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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 29th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Can Bolivia Chart a Sustainable Path Away From Capitalism?
Wednesday, 28 January 2015 on Truthout – By Chris Williams and Marcela Olivera, Truthout | News Analysis

FOR THE FU:: ARTICLE PLEASE GO TO:  truth-out.org/news/item/28778-can…

I will post here some excerpts of this very interesting and long article – this with my thinking of the latest changes in Greece
and wondering if rhetoric is true change and how can Greece fare in a capitalist world with management outside its borders but vested interests residing also in the country it
self. Will there be a Greek Pachamama in Europe’s future? Will the Tsipris Greece be the Morales of an ALBA Charge of anti-capitalist rhetoric in Europe?

Bolivia offers a case study on the impact of climate change, people’s resistance to exploitation and racist oppression, and the potential for genuine change from below.


The number of conflicts over natural resource extraction and refining, road building and pipeline construction, and forest and water use have all steadily grown under Morales.

Ruthless extraction of Bolivia’s bountiful natural resources has concentrated the natural and social wealth of the country in a small group at the top of society, and exposed Bolivians to an extreme degree of imperial intrigue and attempted subjugation.

In stark contrast to monoculture farming, several hundred different varieties of potato are grown in the Bolivian Andes, as a resilient subsistence food by 200,000 small-scale farmers.

With the melting of the Andean mountains ice and climate change farmers no longer know how community can grow food because “it now rains at all different times, and it’s drier for longer. This place did not used to be as hot as it is now.”

Higher average temperatures will lead to an increase in evaporation, causing soils to dry out. In turn, drier soils will increase erosion and loss of topsoil, an effect that will be compounded by two other effects of a warmer climate.

But for all of Morales’ rhetorical championing of “buen vivir,” Gudynas believes that the MAS government instead operates more along the lines of a new form of Keynesian neoliberalism, or what he calls “neo-extractivismo.”

And despite a change in official rhetoric, and some welcome redistribution of wealth, Morales’ policies are practically the same as his predecessors’ with respect to natural resource extraction.

“We have lost an opportunity for something based on our self-organization and self-management.”

“The people do not decide; the government decides. Despite the constitution guaranteeing rights for indigenous people and Mother Earth, those policies are not implemented; they are just words.”

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As through so much of its history, the small Andean nation of Bolivia sits at the center of a whirlwind of political, social and climatological questions. Arguably, no other country thus far in the 21st century raises the question of an “exit strategy” from neoliberal capitalism more concretely, and with greater possibility and hope, than Bolivia. That hope is expressed specifically in the ruling party, MAS, or Movement Toward Socialism. The country’s leader, former coca farmer and union organizer Evo Morales – South America’s first indigenous leader since pre-colonial times – was overwhelmingly elected to his third term of office in 2014. Morales has broadly popularized the Quechua term pachamama, which denotes a full commitment to ecological sustainability, and public hopes remain high that he’ll guide the country toward realizing that principle.

Bolivia has seen impressive and consistent economic growth since Morales’ first election victory in 2006, including the establishment of government programs to alleviate poverty and attain the social equity goals promised in his campaign. However, this growth has primarily rested on an expanded and intensified exploitation of the country’s natural resources, principally from fossil fuel production, mining, and the growth of large-scale, mono-crop agriculture and manufacturing.

This economic growth has also created what the Bolivian non-governmental organization CEDLA (Centro de Estudios Para el Desarrollo Laboral y Agrario) calls the rise of a new bourgeoisie comprised of Santa Cruz agriculture producers, traders from the west of the country and small mining producers. The Bolivian government also believes that a new class is emerging, and will become Bolivia’s new dominant group. Carlos Arce, researcher from CEDLA, says in an article in the Bolivian press:

A new type of entrepreneur has emerged from the popular classes. These emerging strata are mostly traders and are also present in the cooperative sectors, especially in mining. This new type of entrepreneur saves more and has a more austere mentality, in the classical Weberian sense. Within the state, representatives of this strata interface with middle-class intellectuals and other sectors of society, seeking to build alliances with small urban and rural producers that respond to the prerogatives of the market.

The so-called “plural economy” institutionalized by the government recognizes the state, communitarian, private and cooperative forms of economic organization. It also puts the state in direct control of the plans for economic development. In other words, the Bolivian people are the owners of the natural resources, but it is the state that administers and industrializes these natural resources.

In Arce’s view, the government exalts this new “emerging bourgeoisie.” The government’s program of a plural economy “facilitates the alliance of these market-driven sectors with key sectors of international capital. This opens the door to transnational corporations and makes permanent their presence.”

In December 2014, the Financial Times reported on the rise of a new indigenous bourgeoisie in El Alto, less constrained by older cultural ties of thrift, and striving for greater wealth, more ostentatious luxury buildings and opulent traditional clothing.

On the other hand, while many journalists and analysts have focused on the accomplishments of the Morales’ government, few have looked at the state of the labor force, unions and labor conditions. Research by local organizations shows that finding secure employment has become very difficult. According to the Bolivian Labor Ministry’s own data just 30 percent of the labor force in Bolivia has a secure and formal job, with almost 70 percent working in the informal sector. These workers have no employment security, which makes people more dependent on welfare protections and programs that have become more elaborate and extensive in recent years.

———-

Bolivia’s geography is very diverse: The verdant and tropical Amazonian lowlands give way to the austere beauty of the highlands and snow-capped peaks of the Andes that ring the capital, La Paz. Bolivian elevations range from 130 to 6,000 meters above sea level dividing the country into three distinct geographical areas: the high plateau, the Andean valleys and the eastern lowlands.

Given all of these factors, Bolivia offers a case study on the impact of climate change, people’s resistance to exploitation and racist oppression, and the potential for genuine change from below.

Much of that resistance was formed in response to centuries of relentless extraction of the country’s minerals, semi-precious and precious metals, and guano. Following the privatization of Bolivia’s public airline, train system and electric utility, in 1999, the government sold the water and sanitation system of Cochabamba to a transnational consortium. Over the following five months, mass demonstrations and violent confrontations with the police and military forced the government to cancel the contract and keep the water supply in public hands. This popular struggle for public control of water became recognized worldwide as the Cochabamba Water War.

—————————————

Marcela Olivera

Marcela Olivera is a water commons organizer based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. After graduating from the Catholic University in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Marcela worked for four years in Cochabamba as the key international liaison for the Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life, the organization that fought and defeated water privatization in Bolivia. Since 2004, she has been developing and consolidating an inter-American citizens’ network on water justice named Red VIDA.
Chris Williams

Chris Williams is an environmental activist and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis. He is chairman of the science department at Packer Collegiate Institute and adjunct professor at Pace University in the department of chemistry and physical science. His writings have appeared in Z Magazine, Green Left Weekly, Alternet, CommonDreams, ClimateandCapitalism.com, Counterpunch, The Indypendent, Dissident Voice, International Socialist Review, Truthout, Socialist Worker and ZNet. He reported from Fukushima and was a Lannan writer-in-residence in Marfa, Texas. He recently was awarded a Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 29th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

From the Offices of George Soros:

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Yesterday, the New York Times carried an op-ed by George Soros and Bernard-Henri Lévy on the remarkable experiment underway in Ukraine. They write, “Maidan’s supporters have moved from opposition to nation building” — launching radical reforms and taking on entrenched state bureaucracy and the business oligarchy. If these reforms are to succeed, the new Ukraine first must survive its ongoing conflict with Russia. To do so, it urgently needs financial assistance from the West.

In today’s New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman quoted George’s view that, “there is a new Ukraine that is determined to be different from the old Ukraine. … What makes it unique is that it is not only willing to fight but engage in executing a set of radical reforms. It is up against the old Ukraine that has not disappeared … and up against a very determined design by President Putin to destabilize it and destroy it. But it is determined to assert the independence and European orientation of the new Ukraine.”

All best,

Michael Vachon

———————————————————–

Save the New Ukraine
New York Times
George Soros and Bernard-Henri Lévy

A NEW Ukraine was born a year ago in the pro-European protests that helped to drive President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power. And today, the spirit that inspired hundreds of thousands to gather in the Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square, is stronger than ever, even as it is under direct military assault from Russian forces supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The new Ukraine seeks to become the opposite of the old Ukraine, which was demoralized and riddled with corruption. The transformation has been a rare experiment in participatory democracy; a noble adventure of a people who have rallied to open their nation to modernity, democracy and Europe. And this is just the beginning.

This experiment is remarkable for finding expression not only in defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity from the separatists, but also in constructive work. Maidan’s supporters have moved from opposition to nation building.

Many of those in government and Parliament are volunteers who have given up well-paying jobs to serve their country. Natalie Jaresko, a former investment banker, now works for a few hundred dollars a month as the new finance minister. Volunteers are helping Ukraine’s one million internally displaced people as well as working as advisers to ministers and in local government.

The new Ukraine, however, faces a potent challenge from the old Ukraine. The old Ukraine is solidly entrenched in a state bureaucracy that has worked hand in hand with a business oligarchy. And the reformers are also up against the manifest hostility of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, who wants at all costs to destabilize Ukraine.

One drawback is that the new Ukraine is a well-kept secret, not just from the rest of the world but also from the Ukrainian public. Radical reforms have been hatched but not yet implemented.

It is instructive to compare Ukraine today with Georgia in 2004. When he became president that year, Mikheil Saakashvili immediately replaced the hated traffic police and removed the roadblocks used to extort bribes from drivers. The public recognized straight away that things had changed for the better.

Unfortunately, Ukraine has not yet found a similar demonstration project. Kiev’s police force is to be restructured, but if you need a driver’s license, you must still pay the same bribe as before.

Mr. Saakashvili was a revolutionary leader who first stamped out corruption but eventually turned it into a state monopoly. By contrast, Ukraine is a participatory democracy that does not rely on a single leader but on checks and balances. Democracies move slowly, but that may prove an advantage in the long run.

The big question is, will there be a long run? Although Russia is in a deepening financial crisis, Mr. Putin appears to have decided that he can destroy the new Ukraine before it can fully establish itself and before an economic downturn destroys his own popularity.

The Russian president is stepping up the military and financial pressure on Ukraine. Over the weekend, the city of Mariupol came under attack from forces that NATO said were backed by Russian troops, undermining the pretense that the separatists are acting on their own.

Ukraine will defend itself militarily, but it urgently needs financial assistance. The immediate need is for $15 billion. But to ensure Ukraine’s survival and encourage private investment, Western powers need to make a political commitment to provide additional sums, depending on the extent of the Russian assault and the success of Ukraine’s reforms.

The reformers, who want to avoid the leakages that were characteristic of the old Ukraine, have expressed their wish to be held accountable for all expenditures. They are passing extensive legislation but also want the International Monetary Fund to go on exercising oversight.

Unfortunately, just as democracies are slow to move, an association of democracies like the European Union is even slower. Mr. Putin is exploiting this.

