United Kingdom). France’s economy entered the recession of the late 2000s later and left it earlier than most comparable economies, only enduring four quarters of contraction.[7] Between January and March 2011, France’s GDP growth had been stronger than expected at 0.9%, one of the best figures in Europe but shrunk between April and June 2011 decreasing by -0.1%. Between July and September the French economy returned to growth of 0.3%; below the growth rates of its neighbours: Germany grew by 0.5% and the UK grew by 0.6% in the same period.

4. Germany

GDP: $3.577 trillion

Population: 81,799,600

IMG 5377 10 Largest Economies In the World 2012

Since the age of industrialisation, Germany has been a driver, innovator, and beneficiary of an ever more globalised economy. Germany is the world’s second largest exporter with $1.474 trillion, €1.06 trillion exported in 2011 (Eurozone countries are included). Exports account for more than one-third of national output.

Germany is relatively poor in raw materials. Only lignite and potash salt are available in economically significant quantities. Power plants burning lignite are one of the main sources of electricity in Germany. Oil, natural gas and other resources are, for the most part, imported from other countries. Germany imports about two thirds of its energy. The service sector contributes around 70% of the total GDP, industry 29.1%, and agriculture 0.9%. Most of the country’s products are in engineering, especially in automobiles, machinery, metals, and chemical goods.

3. Japan

GDP: $5.869 trillion

Population: 127,799,000

tokyo skyscrapers 2048x1152 10 Largest Economies In the World 2012

The economy of Japan is the third largest in the world  after the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Japan is the world’s 2nd largest automobile manufacturing country, has the largest electronics goods industry, and is often ranked among the world’s most innovative countries leading several measures of global patent filings. Facing increasing competition from China and South Korea, manufacturing in Japan today now focuses primarily on high-tech and precision goods, such as optical equipment, hybrid cars, and robotics.

Japan is the world’s largest creditor nation, generally running an annual trade surplus and having a considerable net international investment surplus. As of 2010, Japan possesses 13.7% of the world’s private financial assets (the 2nd largest in the world) at an estimated $14.6 trillion. As of 2011, 68 of the Fortune 500 companies are based in Japan. The economy of Tokyo is the largest metropolitan economy in the world.

2. China

GDP: $7.298 trillion

Population: 1,339,724,852

Shanghaiviewpic1 10 Largest Economies In the World 2012

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the world’s second largest economy after the United States. It is the world’s fastest-growing major economy, with growth rates averaging 10% over the past 30 years. China is also the largest exporter and second largest importer of goods in the world. The country’s per capita GDP (PPP) was $8,394 (International Monetary Fund, 90th in the world) in 2011. The provinces in the coastal regions of China[12] tend to be more industrialized, while regions in the hinterland are less developed. As China’s economic importance has grown, so has attention to the structure and health of that economy.

1. United States

GDP: $15.094 trillion

Population: 313,576,000

The financial district of 006 10 Largest Economies In the World 2012

The economy of the United States is the world’s largest national economy. Its nominal GDP was estimated to be over $15 trillion in 2011, approximately a quarter of nominal global GDP. Its GDP at purchasing power parity is the largest in the world, approximately a fifth of global GDP at purchasing power parity. The U.S. economy also maintains a very high level of output. In 2011, it was estimated to have a per capita GDP (PPP) of $48,387, the 6th highest in the world, thus making U.S. one of the world’s wealthiest nations. The U.S. is the largest trading nation in the world. Its three largest trading partners as of 2010 are Canada, China and Mexico. About 60% of the global currency reserves have been invested in the United States dollar, while 24% have been invested in the euro. The country is one of the world’s largest and most influential financial markets. Foreign investments made in the United States total almost $2.4 trillion, which is more than twice that of any other country. American investments in foreign countries total over $3.3 trillion, which is almost twice that of any other country.

Which country will have the biggest economy in the world in 100 years from now?
The listing is rather according to the 2012 rankings.

The above 2012 rankings are:
1. US,    2. China,   3. Japan,   4. Germany,  5. France,   6. Brazil,   7. UK,   8. Italy,   9. Russia,   10. India
But the Indian sources claim it is rather already today –

Ranking is wrong.Ranking is like this:

————————————————————– gives support to India’s claim for 4th place, and further places Russia and Brazil ahead of the EU members –  UK, France, and Italy.

In the nominal GDP method, we can see that the developed world leads the pack, but that China has already broken into this exclusive club, and is now the second largest economy in the world by both measures.

When we look at PPP GDP, all of the BRIC countries (China, India, Brazil and Russia) are all within the top 10.