It is not only the future of Ukraine that’s at stake, but that of the European Union itself. The loss of Ukraine would be an enormous blow; it would empower a Russian alternative to the European Union based on the rule of force rather than the rule of law. But if Europe delivered the financial assistance that Ukraine needs, Mr. Putin would eventually be forced to abandon his aggression. At the moment, he can argue that Russia’s economic troubles are caused by Western hostility, and the Russian public finds his argument convincing.

If, however, Europe is generous with its financial assistance, a stable and prosperous Ukraine will provide an example that makes clear that the blame for Russia’s financial troubles lies with Mr. Putin. The Russian public might then force him to emulate the new Ukraine. Europe’s reward would be a new Russia that has turned from a potent strategic threat into a potential strategic partner. Those are the stakes.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 5th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Crude Oil Dips Under $50 A Barrel, A Price Last Seen In 2009.
January 05, 2015

The price for a barrel of U.S. oil benchmark West Texas Intermediate fell below $50 Monday, matching levels seen in the spring of 2009. The drop is linked to both OPEC’s boosted production and a stronger dollar.

Oil’s latest fall came along with a dip on Wall Street, as the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 330 points to finish at 17,501 — a drop of 1.86 percent that’s also seen as a reaction to new instability in Europe.

Petroleum has been in a free fall: In the U.S., the average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline has fallen from above $3.60 to below $2.20 since June, according to AAA.

The sharp drop has come as OPEC member nations seek to protect their market share by raising production levels to undercut profits for U.S. oil companies.

Both Iraq and Russia are now producing crude at record levels, as Bloomberg News reports.


“People are thinking about promises from OPEC, mostly Saudi Arabia, that they’ll continue to produce at very high levels,” TD Securities commodity strategy chief Bart Melek tells Agence France-Presse. “On the demand side of the equation, what we’re getting is basically a lack of demand growth … as Europe is potentially in crisis.”

The cheaper oil and gas prices come along with a surging dollar, which reached a nine-year high against the euro earlier Monday.

As Krishnadev reported for the Two-Way, the reasons for that gain include renewed instability in Greece and the possibility that the European Central Bank “could introduce quantitative easing to stimulate the eurozone.”

For many in the American oil industry, a central question has been whether companies can keep developing oil fields, even as the financial incentive to do so keeps shrinking.

As the industry site Fuel Fix notes today, the number of working U.S. oil rigs has fallen more in the past two weeks than in any similar period since 2009.

“The number of rigs operating in the United States declined by 29 last week to 1,811,” the site reports, “marking the fourth consecutive weekly decrease for the U.S. count, published by oil field services company Baker Hughes.”

—————

The euro fell by 1.2% against the dollar to $1.1864, marking its weakest level since March 2006, before recovering slightly to $1.19370.

The drop follows ECB president Mario Draghi’s comments indicating the bank could soon start quantitative easing.

Greek political turmoil also weighed on the currency.

Although the ECB has already cut interest rates to a record low level, and also bought some bonds issued by private companies, a full-scale programme of quantitative easing QE has not yet been launched.

But on Friday, Mr Draghi hinted in a newspaper interview that the bank might soon start a policy of QE by buying government bonds, thus copying its counterparts in the UK and US.

The purpose would be to inject cash into the banking system, stimulate the economy and push prices higher.

Speaking in an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt, Mr Draghi said: “We are making technical preparations to alter the size, pace and composition of our measures in early 2015.”
Greek turmoil

Political turmoil in Greece also weighed on the euro, with fears that the general election on 25 January, could see the anti-austerity, left-wing Syriza party take control of the country.

The possibility has sparked fears about whether Greece will stick to the terms of its international bailout and stay in the eurozone.

On Saturday, Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine said the German government believes the eurozone would be able to cope with a Greek “exit” from the euro, if the Syriza party wins the Greek election.

Reacting to Der Spiegel’s report, a spokesman for German Chancellor Merkel said there was no change in German policy and the government expects Greece to fulfil its obligations under the EU, ECB and IMF bailout.

French president Francois Hollande also commented, saying it was now “up to the Greeks” to decide whether to remain a part of the single currency.

“Europe cannot continue to be identified by austerity,” he added, suggesting that the eurozone needs to focus more on growth than reducing its deficit.

Analysts said the euro was likely to remain volatile for the next few weeks.

“The market is readying itself for action from the ECB. The first meeting of the year takes place on 22nd January, so the euro is likely to remain in focus and see heightened volatility as we approach that date, which is also a few days before the Greek General Election,” said FxPro senior analyst Angus Campbell.

——————–

We go back to our base – the question what all this means to the answer of Clean Energy from Renewable Sources and Energy Independence in all parts of the World?

Our answer is that we are still optimists – now as the “Internet of Things” and our “Super-Connectivity” a la Rifkin – that we just posted – will help us get away from the reliance on fossil fuels. It seems thus that Russia may work in its best long term interest by squandering now its oil resources. I would not say that they do this because they have that foresight.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 5th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Jeremy Rifkin, Author of The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Joined BK Yoon, President of Samsung Electronics, on stage during Mr. Yoon’s Opening Keynote Address on the Future of the Internet of Things at the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas

Mr. Rifkin Described how the Internet of Things Digital Revolution transforms Consumer Electronics into “Prosumer Electronics,” Allowing Billions of People to Actively Produce, Consume, and Share Economic and Social Activity with one another via their Connected Devices

LAS VEGAS – January 5, 2015 – Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Zero Marginal Cost Society, joined BK Yoon, President of Samsung Electronics, on stage during Mr. Yoon’s opening keynote address on the future of the Internet of Things at the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Mr. Rifkin described how the Internet of Things digital revolution transforms consumer electronics into “prosumer electronics,” allowing billions of people to actively produce, consume, and share economic and social activity with one another via their connected devices.

Mr. Rifkin observed that “every great economic paradigm shift in history brings together three new technologies in a seamless new infrastructure that changes the way we organize our economic life: new communication technologies to more efficiently manage economic activity; new sources of energy to more efficiently power economic activity; and new modes of transportation to more efficiently move economic activity.”

“Today,” said Mr. Rifkin, “we are embarking on a Third Industrial Revolution. The communication Internet is converging with a nascent renewable Energy Internet, and a fledgling Transportation and Logistics Internet, to create a super-Internet of Things.”


In the Internet of Things era, sensors will be embedded into every device and appliance, allowing them to communicate with each other and Internet users, creating an intelligent technology infrastructure for a smart world.


Mr. Rifkin pointed out that “homeowners and businesses will be able to produce and consume their own solar and wind green electricity and store and sell any surplus electricity back to the electricity grid.”

Mr. Rifkin went on to explain how “the automated Transportation and Logistics Internet will ease mobility by allowing people to use their mobile devices to share electric and fuel cell vehicles, monitor traffic flows, and, in the near future, enjoy driverless transportation on smart roads.”

This new era of super-connectivity will allow us to effortlessly manage our devices and appliances with solutions that will increase efficiencies and dramatically reduce the fixed and marginal costs of operating our homes, businesses, and vehicles.

According to Mr. Rifkin, “the Internet of Things platform will enhance virtually every aspect of our lives, from monitoring our health to improving our athletic skills, marking a vast improvement in our quality of life.”

“Most importantly,” said Mr. Rifkin, “the Internet of Things will also enable each of us to minimize our use of the Earth’s energy and material resources and usher in a more ecologically sustainable society.”

Mr. Rifkin added that “the Internet of Things brings with it new challenges, including the need to maintain an open network, ensure universal access, protect personal privacy, and guarantee data security.”


Finally, Mr. Rifkin concluded with the observation that “the Internet of Things will bring the human race together as a single extended human family for the first time in history… allowing us to share our commercial and social lives in ways never before imaginable.”

“We are,” says Rifkin, “on the cusp of a great economic transformation. The rise of the Internet of Things is going to improve the lives of billions of people and create a more efficient, democratic, and sustainable future.”

CONTACT:
Shawn Moorhead
The Office of Jeremy Rifkin
+1-301-656-6272
 shawn at foet.org

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 5th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

From: Lotta Tahtinen <tahtinen@un.org>
Date: Fri, Dec 5, 2014 at 5:27 PM
Subject: Members of the Post-2015 Steering Committee (for time period between December 2014-January 2015)

Dear All,

We are pleased to inform you that the list of selected members of the Steering Committee for the 16 January post-2015 preparatory forum for major groups and other civil society stakeholders has been posted on the following website: sustainabledevelopment.un.org/maj…

This 16-member Steering Committee will collaborate on the preparations for the 16 January preparatory forum, as well as civil society engagement in the first post-2015 negotiating session (19-21 January), in accordance with the modalities yet to be determined by Member States.

Those the UN system selected have very close relations with the UN system – obviously.
They come from International Chamber of Commerce related institutions and contain the obligatory Arab interests.
By the individuals’ names they are:

The Steering Committee members are:

Name Civil Society Organization

Anne-Sophie Stevance INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL FOR SCIENCE
Camilla Croso Global Campaign for Education (GCE)
Dr. Emad Adly Arab Network for Environment & Development (RAED)
Dyborn Charlie Chibonga World Farmers’ Organisation
Elina Doszhanova Social-Ecological Fund NGF
Louise Kantrow International Chamber of Commerce
Maruxa Cardama ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability
Matthew Simonds International Trade Union Confederation
Mwangi Waituru VSO Jitolee
Naiara Costa Beyond 2015
Orsolya Bartha, Dr. International Disability Alliance
Roseline Kihumba HelpAge International
Shantal Munro-Knight Caribbean Policy Development Centre
Tahere Talaina Siisiialafia Pacific Youth Council
Wael Hmiadan Climate Action Network
Wardarina APWLD/RCEM

==========================================================================================

The original mailing requesting those interested to put forward their names was:

From: Lotta Tahtinen/NY/UNO
To: Lotta Tahtinen/NY/UNO@UNHQ,
Date: 21/11/2014 05:59 PM
Subject: Call for applications to Post-2015 Steering Committee (for time period between December 2014-January 2015)

Dear all,

As stated in the letter circulated earlier this week by the Co-Chairs of the post-2015 development agenda process, the first negotiating session on the post-2015 development agenda will take place from 19-21 January 2015 in New York.

To support Major Groups and other civil society stakeholders to effectively engage in the post-2015 negotiations, a preparatory forum will be convened by DESA-DSD and UN-NGLS on Friday, 16 January 2015, in New York.

We are now setting up a Steering Committee to ensure broad and inclusive participation of stakeholders in this preparatory forum, as well as in the first negotiating session on the post-2015 development agenda (in accordance with the relevant modalities that are yet to be determined). Applications to the Steering Committee will be accepted between 21 – 30 November 2014.

To learn more about the Steering Committee and the Call for Applications, please see attached.

[attachment "Preparatory Forum - Steering Committee Call for Applications -21 Nov.pdf" deleted by Lotta Tahtinen/NY/UNO] [attachment "ToR steering committee_21 Nov.pdf" deleted by Lotta Tahtinen/NY/UNO]

Thank you and best regards,
Lotta Tahtinen

Lotta Tahtinen
Major Groups Programme Coordinator
Office of the Director
Division for Sustainable Development/DESA
United Nations, S-2619
E-mail:  tahtinen at un.org
Tel: +1 (917) 367-2212


Jeffery Huffines
NGO Major Group Organizing Partner
CIVICUS UN Representative (NY)
Cell: +1 646-707-1060
Email:  jeffery.huffines at civicus.org
Skype: jefferyvhuffines

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
PO BOX 933, Southdale 2135, JHB, South Africa
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Posted in Archives, Future Events, Futurism, Reporting From the UN Headquarters in New York

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on November 12th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

In effect – what Ms Napoleoni says is that the Islamic State uses globalization and aim at creating an original Muslim State that is for the Muslim world a parallel to what Israel is to World Jewry – albeit the first stage overlaps the borders of the Caliphate of Baghdad and will claim besides Iraq and Syria also Jordan , Lebanon, and Israel.
Now an ebook – The book will be available in printed form December 2nd, 2014.
 www.sevenstories.com/news/introdu…

Introduction to Loretta Napoleoni’s THE ISLAMIST PHOENIX.

September 8, 2014

The following is the introduction to The Islamist Phoenix, a study of ISIS by Loretta Napoleoni, one of the world’s leading experts on money laundering and the financing of terror. Islamist Phoenix will be available as an ebook in early November, and as a trade paperback on December 2nd.

For the first time since World War One, an armed organization is redesigning the map of the Middle East drawn by the French and the British. Waging a war of conquest, the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (al Sham), or ISIS, is erasing the borders that the Sykes-Picot Accord established in 1916. The region where the black and golden flag of IS flies already stretches from the Mediterranean shores of Syria well into the heart of Iraq, the Sunni tribal area. It is bigger than the United Kingdom or Texas and, since the end of June 2014, is known as the Islamic Caliphate. “Caliphate” is the name given to an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph, or successor to the Prophet Muhammad – the most famous being the Ottoman Caliphate (or Empire), which began in 1453 and lasted until the dissolution of the Caliphate and expulsion of the last caliph, Abdulmecid, at the hands of Kemal Ataturk in 1924.

Many believe that the Islamic State, like al-Qaeda before it, wants to turn back the clock, and indeed in Western media Syrian and Iraqi refugees describe its rule in their countries as a sort of carbon copy of the Taliban regime. Posters forbid smoking and the use of cameras. Women are not allowed to travel without a male relative, must be covered up, and cannot wear trousers in public. The Islamic State seems also engaged in a sort of religious cleansing through proselytism: people must either join its creed, radical Salafism; flee; or face execution.
Al-Baghdadi

Paradoxically, to deem the IS essentially backward would be mistaken. Indeed, during the last few years the belief that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader and the new Caliph, is a clone of Mullah Omar may well have led Western intelligence to undervalue him and his organization’s strength. While the world of the Taliban was limited to Koranic schools and knowledge based upon the writings of the Prophet, globalization and modern technology have been the cradle of the Islamic State.

What distinguishes the Islamic State from all other armed groups that predate it, including those active during the Cold War, and what accounts for its enormous successes, is its modernity and pragmatism. So far its leadership has understood the limitations that contemporary powers face in a globalized and multipolar world – for example, the inability to reach an agreement for foreign intervention in Syria, as happened in Libya and Iraq. Against this backdrop the Islamic State’s leadership has successfully exploited the Syrian conflict, the most recent version of the traditional war by proxy, to its own advantage almost unobserved, drawing funds from a variety of people: Kuwaitis, Qataris, Saudis, who, seeking a regime change in Syria, have been willing to bankroll several armed groups. However, instead of fighting the sponsors’ war by proxy, the Islamic State has used their money to establish its own territorial strongholds in financially strategic regions, for example in the rich oilfields of Eastern Syria. No previous Middle Eastern armed organization has been able to promote itself as the region’s new ruler with the money of its rich Gulf sponsors.

In sharp contrast with the Taliban’s rhetoric and despite the barbarous treatment of the enemy, the Islamic State is spreading a positive and powerful political message in the Muslim world: the return of the Caliphate associated with happier and richer times for Muslims. This message comes at a time of great destabilization in the Middle East, while Syria and Iraq are ablaze, Libya is on the verge of another tribal conflict, Egypt is restive, and Israel has been once again at war with Gaza. Hence, the rebirth of the Caliphate and of its Caliph, al-Baghdadi, appears to many Sunnis not as yet another armed group but somehow as a political entity that is rising from the ashes of decades of war and destruction.

The fact that this Islamist Phoenix materialized on the first day of Ramadan 2014, the holy month of fasting and prayer, should be regarded as a powerful omen of the challenge that the Islamic State poses to the legitimacy of all the 57 countries that follow the Islamic faith. As clearly stated by its spokesman, Abu Mohamed al-Adnani: “the legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the Caliph’s authority and the arrival of his troops to their areas.” This is a challenge posed by a new political organization that, while claiming to trace its legitimacy all the way back to 7th-8th century Arabia and the first territorial manifestations of Islam, comprises a contemporary state and commands a modern army. As such it should not be underestimated, especially if the Islamic State consolidates its territorial conquests.

That the threat is real, and that it is particularly felt by those who share a border with Syria and Iraq, are facts: in July, 2014 the black and golden flag of the Islamic State appeared in Jordanian villages, and in August thousands of IS militants streamed into Lebanon from Syria and took Arsal. Even former sponsors fear the military power of the Caliphate: at the beginning of July, al-Arabiya broadcast that Saudi Arabia had deployed 30,000 soldiers to its border with Iraq after Iraqi soldiers withdrew from the area.

Under the religious veneer and the terrorist tactics, therefore, lays a political and military machine fully engaged in nation-building, seeking consensus after territorial conquest. Residents of the enclaves controlled by the Caliphate affirm that its arrival coincided with improvements in the day-to-day running of their villages, from fixing holes in the roads to organizing soup kitchens for those who had lost their homes to the daylong availability of electricty.

_76526461_iraq_syria_isis_caliphate_25.07.14_624mapWhile territorially the Islamic State’s master plan is to recreate the ancient Caliphate of Baghdad — an entity that the Mongols destroyed in 1261 and that stretched from the Iraqi capital all the way into modern Israel — its political goal seems to be the shaping of a twenty-first century incarnation. In his first speech as Caliph, al-Baghdadi pledged to return to Muslims the “dignity, might, rights, and leadership” of the past, and at the same time called for doctors, engineers, judges, and experts in Islamic jurisprudence to join him. As he spoke, a team of translators across the world worked almost in real time to release the text of his speech on jihadist websites, facebook and twitter accounts in several languages including English, French, and German.

The Islamic State wants to be for Muslims what Israel is for Jews, a state in their ancient land that they have reclaimed in modern times, a religious and powerful state that protects them wherever they are, something to be proud of. This is a potent message for the disenfranchised Muslim youth who live in the political vacuum created by disturbing factors, such as the corruption and inefficacy of the Free Syrian and Iraqi Army, the Maliki government’s refusal to integrate Sunnis into the fabric of political life, the absence of proper socio-economic infrastructures destroyed during the war, and a high rate of unemployment. It is a powerful message also for those living abroad, the disenfranchised Muslim youth of Europe. No other armed organization has shown such insight and political intuition into the domestic politics of the Middle East and Muslim immigrants’ frustration all over the world, and no other armed organization has adapted to contingent factors, such as the provision of basic socio-economic infrastructures in the territory it controls to succeed at nation-building.

Its leadership has also studied the tactical and structural mistakes of past armed groups as well as their successes, and has put these lessons into a modern context. Like the European armed organizations of the 1960s and 1970s, the Islamic State understands the power of propaganda, of fear at home and abroad, and has been skilfully used social media to propagate sleek videos and images of its barbarous actions. Fear is a much more powerful weapon of conquest than religious lectures, something that al-Qaeda has never understood. Equally, the Islamic State knows that the 24-hour media seeks ever more brutal images, because in a world overloaded with information, extreme violence sells the news: thus the plentiful supply of photos and videos of brutal punishments and tortures uploaded in formats that can be easily watched on mobile phones. Shockingly, in a voyeuristic society, sadism, when appealingly packaged, becomes a major attraction.

The Islamic State has closely analysed the propaganda machine that the US and UK administration employed to justify the preventive strike in Iraq in 2003, in particular the creation of the myth of al Zarqawi which US Secretary of State Colin Powell used on in his speech to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003 to justify the invasion of Iraq. Thanks to an extensive and highly professional use of social media, the Islamic State has propagated equally false mythologies to proselytize, recruit, and raise funds across the Muslim world.

Crucial for the successes of this strategy have been the secrecy and mythology carefully woven around the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Bagdhadi. Again, in a world overloaded with information, mystery plays a major role in stimulating the collective imagination. The less people know, the more they want to know, and the more they imagine. Give people a few clips and they will complete the picture as they like it. Islam is premised on a certain nostalgia rooted in the return of the Prophet, while the West still fears Islam. Hence the IS is leading Muslims to believe that the Prophet has returned wearing the clothes of al-Baghdadi and at the same time it terrorizes Westerners with shockingly barbarous killings. Modern advertising has constructed a trillion-dollar industry atop these simple concepts. Now the Islamic State propaganda machine is using them to manufacture the myth of al-Baghdadi and his new Caliphate. What’s surprising is our surprise.

Finally, unlike al-Qaeda, the Islamic State is showing pragmatism. It seems to understand that, in the twenty-first century, new nations cannot be built and held together with terror and violence alone. To blossom, they require popular consensus. Hence the IS uses violence and Sharia law together with propaganda distributed over social media and a variety of popular social programmes aimed at improving the living conditions of the Sunni population trapped inside the Caliphate.

If this strategy succeeds, the world will be forced to turn a new leaf in the history of terrorism and nation-building, because the Islamic State will have provided a workable solution to the dilemma of terrorism. This, in a nutshell, is the true challenge that any armed organization poses to the modern state: whether to consider acts of terrorism as a threat to national security or to law and order. This dilemma springs from the ambiguous nature of terrorism: it has military aims – for example, among the goals of the Islamic State are freeing the territories of the old Caliphate of Baghdad from the tyrannical rule of the Shiites and the annexation of Jordan and Israel to recreate its ancient borders – but it employs criminal and barbarous methods like suicide bombings, the crucifixion of its opponents, and the beheading of hostages. Terrorism, therefore, could be defined as a crime with the aims of war. This ambiguity has allowed states to deny members of armed organizations the status of soldiers and enemies, relegating them to the ranks of outlaws even while using armies against them.