Here is the Top 10, as listed by PPP GDP, using 2010 GDP figures:

Ranking Country Approximate GDP- Purchasing Power Parity
1 United States of America $14,624,180,000,000 (that is $14.6 trillion dollars if you are trying to count zeros)
2 China $10,084,370,000,000
3 Japan $4,308,630,000,000
4 India $4,001,100,000,000
5 Germany $2,932,040,000,000
6 Russia $2,218,760,000,000
7 Brazil $2,181,680,000,000
8 United Kingdom $2,181,070,000,000
9 France $2,146,280,000,000
10 Italy $1,771,140,000,000

While the US is still the world’s dominant economy, and central to the global economic system thanks to the simple fact that the US dollar is the world’s reserve currency (ie the currency that we all need in order to trade), we can clearly see that China’s clout is rapidly growing. The numbers tell the story not just of the BRIC, but also the G2 or Chamerica, as some are calling the US/ China combo.

Further, their practical prediction for 2015 is that according to current forecasts, by 2015 India will have overtaken Japan to be the third most important economy in the world, and Mexico will have entered the Top Ten – and kicked Italy out of that exclusive club.

Then, looking at the US CIA studies FACT BOOK:

To give us a better global view, this map from the CIA World Factbook will help to illustrate the differences between calculating world GDP figures on a PPP or nominal basis.
World Map Showing Nominal and Purchasing Power Parity GDP, 2007 estimates from CIA World Factbook

A sectoral analysis of country GDP allows us to understand the paradigm shift now occurring within most world economies. Growth patterns generally show a shift from agriculture to manufacturing and ultimately to the services sector.

The following table shows the percentage of GDP contributed by each sector in the top ten economies of the world:

Country Contribution of Services Sector in GDP (estimated for 2007) Contribution of Industrial Sector in GDP Contribution of Agricultural Sector in GDP
United States of America 78.5% 20.6% 0.9%
China 39.5% 49.5% 11%
Japan 73.3% 25.2% 1.5%
India 55% 28.4% 16.6%
Germany 69.5% 26.9% 0.9%
United Kingdom 75.5% 23.6% 0.9%
Russia 56.3% 39.1% 4.6%
France 77.3% 20.7% 2%
Brazil 64% 30.8% 5.1%
Italy 69.3% 32% 5%

The growth rate of these economies is also an important factor, and is directly related to the overall development of a specific economy. Group of Seven Countries such as the United States, France, Italy and the United Kingdom all typically have smaller growth rates – usually in the region of about 2% per annum.

By contrast, emerging economies such as India and China have growth rates of around 8% to 11%, while the ‘new’ emerging economies may experience even more blistering growth rates. Developed countries have already reached a saturation point, and thus expand less than emerging economies, where possibilities and opportunities are ripe, investors are ready to take risks, and consumers are demanding more goods and services than ever before.


Posted on on August 15th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

Voters wish politicians would fix the climate. Really.

By Philip Bump about the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, advocating for action on climate change, on, August 15, 2012.

Believe it or not, politicians can mention the fact that the health of the planet is being slowly eroded due to carbon pollution and they won’t immediately be impeached.

Kind of a surprise, right? Especially if the only evidence you have at hand is how willing elected officials are to discuss climate change. From the available evidence, it seems that members of Congress would rather talk about their sympathy for Al Qaeda than suggest that maybe we should take common-sense steps toward not ruining the climate.

They don’t need to be so skittish. According to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, advocating for action on climate change is a net benefit for political candidates. Some toplines from a poll the group released today [PDF]:

  • A majority of all registered voters (55%) say they will consider candidates’ views on global warming when deciding how to vote.
  • Among these climate change issue voters, large majorities believe global warming is happening and support action by the U.S. to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs.
  • Independents lean toward “climate action” and look more like Democrats than Republicans on the issue.
  • A pro-climate action position wins votes among Democrats and Independents, and has little negative impact with Republican voters.

This is generally good news — but it seems hard to believe that this will inspire any Republican candidates to pick up the mantle, or encourage any Democrats to invoke the wrath of climate deniers. One of the missing factors in this poll (based on my read-through; happy to be corrected) is an assessment of the virulence of the belief. Climate deniers are far more vocal than proponents for action. This has been part of the problem: There’s a much higher political cost paid when opposing deniers than supporters, even though the latter are the majority.


Breaking out some specific data points:

Americans are worried about global warming. Except Republicans.

Click to embiggen.

Republicans are more likely to express concern than I would have thought. And who are these 13 percent of people who think global warming will “harm future generations” but aren’t worried about it? Misanthropes? Are there that many misanthropes in America?

Voters want candidates to talk about global warming.

Click to embiggen.

It’s remarkable to see data suggesting that more than half of Republicans think global warming should be a priority for the U.S., particularly when only a third of them are worried about it.

Voters want some action on climate, despite cost.

Click to embiggen.