If the Islamic State succeeds in building a modern state, one that the world will not be able to ignore, using terrorism to gain territorial control and social and political reforms to secure internal popular consensus, it will prove what all armed organizations have affirmed: that they are not terrorists but enemies engaged in an asymmetrical war to overthrow illegitimate, tyrannical, and corrupted regimes. No matter how barbarous their actions are or have been, their status as threats to national security, as warriors, will be beyond doubt.

As the Islamic State’s war of conquest progresses, it is becoming clear that since 9/11 the business of Islamist terrorism has been getting stronger instead of weaker — to the extent that now it has morphed into a state — by simply keeping abreast with a fast-changing world in which propaganda and technology play an increasingly vital role. The same cannot be said for the forces engaged in stopping it from spreading.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on November 2nd, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

U.N. Panel Warns of Dire Effects From Lack of Action Over Global Warming

By JUSTIN GILLIS, for the New York Times – November 2, 2014.

COPENHAGEN — The gathering risks of climate change are so profound they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse gas emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report.

Despite rising efforts in many countries to tackle the problem, the overall global situation is growing more acute as developing countries join the West in burning huge amounts of fossil fuels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said here on Sunday.

Failure to reduce emissions, the group of scientists and other experts found, could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, the mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.
Continue reading the main story


“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report declared.

In the starkest language it has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.

Doing so would require finding a way to leave the vast majority of the world’s reserves of fossil fuels in the ground, or, alternatively, developing methods to capture and bury the emissions resulting from their use, the group said.

If governments are to meet their own stated goal of limiting the warming of the planet to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the pre-industrial level, they must restrict emissions from additional fossil-fuel burning to about 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide, the panel said.

At current growth rates, that budget is likely to be exhausted in something like 30 years. Yet energy companies have already booked coal and petroleum reserves equal to several times that amount, and they are spending some $600 billion a year to find more. Utilities and oil companies are still building coal-fired power plants and refineries, and governments are spending another $600 billion directly subsidizing the consumption of fossil fuels. Also, there has been no sign that national leaders are willing to discuss allocating the trillion-ton emissions budget among countries, an approach that would raise political and moral questions of fairness. On the contrary: They are moving toward a relatively weak agreement that would essentially let each country decide for itself how much effort to put into limiting global warming, and even that document would not take effect until 2020. {That is how the NYT evaluates the IPCC V Report.}

“If they choose not to talk about the carbon budget, they’re choosing not to address the problem of climate change,” said Myles R. Allen, a scientist at Oxford University in Britain who helped write the new report. “They might as well not bother to turn up for these meetings.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific body appointed by the world’s governments to advise them on the causes and effects of global warming, and potential solutions. The group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, along with Al Gore, for its efforts to call attention to the climate crisis.

The new report is a 175-page policy synopsis of a much longer series of reports that the panel has issued over the past year, culminating a five-year effort by the body to summarize a vast archive of published climate research.

It is the fifth such report from the group since 1990, each finding greater certainty that the climate is warming and that human activities are the primary cause.

“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, and in global mean sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the report said.

A core finding of the new report is that climate change is no longer a distant, future threat, but is being felt all over the world already.

“It’s here and now,” said Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman of the panel, in an interview. “It’s not something in the future.”

The group cited mass die-offs of forests, including those in the American West; the melting of land ice virtually everywhere in the world; an accelerating rise of the seas that is leading to increased coastal flooding; and heat waves that have devastated crops and killed tens of thousands of people.


The report contained the group’s most explicit warning yet about the food supply, saying that climate change had already become a small drag on overall global production, and could become a far larger one if emissions continued unchecked. The reported noted that in recent years the world’s food system had shown signs of instability, with sudden price increases leading to riots and, in a few cases, the collapse of governments.

A related finding is that climate change poses serious risks to basic human progress in areas such as alleviating poverty. Under the worst-case scenarios, factors like high food prices and intensified weather disasters would most likely leave poor people worse off. In fact, the report said, that has already happened to a degree.

In Washington, the Obama administration welcomed the new report, with the president’s science adviser, John P. Holdren, calling it “yet another wake-up call to the global community that we must act together swiftly and aggressively in order to stem climate change and avoid its worst impacts.”

The administration is pushing for new limits on emissions from American power plants, but faces stiff resistance in Congress and some states.

Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University and a principal author of the new report, said that a continuation of the political paralysis on emissions would leave society depending largely on luck.

If the level of greenhouse gases were to continue rising at a rapid pace over coming decades, severe effects could be headed off only if the climate turned out to be much less sensitive to those gases than most scientists think is likely, he said.

“We’ve seen many governments delay and delay and delay on implementing comprehensive emissions cuts,” Dr. Oppenheimer said. “So the need for a lot of luck looms larger and larger. Personally, I think it’s a slim reed to lean on for the fate of the planet.”

——-

Related in Opinion: Panel’s Latest Warming Warning Misses Global Slumber Party on Energy Research November 2, 2014.

By contrast, the report found, less than $400 billion a year is being spent around the world to reduce emissions or otherwise cope with climate change. That sum is smaller than the revenue of a single American oil company, ExxonMobil.

The new report comes just a month before international delegates convene in Lima, Peru, in an effort to devise a new global treaty or other agreement to limit emissions, and it makes clear the urgency of their task.

Appearing at a news conference in Copenhagen Sunday morning to unveil the report, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, issued an urgent appeal for strong action in Lima: “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message,” Mr. Ban declared. “Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”

——-

Further Related Coverage:
Times Topic: Global Warming & Climate Change
Greenland’­s immense ice sheet is melting as a result of climate change.
Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come – MARCH 31, 2014
Gov. Rick Scott, like many in his party, sidesteps climate change by saying he is not a scientist.
Political Memo: Why Republicans Keep Telling Everyone They’re Not Scientists – October 30, 2014
Where in the United States might you find the most protection from future climate change?
Detroit, Miami, Norfolk and Seattle may weather global warming very differently.
Nature in the Balance: On a Warmer Planet, Which Cities Will Be Safest? September 22, 2014

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on October 28th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Lithuania to see energy independence as liquid gas terminal arrives.

Related: Still no Russia gas deal as Europe heads into winter

By Peter Teffer, for the The EUobserver, October 28, 2014


Brussels – A floating liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal arrived at the Lithuanian city Klaipeda on Monday (27 October) where it was greeted by locals as the guarantor of the Baltic region’s energy supply.

The vessel, called The Independence, is expected to reduce the Baltic states’ dependence on Russian gas.

“This is a strategic geopolitical project that may decide the future of the whole region. Lithuania will become an energy-security guarantor for the whole Baltic region”, Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaite said according to media reports.

“From now on, nobody will dictate us the price for gas – or buy our political will,” she said.

More than a third of Lithuania’s energy comes from natural gas. It and its Baltic neighbours have been completely dependent on Russia for their gas supply, due to historical and geographical reasons.

While natural gas is transported via pipelines, liquefied natural gas, or LNG, can be transported by sea. But a country needs a terminal to import LNG.

Lithuania ordered the vessel in 2011, but the Ukrainian crisis, which has seen a bellicose Moscow seek to extend its sphere of influence, means it is arriving at a timely point.

According to the Lithuanian president’s press service, “the Klaipeda LNG terminal can serve and fulfill about 90 percent of the gas supply needs of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia”.

The terminal should be operational before the end of 2014. Lithuanian gas company Litgas has signed a five-year agreement with Norwegian Statoil to import 540 million cubic metres of gas annually from 2015.

The Independence is 294 metres long, 46 metres wide and 26 metres deep.

In a recent ‘stress test’ on the resilience of the European gas system, the European Commission concluded that with the LNG terminal in Klaipeda, the impact of a cut in the supply of Russian gas should be limited.

“Once the Klaipeda LNG terminal enters into operation the supply for the protected customers [all households] would be ensured in the three Baltic States in all scenarios.”

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on October 14th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The key to nuclear’s future or an element of doubt?

Date: 14-Oct-14
REUTERS – PLANET ARK – October 13, 2014
Author: Geert De Clercq

The key to nuclear’s future or an element of doubt?

Work at the Cadarache CEA (Atomic Energy Authority) site near Saint-Paul-les-Durance, south eastern France, September 26, 2014.


For sodium, the sixth-most abundant element on the planet, is being held up as the key to one of several new types of nuclear reactor being developed as governments grapple with the problem of making atomic energy more environmentally friendly, safe and financially viable.

The 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan effectively brought a global nuclear boom to a halt, but a decade-old research program into new reactors has regained relevance of late.

Quite apart from Germany’s decision to phase out a large slice of its nuclear capacity in the wake of Fukushima, Britain and Belgium have recently switched off several aging reactors over safety concerns while a number of U.S. plants have closed because they can no longer compete with cheap shale gas.

Launched by the United States in 2000, the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) has 13 member countries including China, Russia, France, Japan and Britain, which have whittled down nearly 100 proffered concepts to focus research on six nuclear reactor models.

By far the most advanced of the six is the sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR), developed by France, Russia and China from a concept pioneered in the United States in the 1950s.

The SFR’s main advantage is that it can burn spent uranium and plutonium. These unwanted byproducts from water-cooled reactors have been piling up for years and the World Nuclear Association estimates stocks at about 1.5 million tonnes.

“We could produce power for several thousands of years with that without getting new natural uranium,” said Christophe Behar, the vice-chairman of GIF.

Behar, also head of research at French nuclear agency CEA, points out that SFRs can also burn up uranium’s most long-lived radioactive waste products, reducing the need for deep storage.

EXPLOSIVE DRAWBACK

Liquid sodium is better than water at evacuating heat from the reactor core and its high boiling point of about 900 degrees Celsius allows SFRs to operate close to atmospheric pressure, negating the need for the thick, steel containment vessels at pressurized water reactors.

But sodium has significant disadvantages, too. On contact with air, it burns; plunged into water, it explodes.

Early SFRs built by France, Russia and Japan have suffered corrosion and sodium leaks. But these were not built to GIF standards and the CEA research facility amid the pine trees in Cadarache, southeast France, is working on how to tame sodium as the agency seeks to convince lawmakers to allow construction of its new Astrid reactor, a 600 megawatt SFR.

The Astrid project was granted a 652 million euro ($823 million) budget in 2010 and a decision on construction is expected around 2019.

The use of sodium, which occurs naturally only as a compound in other minerals, presents huge challenges, however.

Nitrogen-driven turbines are being designed to prevent sodium from mixing with water, while purpose-built electromagnetic pumps are seen as the solution to moving the superheated metal within reactors. Then there’s the headache of not being able to see through the liquid metal should something go wrong in a reactor core.

The other five concepts – including lead and helium-cooled fast neutron reactors and three very-high-temperature reactors – are less mature than the SFR and face similar technological hurdles.

But technology is not the only obstacle. Cost is key, as ever, and abundant U.S. shale gas and a renewables energy boom in Europe have undermined the viability of the nuclear industry, leading some GIF member states, including Japan, Canada and Switzerland, to scale back funding.

SCIENCE FRICTION

Regardless of which, if any, of the new concepts eventually holds sway, the inevitable political wrangling over commercial projects will almost inevitably bring further delays, as with Britain’s 16 billion pound ($26 billion) Hinkley Point C plant to be operated by French utility EDF.

“Between the ambition in the beginning and today’s status, the Generation IV research is not exactly on track,” the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency’s Thierry Dujardin said.

GIF’s target of having the first prototypes in operation around 2020 has been pushed back to 2030, with the first commercial plants not expected before 2040-2050, but such are the timescales in the nuclear industry.

The group does have some wriggle room, as many of the second-generation reactors built in 1970s and 1980s are expected to run for another decade, while third-generation plants built today by firms such as Areva and Westinghouse are designed to operate for up to 60 years.

Critics of GIF say that France and other nations have been too quick to focus research on the SFR and should have made a more audacious bet on newer technologies, such as the pebble-bed high-temperature reactor or the molten-salt reactor.

“There is not a single really new idea among the 4G models,” said Bernard Laponche, a retired CEA nuclear engineer.

Given sodium’s explosive potential, Laponche argues that the molten-salt reactor, the least developed technology, is the safest of the six models.

“It’s not a windmill, but it’s better than the others,” he said.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on October 12th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Reducing Carbon Emissions Would Fuel Global Economy.

By Anastasia Pantsios, EcoWatch

11 October 14

Evidence is amassing to discredit those middle-ground politicians who say they think climate change is real but don’t think we should address it because of the steep economic costs.

Two reports issued today by the Climate Policy Institute add to the growing pile of studies showing that moving to clean-energy, low-carbon policies that help mitigate the effects of climate change could actually provide fuel for the economy.

They found that moving to such policies could save the global economy trillions of dollars in the next two decades to invest in economic growth. The reports were commissioned by the New Climate Economy project as part of the research conducted for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

“For policymakers around the world wondering whether the transition to a low-carbon economy will help or hurt their countries’ ability to invest for growth, our analysis clearly demonstrates that, for many, the low-carbon transition is a no-brainer,” said Climate Policy Initiative’s executive director Tom Heller. “It not only reduces climate risks, its benefits are clear and significant.”

“Moving to a Low Carbon Economy: The Financial Impact of the Low-Carbon Transition” juxtaposes the costs of low-carbon electricity and low-carbon transportation system with the costs of the current system. “Moving to a Low Carbon Economy: The Impact of Different Policy Pathways on Fossil Fuel Asset Values” looks at the risk and extent of existing fossil fuel assets’ loss of value (aka asset-stranding), which would limit governments and businesses’ ability to borrow against them to finance growth and investment, including investment in a clean energy technologies.

The reports came to a number of conclusions about the positive economic impacts of shifting to policies that favor clean, renewable energy. They found that since governments worldwide and not private companies control 50-70 percent of oil, gas and coal resources, they also have the power to shape policies that can lead to savings or to asset-stranding. They also concluded that the savings in operational costs from renewable energy as opposed to fossil-fuel energy far outweighs the value of the stranded assets. And they assert that transitioning away from coal would provide the greatest benefits in emissions reductions with the least loss in value.

They also urge reducing the cost of financing renewable energy plants to lower the cost of transition worldwide, implementing a planning approach that includes taxes and innovation, and using gas as a bridge fuel in some regions—particularly China and India—until 2030 but saying gas use would have to decrease after that.

“Our analysis reveals that with the right policy choices, over the next twenty years governments can achieve the emissions reductions necessary for a safer, more stable climate and free up trillions for investment in other parts of the economy,” said Climate Policy Initiative’s senior director David Nelson. “This is even before taking into account the environmental and health benefits of reducing emissions.”

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on October 3rd, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

VIENNA CONFERENCE ON THE HUMANITARIAN IMPACT OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS. 8-9 December 2014

Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons
Logo HINW

Vienna Hofburg Palace, 8 – 9 December 2014

Conference Information:
 www.bmeia.gv.at/en/european-forei…

Draft Program
Registration
UNDP Sponsorship Program
Conference Venue
Tourist Information
Exhibition space


A world without nuclear weapons is a goal shared by all humanity. Yet, so far, it has remained elusive. An estimated 16.300 nuclear weapons still exist nearly 25 years after the end of the cold war. Today, nine states are believed to possess nuclear weapons, but as nuclear technology is becoming more available, more states, and even non-state actors, may strive to develop nuclear weapons in the future.

As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use by design, miscalculation or madness, technical or human error, remains real. Nuclear weapons, therefore, continue to bear an unacceptable risk to humanity and to all life on earth. Any use of nuclear weapons could cause gravest humanitarian emergencies and have catastrophic global consequences on the environment, climate, health, social order, human development and the economy.

A single detonation of a modern nuclear weapon would cause destruction and human suffering on a scale far exceeding the devastation seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No State or international body would be able to provide adequate assistance. Nuclear weapons continue to pose an existential threat to all humankind. These risks are not abstract. They are real, more serious than previously known and can never be eliminated completely.

In the past few years, a growing number of states and many civil society actors focussed on the humanitarian consequences and risks associated with nuclear weapons through different national, regional and international events and activities. Two international conferences were devoted specifically to this issue; in Oslo, Norway, in March 2013 and Nayarit, Mexico, in February 2014.

This increased focus on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons is an important development and has a positive and uniting effect on international discussions about nuclear weapons. The more the international community discusses and understands the scale of these consequences and of the risks involved, the clearer the case and the stronger the sense of urgency become for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The government of Austria is proud to host the 3rd international conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons which will take place on 8 and 9 December 2014 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. With this conference, Austria wishes to strengthen the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime and to contribute to the growing momentum to firmly anchor the humanitarian imperative in all global efforts dealing with nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament.

The Vienna Conference will

- be open to all interested parties. All states will receive official invitations and will be invited to nominate experts and/or senior officials. International organizations and civil society representatives with relevant expertise will also be welcome;

- will feature facts based discussions and expert presentations and aims to allow for an interactive debate among participants;

- Will also provide delegations an opportunity for statements of a more general nature;

A limited sponsorship program for LDC participants is forseen.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on October 2nd, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Wednesday October 1, 2014, after all those UN Member States’ Heads have left New York, the UN was still closed to the NGOs – supposedly for security reasons – the guards say this will hold on until next week – so it will be three weeks without “Civil Society” at the UN except for the handful handpicked by the UN itself. So much if you had any illusion that the UNSG hullabaloo about the enlargement of his entourage to include Civil Society in his deliberations was intended to lead to the new post-2015 world. Oh yes – we posted the harmless poem that was touted as the Civil Society contribution to the deliberations by that handful of participants.

Now we find that Grist publishes the analyses of the pure fact that the UN can in effect not aim at true results, and that it can only at best paint fake blue onto a heavy clouded sky – so please just know that you are being had and understand the reasons why. But also do not give up to despair – this because you are right in what you are fighting for and can rxpect that the truth will break through because it does make even economic sense. If allowed in some countries it will lead to alliances of States so it spreads eventually outside the UN that at best could then be used to bless the results.

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Grist Daily posed 2014,today, October 14 2014, the question – “Is there any hope for international climate talks?”

A binding international treaty with firm emission limits just isn’t happening. Now attention is turning to a bottom-up, “pledge and review” strategy. Can it work?

By David Roberts

I don’t write very often about international climate talks because it’s super-depressing and nothing ever changes. Which I guess characterizes most things I write about, but something about climate talks in particular really drains the spirit. Nonetheless! Let’s take a fresh look at the landscape.

The original idea behind the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks was simple. Climate change is a classic tragedy of the commons. When emitting greenhouse gases, a country gets all the economic benefit but only a tiny fraction of the harm; conversely, when mitigating emissions, a country pays all the cost but receives only a tiny fraction of the benefit. I wrote about this in a recent post and Harvard’s Robert Stavins sums it up nicely in a recent op-ed:

“Greenhouse gases mix globally in the atmosphere, and so damages are spread around the world, regardless of where the gases were emitted. Thus, any country taking action incurs the costs, but the benefits are distributed globally. This presents a classic free-rider problem: It is in the economic self-interest of virtually no country to take unilateral action, and each can reap the benefits of any countries that do act. This is why international cooperation is essential.”

This has always been the logic of UNFCCC talks: burden sharing. Determine the proper way to distribute the load, and then sign a binding treaty to insure that all countries do their appointed part.

The same logic that yields the need for international cooperation, however, has made it virtually impossible to achieve in practice. Turns out national governments don’t like burdens! So the dispute over how to properly divide the burden between developed and developing countries has been as endless as it has been intractable. Early on in the UNFCCC process, developing countries like China and India were effectively exempted from the obligation to reduce emissions. What the U.S. and Europe have wanted ever since is to ditch the (arguably outmoded) developed vs. developing dichotomy, acknowledge that China et al. are going to be major sources of emissions growth this century, and sign a treaty in which all countries, including China, commit to binding targets. China disagrees, as do India and all the other countries that have so far escaped targets.

The result has been stalemate. And despite feverish hopes in the run-up to each new meeting (“last chance!”), nothing has happened to dislodge that dynamic. Yet the 2015 climate negotiations in Paris are supposed to be all about a “binding treaty.” What to do?

In many quarters, a comprehensive, binding treaty with national and global carbon targets is the holy grail. But its pursuit has led to nothing but a cycle of high hopes and crushing disappointment. There is very little hope of such a treaty in Paris, or maybe ever. What’s more, the focus on burden sharing has made the meetings a defensive, angst-ridden affair, everyone blaming everyone else while trying to minimize their own responsibility.

Most of the world’s major emitters agree that collective action on climate change is badly needed. Yet the meetings meant to facilitate such action produced little of it.
Something had to change.

The idea that’s gained traction since the 2009 talks in Copenhagen is that it’s time to abandon the “burden sharing” frame altogether, give up on a binding treaty, and shift to a regime known as “pledge and review,” in which countries pledge specific policies and reductions and agree to have those policies and reductions internationally verified. Rather than being forced to accept a target, every country is simply asked to put on record what it is willing to contribute. Peer pressure and economic competition are supposed to do the rest. This is more or less what came out of Copenhagen, and Durban in 2011, and what will likely come out of Paris in 2015.

Those pledges are unlikely to add up to what’s needed to avoid 2 degrees C of warming, the stated international goal, any time soon. An outfit called Climate Interactive is tracking the pledges and adding them up; so far, they leave us on a path to exceed 4 degrees, which would be a disaster. But as John Podesta told Jeff Goodell (in the latter’s must-read story on China and climate), “If we wait until we have a binding international agreement that actually puts us on track for 2 C, we’ll hit 2 C before we get an agreement. But we have to get started if we hope to get to the destination.” Fred Pearce has a nice rundown of this general line of thinking here. It also finds clear expression in a recent op-ed from retired senators Tim Wirth and Tom Daschle.