This is an amazing chart. Eighty percent of people who don’t think climate change is an important issue for presidential candidates nonetheless think the country should make some effort to address the problem.

People — even independents — don’t trust Romney on climate.

Click to embiggen.

Voters think carbon dioxide should be regulated.

Click to embiggen.

Even two-thirds of Republicans think that carbon dioxide should be regulated as a pollutant. Granted, another recent poll indicated that Americans are basically clueless about energy, so this should be taken with a grain of salt. Feel free to put the graph in front of your local congressmember, though.

They also think polluters should pay the cost of polluting.

Click to embiggen.

See caveat above, but bring this chart to your next cap-and-trade rally.

Check out the full write-up from Yale [PDF], which includes data suggesting that even in swing states, climate isn’t a liability. As for the key takeaway: Polling shows that climate advocates should be winning handily. Too bad the only voice that’s heard in the public sphere is the one screaming “Climategate!”

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.



Posted on on August 12th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

Increasing Climate Extremes and “The New Climate Dice”
New quantitative results and discussion of “The New Climate Dice” are available on my web site or directly here.

Jim Hansen
10 August 2012


Posted on on May 26th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

Inline image 1

This analysis was prepared by Elena Maffei, Research Associate at the Washington DC based Council on Hemispheric Affairs. We received the study on May 26, 2012.

The recent discovery of offshore oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico has given Havana new hopes of establishing rich deposits of its own, thereby decreasing Cuba’s present dependence on foreign energy sources.

Fidel Castro began to look for new energy suppliers immediately upon coming to power in 1959, and he soon found one. The Soviet Union was Cuba’s largest supplier of energy resources during the Cold War, but Moscow’s collapse in the early 1990s, coupled with the longstanding American embargo, drove the Cuban economy into a deep depression. Havana, in response, has begun implementing market-based reforms, including intensifying efforts to open the country to tourism,[1] as well as encourage strategic partnerships with other Latin American countries, most notably Venezuela.[2]

In 2011, Cuba produced about 55,000 onshore barrels of oil per day, mostly from the northern province of Matanzas, refining it at the island’s four refineries (in Cabaiguán, Cienfuegos, La Habana, and Santiago de Cuba).

Consumer needs, however, call for over 170,000 barrels per day, making the island a net importer of oil.[3] Currently, the bulk of these imports come from Venezuela, which meets two-thirds of Cuba’s daily requirements thanks to an energy agreement the two countries signed in October 2000. Cuba has become a crucial partner for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as reflected in both countries’ membership in the rising   “Alianza Bolivariana para Amèrica Latina (ALBA)” trade bloc.

In early 2012, a deepwater drilling rig was built in China by an Italian company, Saipem, which is owned by the oil and gas multinational Eni, and then leased to Spain’s Repsol. The Spanish company began offshore oil exploration 22 miles north of Havana, in the Jaguey block of the Cuban Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as early as 2004, and is hoping to find between 5 and 9 billion barrels in that area.[4]

Yet Repsol will hardly be the only foreign company operating in Cuban territory, as it will be working in just six blocks within the EEZ, and will be doing so in cooperation with Norway’s Statoil-Hydro and India’s Ongc.

22 other blocks, meanwhile, have been awarded to other foreign companies, including Petronas (Malaysia), PetroVietnam (Vietnam), Gazprom (Russia), Sonagol (Angola), PDVSA (Venezuela), and CNOOC (China).[5] While each is eager to hit black gold in the region, it would take three to five years of drilling before real production could begin even if the deposits live up to expectations.[6]

The United States, which is not taking part in the drilling because of its embargo against Cuba, could nevertheless not be more interested.

Washington, alarmed by the drilling site’s location just 60 miles from Florida’s coast, has been expressing its concerns about the potential environmental risks posed by the explorations, and has commissioned a panel of environmental and energy experts to discuss possible solutions to any potential disaster in the region. According to William K. Reilly, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under George H.W. Bush, “the Cuban approach to this is responsible and appropriate to the risk they are undertaking.”[7] But should an accident similar to the BP disaster of 2010 occur, the absence of a bilateral oil spill agreement between the U.S. and Cuba, in conjunction with strict American regulations freezing the transfer of technology between the two countries, would threaten American interests in the region, as well as pose a real environmental danger to the entire Gulf of Mexico. The matter is further complicated by the fact that offshore explorations are not taking place in U.S. territorial waters, within Washington’s legal reach, and are therefore not governed by the Clean Water and Oil Pollution Acts. Thus, any U.S. effort to take control of the situation in the event of an oil spill would be much more difficult, and would be bound to cause a diplomatic incident. Clearly, Washington must begin to consider a possible adjustment or elimination of the restrictions imposed upon the Caribbean country, and ask itself whether the embargo truly still represents American interests.