Wirth has been working in and around international climate talks for as long as they’ve been going on. When I talked to him about pledge-and-review, he grew most animated when discussing the sheer torpor of the UNFCCC talks. “Everybody’s so depressed by the whole thing,” he said. “It’s a problem, it really is. They need a shot of energy! They need some enthusiasm! They need a new framework! Any time you run into a political dead end, you gotta change the rules. This is a way of changing the rules.”

Wirth says pledge-and-review has a chance of working because the economics have shifted and clean energy investment is increasingly in countries’ self-interest. He cites the recent New Climate Economy research project led by Nicholas Stern. Nations competing to outdo each other in these vast new markets could spark a “race to the top,” a sense of energy and progress that has been sorely missing. “We’re not saying we’re in the best of all possible worlds, by any means,” Wirth said, “but if we do it relatively soon, it’s going to end up being in everyone’s best interests.”

Wirth has a close eye on this November’s APEC meetings, where Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are likely to discuss climate change (among other things). A substantial bilateral agreement on climate would bring momentum into Paris, giving, Wirth laughed, “the U.S. a chance to hide behind China’s skirts and China a chance to hide behind the U.S.’s skirts. That’s important politically.” The U.S. and China being the world’s two largest markets, other countries would be pulled along. “The U.S./China relationship is so much more important than anything else in the world,” Wirth said.

Whatever the prospects of a race to the top, there remains the question of climate justice — what to do about those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, who did little to cause the problem. Wirth points to the Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to transfer money from the developed to the developing world. But the nature of those funds is in hot dispute. In their piece, Wirth and Daschle write:

Finance is the final key to a global deal. At Copenhagen in 2009, the United States memorably pledged that developed countries would mobilize $100 billion a year in climate change assistance for the rest of the world by 2020. At a time of fiscal retrenchment in the West, the chance of that pledge being met in the form of additional development assistance is approximately zero. The pledge is eminently achievable, however, in the context of global energy investment, which has an annual flow a dozen times as large as the amount pledged in Copenhagen.

And when I talked to Wirth, that’s what he emphasized: opportunities to channel private investment money to developing countries. It appears that the climate fund is primarily going to consist in such investments.

But where does this leave the world’s poorest countries and low-lying islands? There’s a lot of adaptation to be done in those areas and not all of it is going to be a profit opportunity. Will the fund end up being just another instance of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism,” wherein wealthy westerners descend on countries reeling from misfortune and treat them as business opportunities to exploit?

The reason climate-justice advocates have always relied on the UNFCCC framework is that it’s the only venue in which the claims of vulnerable nations are guaranteed a hearing. If the meetings become nothing more than a forum for mutually advantageous bilateral and multilateral dealmaking, where is the pressure to do right by the vulnerable, much less any kind of guarantee?

I’ve never heard a good answer to that question. I sure don’t have one. But we return again to an ineluctable fact: The chances of the U.S. Senate ratifying a binding climate treaty are nil. The chances of it ratifying one that is also supported unanimously by all 195 or so countries of the UNFCCC are even niller. So what else is there to do?

“The building blocks approach, bottom up, is the only way to go,” says Wirth. “We’re not going to get a top-down agreement. So you gotta go the other direction.”

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on September 30th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Almonitor Week in Review
Monday, September 29, 2014

US leverages Iran-Iraq-Syria axis against Islamic State.

[Includes material from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif address at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Sept. 17, 2014]

Last week – we saw US Secretary of State John Kerry’s remark to the UN Security Council on Sept. 19 that Iran has a role to play in the coalition against the Islamic State (IS) – “While the Obama administration has ruled out an alliance with Syria, Iran could be a bridge to Damascus within an international coalition against IS and in a subsequent political transition in Syria.”

This week, Reuters, citing unnamed senior Iranian and US officials, reported that the United States had informed Iran in advance of airstrikes against IS forces in Syria and assured Tehran that it would not target Syrian government positions.

Another bridge to Syria and Iran has been Iraq, according to Foreign Policy’s The Cable and The Wall Street Journal. Iraqi national security adviser Faleh al-Fayyad traveled to Syria on Sept. 16 to brief Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the “latest steps taken in this regard, as well as discussing upcoming steps and possible measures to ensure the success of these efforts and eliminate terrorist organizations in all their forms.”

Although the deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Gen. Massoud Jazayeri, said that Iran’s nuclear negotiating team at the United Nations has no authority to discuss the campaign against IS, as reported by Arash Karami, it is an open secret that US and Iranian officials have been talking about just that on the sidelines of the nuclear talks.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in his remarks at the UN, opened the door to even further collaboration against IS once a nuclear deal is reached, as reported by Barbara Slavin and Laura Rozen.

The United States and Iran cannot formally link arms in Syria, especially given the lack of progress in the nuclear talks. Iran has been an adversary and enemy, not an ally, and still supports and shelters terrorists, according to The Daily Beast.

Nonetheless, the trend to watch is the tentative emergence of what may be a truly regional counterterrorism coalition, with potential for a transformation in regional security, if managed carefully.

This column speculated back in January that the “new pulse” of the Geneva II process would be addressing the threat to counterterrorism in the region, with an essential role for Iran.

The Iran-Iraq-Syria axis provides a sectarian complement to the primarily Sunni Arab powers backing US airstrikes.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, after meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Sept. 21, spoke of “the first page of a new chapter” in Iran-Saudi relations, with consequences for many of the region’s most vexing conflicts.

Iran is in the fight against IS for its own interests, not to cull favor with the United States. Its efforts have won praise from Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, who said at a press conference with Zarif on Aug. 27, “Iran was the first country to provide us with weapons and ammunition” to confront the IS advance toward Erbil.

While Zarif denied that Iran had provided any ground forces in Iraq, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who runs the aerospace division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said this past week that IRGC forces were directly involved in the defense of Erbil, according to The Associated Press.

Iran was instrumental in the peaceful transfer of the premiership from Nouri al-Maliki to Haider al-Abadi in Iraq, and in managing the presidential transition from former President Hamid Karzai to Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan. Cooperation in Afghanistan may be more urgent than ever, given the recent surge in Taliban violence in that country.

There are alternative perspectives on Iran’s role against IS. For some observers, the prospect of any type of accommodation with Iran is so alarming that they suggest giving a kind of pass to Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, which has aligned with other so-called moderate Islamist rebel forces, because of the perceived greater good of toppling Assad, and to assure Iran does not get an advantage in Syria.

Just a quick fact: Al-Qaeda, not Assad or Iran, was responsible for the terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and until last year, Jabhat al-Nusra worked hand in hand with IS. The break between the two groups, both of which are designated by the United States and the UN as terrorist organizations, is the result of a power struggle, not a change of heart in either its hatred of the United States or its ambitions to impose Sharia in those areas it controls.

If there are US-backed opposition groups that are aligned with Jabhat al-Nusra and advocating a go-easy approach on the terrorist group, then perhaps the United States should reconsider funding those “moderate” groups. This column warned in December 2013 that the emergence of the Islamic Front among the opposition would be a “disaster for Syria’s opposition and future,” and here we are today with some in the Syrian opposition seeking to mainstream an al-Qaeda affiliate.

This should be a huge, neon warning sign about the perils of playing in opposition politics, where anti-Western jihadists, not pro-US democrats, carry the most sway.

The actions taken by Iran against IS to date contrast with what Turkey has done, or not done, until now against the terrorist group. The release last week of the 46 Turkish citizens held hostage by IS in Iraq may signal a new Turkish approach. Mustafa Akyol reviews polling data that reveals jihadism is a “marginal trend” in Turkish society.

Semih Idiz writes that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will need to overcome some troubling caveats in Turkey’s policies to date against extremist groups and step up against IS:

“It’s also not clear how the ruling Justice and Development Party’s Islamist roots will respond to active participation by Turkey against IS and other such Islamic groups, regardless of how radical they may be. Developments have shown, however, that Turkey is not as influential on its own in the region as it may have once thought, and that it has little choice but to move back to the multilateral track. This means it has no choice but to act with regional and global allies to confront situations that pose a danger to its national security.”

The trend toward a regional counterterrorism strategy is nascent and fragile, but — if managed carefully — has the potential, over time, of a breakthrough in regional politics, especially with a change in Turkish policies.

Despite the political constraints on Rouhani by hard-liners in Iran, his government is already taking its own initiative to battle extremists in the region and clearly signaling it is ready to do more. As Fareed Zakaria wrote this week: “When Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger decided in the 1970s that Iran would be one of their ‘regional policemen,’ they did so out of recognition of Iran’s geostrategic importance, not simply because they supported the shah.”

If Iran, over time, shifts from enemy to ally, beginning with a nuclear agreement and coordination in the fight against terrorism, then many of the region’s most vexing problems, including the role of Hezbollah, can be put in play. This column reported in February: “A discussion with Iran about Syria is a prelude to a broader discussion about Hezbollah, which is at the crux of the US tagging Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.” That is the conversation that needs to be had during this transition. Given how far the US-Iran dialogue has already come, it is not out of the question to consider the potential of such a trend.

The Arab pulse

The trend toward a possible regional coalition against IS, under US leadership, could be the beginning of the end for the extremist force that, according to the latest US government estimates, number between 20,000 and 31,500.

While the threat of Islamic extremism will never be completely eradicated, there is a pulse among the peoples of the Arab world for a new politics, transparency and accountability from their leaders. The trend toward conflict resolution and good governance in the Middle East is fragile and not assured, but it can take hold if given a chance.

Look at Lebanon. More than two decades after a brutal sectarian civil war, the country today is a vibrant mosaic of its peoples and cultures. The leaders and groups that fought each other for decades now coexist, sometimes uneasily, but coexist nonetheless around a consensus on keeping the peace. It is fragile, for sure, but it is there. Lebanon’s universities maintain their reputation as a magnet for the best and brightest in Lebanon and the region.

Despite these nascent yet hopeful trends, there remains an approach to the region that pins the problems of the Arab world on its alleged “civilizational ills,” implying Arabs have a cultural predisposition to tribalism, corruption and religious violence, as if these phenomena do not exist in other cultures and societies. These culturally driven essays make good copy, especially when written by someone from the region who employs an abundance of “history” and metaphor.

A more helpful, and truly analytical, historical approach to what is indeed a crisis in the Arab region would include an assessment of the effect of colonialism and the postcolonial experience on Arab societies; the impact of oil on the international relations of the region; the consequences of rentier economies in the Gulf; the role of outside, non-Arab powers including the United States, Russia, European countries, Israel, Iran and Turkey on the region’s politics; the impact of the creation of Israel and the Palestinian national movement; the influence of the Wahhabist tradition on current jihadist groups; the role of states, institutions and individuals, in and outside the region, which have backed the flow and emergence of these jihadist movements; and the economic and demographic trends that may shape the Arab region in the decades to come.