Economically, it must not be forgotten that if the investigations of Repsol and others reveal that there is a considerable amount of oil in the Cuban EEZ, Cuba could be transformed from an oil-importing country to one of Latin America’s largest oil producers almost overnight. Such a stark transition would undoubtedly affect relations between Havana, Caracas, and Washington, as well as completely change the geopolitical equilibrium of the region, possibly producing explosive results.

Another crucial issue is the conflict between the Argentine and Spanish governments over Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s nationalization of YPF, a now-former Repsol subsidiary.

On April 19th, the Castro administration announced its support for the takeover, stating that Argentina has the right to exercise permanent sovereignty over its natural resources. Such a controversial declaration, even if coherent once one takes into account Argentina’s alliance with Havana, could end up being a risky and counterproductive step for Cuba.

A potential geopolitical turning point for the region, the discovery of oilfields in the Cuban EEZ could represent Havana’s ticket to the further liberalization of Cuban institutions, an escape from poverty and underdevelopment, and the end of Washington’s disdain for their Caribbean neighbor. Still, the Cuban position on the Argentinian YPF seizure could prove problematic, and Havana would do well to reformulate its position in order to ease tensions with the Spanish oil company. At the same time, however, if the United States is interested in benefiting from this discovery and in staving off a potential ecological disaster mere miles from its southern coast, then it, too, must work to ease tension and adapt to the post-Cold War world.

The sources:



Posted on on May 1st, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

UPDATED April 30, 2012, he New York Times.

Clouds and Climate

At any moment, about 60 percent of the earth is covered by clouds, which have a huge influence on the climate. An animated map showing a year of cloud cover suggests the outlines of continents because land and ocean features influence cloud patterns. Related Article »

Radiated heat from land, oceans and low clouds is held near the earth’s surface by greenhouse gases but must eventually escape to space, as shown above. Areas with more cirrus cloud cover tend to emit less heat to space.

Reflected sunlight from low clouds, ice and other bright surfaces returns some of the sun’s energy back into space. The oceans and other dark surfaces reflect less light and are warmed by absorbing sunlight.

Incoming sunlight varies with location and with the seasons. The above map shows the average sunlight falling on the earth’s surface in March, as measured in watts per square meter.

Cirrus clouds are high, thin and cold. Many of these wispy clouds allow sunlight to pass through easily, but they tend to trap rising heat. A future increase in cirrus clouds would probably warm the planet, while a decrease would most likely cool it.

Global Energy Balance To maintain a stable temperature, the earth must balance the incoming energy of sunlight with the outgoing energy of reflected light and radiated heat. Clouds alter the balance in several ways, with an overall cooling effect in today’s climate. Humans are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, causing warming near the surface, and a big question is how clouds will react.


Posted on on November 19th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (

The next IPCC  assessment report is set to be published in late 2013/2014.

The first segment, carried out by Working Group I, assesses “the physical science basis” of climate change is scheduled to be released mid-September 2013.

Working Group II’s Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability report is expected to be publicly available by mid-March 2014, while Working Group III’s findings on the “mitigation of climate change” will be published in early April 2014.

The final overall AR5 Synthesis report is expected to be released in October 2014.

The IPCC’s 34th Session is being held this week in Kampala, Uganda – it will end November 18, 2011. Some findings were released in  a  Special Report and were presented this week in Kampala. Details were outlined during a media briefing by the co-chairmen overseeing the compilation of two of the three segments of next IPCC assessment report – that future AR5

Introducing the Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation,

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said: “It underlines the complexity and diversity of factors that are shaping human vulnerability to extremes.” The BBC was present and reports at:…

The title of the BBC report is:

IPCC: Climate impact risk set to increase.
The risk from extreme weather events is likely to increase if the world continues to warm, say scientists.

But then we find in their reporting also – On the possible change to hurricane patterns, it said: “Average tropical cyclone maximum wind speed is likely to increase, although increases may not occur in all ocean basins.”

“It is likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged.”

The report also said that small island – as well as mountainous and coastal – settlements were likely to be particularly vulnerable as a result of sea-level rise and higher temperatures, in both developed and developing nations.

“Rapid urbanisation and the growth of mega-cities, especially in developing nations, have led to the emergence of highly vulnerable urban communities,” it added.

So, let us see this new carefulness as the impact of outsiders on reluctant insiders:

Man watching the formation of monsoon clouds (Image: AP) Please remember – Storm clouds gathered over the IPCC after a number of errors were found in its 2007 assessment report.

Satellite image of Hurricane Katrina, August 2005 (Image: Getty Images/NOAA)

There has been uncertainty over the link between extreme weather events and climate change.


Posted on on October 28th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York, and author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green, 2009).subscribe to Les Leopold's rss feed…