Arab civilization is not “sick”; its peoples are in the midst of a struggle for identity and democracy, where the forces of extremism command resources and influence. The people of the Levant love their culture, their cities and their land, and there is much to be proud of. There is no reason to believe the Arab peoples of the Levant will not reclaim their place in the world, as happened in Lebanon, with the assistance of an international community and region that is ready to put an end to those fringe groups that prey on the forces of division, not unity.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on September 28th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

So what is the verdict on Climate Week, the summit meeting on global warming convened by the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, in New York?


SundayReview | The New York Times Editorial – A Group Shout on Climate Change.

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD – Sunday September 27, 2014 – That is one week since the Sunday September 22, 2014 PEOPLE’s CLIMATE MARCH and the September 23, 2014 one day – UNSG Ban Ki-moon Climate-topics UN display.

The marchers and mayors, the ministers and presidents, have come and gone. So what is the verdict on Climate Week, the summit meeting on global warming convened by the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, in New York?

The meeting was not intended to reach a global agreement or to extract tangible commitments from individual nations to reduce the greenhouse gases that are changing the world’s ecosystems and could well spin out of control. Its purpose was to build momentum for a new global deal to be completed in December 2015, in Paris.

In that respect …… it clearly moved the ball forward, not so much in the official speeches but on the streets and in the meeting rooms where corporate leaders, investors, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and state and local officials pressed the case for stronger action.

It was important to put climate change back on the radar screen of world leaders, whose last effort to strike a deal, in Copenhagen five years ago, ended in acrimonious disaster. President Obama, for one, was as eloquent as he has ever been on the subject: “For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week — terrorism, instability, inequality, disease — there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.”

But most of the positive energy at this gathering came from people closer to the ground, like the 300,000 activists who marched last Sunday. They included mayors like New York’s Michael Bloomberg and his successor, Bill de Blasio, who both spoke of the critical role that cities can play in reducing emissions. They included governors like California’s Jerry Brown, who is justly proud of his state’s pathbreaking efforts to control automobile and power plant pollution. And they included institutions like Bank of America, which said it would invest in renewable energy, and companies like Kellogg and Nestle, which pledged to help stem the destruction of tropical forests by changing the way they buy commodities like soybeans and palm oil.

Underlying all these declarations was a palpable conviction that tackling climate change could be an opportunity and not a burden, that the way to approach the task of harnessing greenhouse gas emissions was not to ask how much it would cost but how much nations stood to gain by investing in new technologies and energy efficiency.

This burst of activity comes at a crucial time. A tracking initiative called the Global Carbon Project recently reported that greenhouse gas emissions jumped 2.3 percent in 2013, mainly because of big increases in China and India. This means it is becoming increasingly difficult to limit global warming to an upper boundary of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (the long touted 2 degrees Celsius limit) above pre-industrial levels. Beyond that point, scientists say, a world already suffering from disappearing glaciers, rising seas and persistent droughts could face even more alarming consequences.

Avoiding such a fate is going to require a revolution in the way the world produces and consumes energy, which clearly has to involve national governments, no matter how much commitment there is on the streets and in the boardrooms. The odds are long that a legally binding treaty will emerge from Paris. Congress is unlikely to ratify one anyway. The smart money now is on a softer agreement that brings all the big polluters on board with national emissions caps, and there are reasons for hope that this can be done.

Mr. Obama is in a much stronger leadership position than he was at Copenhagen, having engineered a huge increase in automobile fuel efficiency and proposed rules that will greatly reduce the United States’ reliance on dirty coal. The Chinese, in part because their own air is so dirty, have been investing heavily in alternative energy sources like wind and solar, and they are giving serious consideration to a national cap on coal consumption. The cooperation of these two countries could by itself create the conditions for a breakthrough agreement. But what might really do the trick — if Climate Week is any guide — is the emergence of a growing bottom-up movement for change.
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Copenhagen was the COP 15 (Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP9 of UNFCCC – and those who follow our website will realize that we stopped counting after Copenhagen even though this year’s end of the year’s meeting will be already the 20th meeting – or COP20 of the UNFCCC – and it will be held in Lima, Peru. We have no intention of opening a new page for this meeting either – but we are optimistic nevertheless that we will be in much better shape when we go to COP21 of the UNFCCC in Paris – December 2015.
With the 70th celebration of the UN and the need to do something to mark this date – we believe that a more responsive Climate Change reduction path will be fleshed out by that time.

The People’s March of last Sunday will then be remembered as the People’s expression that they demand action from those that sit at UN’s New York Headquarters in what they see as seats of the Global management. Also, please note the fact that even the UN has recognized by now that the Assembly of Governments will not reach the needed consensus to create true action – it will be rather the involvement of Civil Society, and business – led by scientists, economic and social developers and plain people that care for their environment – ethical and mass leaders from he line – that will do it.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on September 20th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


(CNN) — Is the world going nuts?
By Fareed Zakaria – Sat September 20, 2014

I get asked this question a lot these days, and for understandable reasons. Look at what’s been in the news in just the last few weeks. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s execution videos, Scotland’s bid for secession, Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

There is an unraveling taking place in parts of the world. In the Middle East, the old order that stretched from Libya to Syria has collapsed. In Russia, the rise of oil prices has empowered and emboldened President Vladimir Putin — and he wants a makeover on the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin is testing the stability of the old international order built after World War II, and sees that it is weaker than most people might have guessed.

But why is all this happening? In the Middle East, people were tired of the old dictatorships. They weren’t prepared for what should follow them, but they wanted greater space and voice. The result has been chaos and violence, but perhaps that is the brutal, ugly phase that will force people there to find a way to make their peace with the modern world. After all, Europe went through its own religious wars, wars or nationalism, and world wars before it became the stable continent it is today.
Where do Scotland and UK go from here?

Intel community underestimates ISIS: Similarly, in Eurasia, the real driver of what has happened there is not the West or Russia, but the Ukrainian people. They decided that they didn’t want to be vassals of the Kremlin. They look with longing at Poland, which in 1989 had a similar-sized economy to theirs and is now twice the size, and is a member in good standing of the European Union.

Of course there are Ukrainians who feel differently — that’s what’s causing the turmoil — but most, overwhelmingly, want to chart a future with the West. Whether they can remains an open question, given Putin’s firm resolve to sabotage their plans. But again, this is a sign of people searching for greater connections with the civilized world.

And look at the rest of the world. India and Indonesia have elected leaders who are friendly towards markets, the West, and America — resolutely democratic and yet strong nationalists. Mexico and Colombia have reformers at the helm. In Africa, there are many governments from Ethiopia to Rwanda, where you see real progress in health and living conditions. There are many pieces of bad news coming out of that continent — from Ebola to Boko Haram — but there is also good news, growing economies, a surging middle class.

And look at the world’s two largest economies. The United States remains economically vibrant, with a dynamic society, new technologies that dominate the world, and new sources of energy that will power it for a few generations. China, for all the noise, remains committed to economic development first, is embarking on anti-corruption and reform drives and has even begun to tackle pollution and climate change as an issue.

I’m not saying that all is well in the world — I’m really suggesting that we are in the midst of great global change. Much of this change is driven by good news — people’s desires for greater freedom and autonomy, new information technologies, etc. But all change is disruptive, and without the institutions of freedom and the civic culture of liberty, this period of transition can be dangerous. The forces of integration will not automatically triumph over the forces of disintegration. But there are many good forces out here that are also sweeping through the world these days.

And, of course, Scotland did not end up seceding. Score one for integration.

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URI AVNERY LOOKS AT SCOTLAND AND THE ARAB WORLD.

Uri Avnery

September 20, 2014

Scotland on the Euphrates

TWO COUNTRIES competed this week for first place in news programs all over the world: Scotland and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

There could not be a greater difference than between these two countries. Scotland is damp and cold, Iraq is hot and dry. Scotland is called after its whisky (or the other way round), while for ISIS fighters, drinking alcohol is the mark of unbelievers, who should lose their head (literally).

However, there is one common denominator of both crises: they mark the approaching demise of the nation-state.

MODERN NATIONALISM, like any great idea in history, was born out of a new set of circumstances: economic, military, spiritual and others, which made older forms obsolete.

By the end of the 17th century, existing states could no longer cope with new demands. Small states were doomed. The economy demanded a safe domestic market large enough for the development of modern industries. New mass armies needed a base strong enough to provide soldiers and pay for modern arms. New ideologies created new identities.

Britanny and Corsica could not exist as independent entities. They had to give up much of their separate identity and join the large and powerful French state to survive. The United Kingdom, the union of the British isles under a Scottish king, became a world power. Others followed, each at its own pace. Zionism was a late effort to imitate this.

The process reached its peak at the end of World War I, when empires like the Ottoman Caliphate and Austria-Hungary broke up. Kemal Atatürk, who exchanged the Islamic caliphate for a Turkish national state, was perhaps the last great ideologue of the national idea.

But by that time, this idea was already growing old. The realities which had created it were changing rapidly. If I am not mistaken, it was Gustave Le Bon, the French psychologist, who asserted a hundred years ago that every new idea is already obsolete by the time it is adopted by the masses.

The process works like this: somebody conceives the idea. It takes a generation for it to become accepted by the intellectuals. It takes another generation for the intellectuals to teach the masses. By the time it attains power, the circumstances that gave it birth have already changed, and a new idea is required.

Reality changes much more quickly than the human mind.

Take the idea of the European nation-state. When it reached its final victory, after the Great War, the world had already changed. European armies, which had mown each other down with machine guns, were facing tanks and warplanes. The economy became world-wide. Air travel abolished distances. Modern communication created a “world village”.

In 1926 an Austrian nobleman, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, convened a pan-European congress. While Adolf Hitler, a hopelessly old-fashioned thinker, tried to impose the German nation-state on the continent, a small group of idealists propagated the idea of a European Union, which spread after another dreadful World War.

This idea, now still in its infancy, is generally accepted, but it is already obsolete. The multinational economy, the social media, the fight against deadly diseases, the civil wars and genocides, the environmental dangers threatening the entire planet – all these make world governance imperative and urgent – yet this is an idea whose realization is still very, very far away.

THE OBSOLENCE of the nation-state has given birth to a paradoxical by-product: the breakup of the state into smaller and smaller units.

While the world trend towards larger and larger political and economic units gathers strength, nation-states fall apart. All over the world, small peoples are demanding independence.

This is not quite as ridiculous as it looks. The nation-state came into being because realities needed societies of at least a certain size and strength. But by now, all the major functions of the states are moving towards much larger regional unions. So why does Corsica need France? Why do the Basques need Spain? Why does Quebec need Canada? Why not live in a smaller state with people like you, who speak your natural language?

Czechoslovakia has broken up, peacefully. So has Yugoslavia, not so peacefully. So have Cyprus, Serbia, Sudan – and the Soviet Union, of course.

(Let me remark in passing that this also concerns the idea of the so-called One-State solution for our little problem in Israel/Palestine. During the last three generations, the world has not seen a single instance of two different peoples coming together voluntarily in one state.)

The Scottish referendum is one of the opening scenes of this new epoch. The proponents of independence promised that Scotland could join the European Union and NATO, perhaps adopt the Euro. So why, they ask, should Scotland remain in the British straightjacket? After all, Britannia does not rule the waves anymore!

The failure of the vote for Scottish independence does not change the course of events. It just slows it down.

NATIONALISM WAS a European idea.

It never struck deep roots in the arid fields of the Arab world. Even in the heyday of Arab nationalism, it was never quite clear whether a Damascene, for example, considered himself first a Syrian or a Muslim, whether a Beiruti considered himself first a Maronite-Christian or a Lebanese, or whether a Cairene was first an Egyptian, an Arab or a Muslim.

During the Algerian struggle for independence, an angry French right-wing politician once complained to me: “Before we conquered North Africa, Algeria was never united! We created the Algerian nation!” He was quite right, though he drew the wrong conclusions. Many times I heard exactly the same from dedicated Zionists about the Palestinian nation.

The modern Arab nations were invented by European colonialists. Lately, it has become a fashion to mention Mark Sykes and Georges Picot, two mediocre bureaucrats, one British, one French, who drew up a secret agreement for the division of the Ottoman Empire. They and their successors created the states of Syria, Iraq, (Trans)Jordan, Palestine etc.

These “nation-states” were quite artificial. The European planners had generally very little understanding for local circumstances, traditions, identities and culture. Neither did they care very much. Iraq, with its different components, was created to accommodate British interests. The strange eastern borders of Jordan were shaped for a British oil pipeline from Mosul to Haifa. Lebanon, created as a home for the Christians, was shaped to include Muslim Sunnite and Shiite areas, just to make it larger. Al-Sham was stripped of Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon and became Syria. Later it also lost Alexandretta to Turkey.

ALL THESE imperialist manipulations ran counter to Muslim history and tradition.

Every Muslim child learns in school about the vast Muslim empires, stretching from the north of Spain to theborders of Burma, from the gates of Vienna to the South of Yemen, and then has to look at the map of mini-countries like Jordan and Lebanon. It’s humiliating.

First there were efforts to unify the Arabs under the umbrella of nationalism. The Ba’ath party strove (in theory, at least) to create one, single pan-Arab state, and the creed was taken up by the hero of the masses, the Egyptian Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, a secular military dictator. A pan-Arab state could also have created some equality between rich oil-states like Saudi Arabia and poor countries like Egypt.

Nasserism created a new ideology. Pan-Arab nationalism was “kaumi”. Local patriotism was “wotani”. The community of all Muslims was the “umma”.

(The same word, umma, means the opposite in Hebrew: a modern nation. Israelis are as mixed up as their neighbors. We have to choose our priority. Are we primarily Jews, Hebrews or Israelis? What exactly does “the Nation-State of the Jewish People”, as propagated by Binyamin Netanyahu, mean?)

THE HUGE attraction of the movement now called “Islamic State” is that it proposes a simple idea: do away with all these crazy borders drawn up by Western imperialists for their own purposes and re-create the classic pan-Muslim state: the Caliphate.

This seems like the opposite of the breakup of European states, but it means the same: the total rejection of the nation-state.

As such, it belongs both to the past and to the future.

It glorifies the past. Muhammad and his immediate successors (caliph means successor) are idealized as immaculate persons, the embodiment of all virtues, the possessors of divine wisdom.

This is very far from historical truth. All three immediate successors of the prophet were assassinated. Because of quarrels about the succession, Islam split into Sunnis and Shiites and remains so to this very day (now more than ever). But myth is stronger than truth.

However, while clinging to the past, the Islamic State movement (former ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) is very modern. With one swipe it clears the table of the nation-state and its derivatives. It carries a clear, simple idea, easily understood by Muslims everywhere. It seems to be vastly convincing.

THE WESTERN response is almost comically inadequate.

People like Barack Obama and John Kerry, and their equivalents all over Europe, are quite unable to understand what it is all about. With the traditional European contempt for the “natives”, they see nothing but head-cutting terrorists. They really seem to believe that they can vanquish a revolutionary new idea by forming a coalition with Arab dictators and corrupt politicians, bombing the rebels and finishing the job by employing local mercenaries.

That is a ludicrous misreading of the new reality. By now, IS, with just a handful of fanatical and cruel militants, has conquered huge territories.

WHAT IS the answer?

Frankly, I don’t know. But the first step for Westerners, as well as for Israelis, is to discard their arrogance and try to understand the new phenomenon they are facing.

They are not facing “terrorists” – the magic word that seems to solve all problems without the need to strain the brain. They are facing a new phenomenon.

History is in the making.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on September 18th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


September 17, 2014
High Court Rules Haredi Schools Don’t Have To Teach Math, Science, Other Secular Subjects.


High Court of Justice ruled today that Haredi schools can continue to be exempt from teaching Israel core curriculum – meaning basic secular subjects like math, Hebrew and science will not be taught by Haredi schools – or will be given short shrift by them.


High Court Rules Haredi Schools Don’t Have To Teach Math, Science, Other Secular Subjects
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com


In a 7-2 ruling, the court upheld an education law passed in 2008 exempting haredi schools from teaching the core curriculum mandated for all other schools in the country, claiming that changing the education requirements that apply to haredi schools would be a paternalistic blow to the rights of others, Ha’aretz reported.


“This is an unusual petition, in which a third party is asking to require the state to act paternalistically toward another. Even though it could be that a demand from the state to act paternalistically toward a third party could be accepted in extreme instances, it is clear that this matter is not one of them. Another unique characteristic of this petition is that, truth be told, this petition is seeking to advance a broad public interest at the price of infringing on the (possibly constitutional) rights of others,” Supreme Court President Asher Grunis wrote for the majority.

The court also ruled that that the petitioners had not proved that haredi educational standards infringed on children’s right to an education.

The petition demanding haredi schools teach basic secular subjects was filed in 2010 by a group of ex-haredim and by teachers.

The petitioners reportedly included Amnon Rubinstein and Uriel Reichman, both legal scholars and former politicians; and Major General (Ret.) Elazar Stern, a Member of Knesset from the centrist Hatnuah Party who once headed the army’s personnel directorate.

Haredi students graduate their yeshivas so ill-prepared that even if they opt to join the IDF or try to find employment, they must undergo months (and sometimes years) of remedial education just to get them to the educational level of an average secular high school graduate.


The court’s ruling likely guarantees that another generation of haredi children will have to lead much or all of their adult lives relying heavily on government welfare programs and charity.


IN OUR OPINION – THIS RULING AGAINST ISRAEL, BY ITS SUPREME COURT OF JUSTICE, CONSTITUTES A HIGHER BLOW TO THE COUNTRY THEN WHAT THE OUTSIDE TERRORISTS HAVE ACHIEVED – in effect this is nothing less then the perpetuation of the hold of the ultra-orthodox parties on the fast multiplying country’s poor who are being forced into servitude to the Rabbis that guarantee them meager hand-outs in exchange for keeping them unemployable except for general oversubscribed religious tasks.
This undermines the future of the State of Israel. How did this get the votes of 7 out of the 9 members of the Court?

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on August 24th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

SundayReview | Opinion

The Climate Swerve.

By ROBERT JAY LIFTON,  The New York Times,

AMERICANS appear to be undergoing a significant psychological shift in our relation to global warming. I call this shift a climate “swerve,” borrowing the term used recently by the Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt to describe a major historical change in consciousness that is neither predictable nor orderly.

The first thing to say about this swerve is that we are far from clear about just what it is and how it might work. But we can make some beginning observations which suggest, in Bob Dylan’s words, that “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.” Experience, economics and ethics are coalescing in new and important ways. Each can be examined as a continuation of my work comparing nuclear and climate threats.

The experiential part has to do with a drumbeat of climate-related disasters around the world, all actively reported by the news media: hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts and wildfires, extreme heat waves and equally extreme cold, rising sea levels and floods. Even when people have doubts about the causal relationship of global warming to these episodes, they cannot help being psychologically affected. Of great importance is the growing recognition that the danger encompasses the entire earth and its inhabitants. We are all vulnerable.

This sense of the climate threat is represented in public opinion polls and attitude studies. A recent Yale survey, for instance, concluded that “Americans’ certainty that the earth is warming has increased over the past three years,” and “those who think global warming is not happening have become substantially less sure of their position.”

Falsification and denial, while still all too extensive, have come to require more defensive psychic energy and political chicanery.

But polls don’t fully capture the complex collective process occurring.

The most important experiential change has to do with global warming and time. Responding to the climate threat — in contrast to the nuclear threat, whose immediate and grotesque destructiveness was recorded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — has been inhibited by the difficulty of imagining catastrophic future events. But climate-related disasters and intense media images are hitting us now, and providing partial models for a devastating climate future.

At the same time, economic concerns about fossil fuels have raised the issue of value. There is a wonderfully evocative term, “stranded assets,” to characterize the oil, coal and gas reserves that are still in the ground. Trillions of dollars in assets could remain “stranded” there. If we are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustaining the human habitat, between 60 percent and 80 percent of those assets must remain in the ground, according to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, an organization that analyzes carbon investment risk. In contrast, renewable energy sources, which only recently have achieved the status of big business, are taking on increasing value, in terms of returns for investors, long-term energy savings and relative harmlessness to surrounding communities.

Pragmatic institutions like insurance companies and the American military have been confronting the consequences of climate change for some time. But now, a number of leading financial authorities are raising questions about the viability of the holdings of giant carbon-based fuel corporations. In a world fueled by oil and coal, it is a truly stunning event when investors are warned that the market may end up devaluing those assets. We are beginning to see a bandwagon effect in which the overall viability of fossil-fuel economics is being questioned.

Can we continue to value, and thereby make use of, the very materials most deeply implicated in what could be the demise of the human habitat? It is a bit like the old Jack Benny joke, in which an armed robber offers a choice, “Your money or your life!” And Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over.” We are beginning to “think over” such choices on a larger scale.

This takes us to the swerve-related significance of ethics. Our reflections on stranded assets reveal our deepest contradictions. Oil and coal company executives focus on the maximum use of their product in order to serve the interests of shareholders, rather than the humane, universal ethics we require to protect the earth. We may well speak of those shareholder-dominated principles as “stranded ethics,” which are better left buried but at present are all too active above ground.

Such ethical contradictions are by no means entirely new in historical experience. Consider the scientists, engineers and strategists in the United States and the Soviet Union who understood their duty as creating, and possibly using, nuclear weapons that could destroy much of the earth. Their conscience could be bound up with a frequently amorphous ethic of “national security.” Over the course of my work I have come to the realization that it is very difficult to endanger or kill large numbers of people except with a claim to virtue.

The climate swerve is mostly a matter of deepening awareness. When exploring the nuclear threat I distinguished between fragmentary awareness, consisting of images that come and go but remain tangential, and formed awareness, which is more structured, part of a narrative that can be the basis for individual and collective action.

In the 1980s there was a profound worldwide shift from fragmentary awareness to formed awareness in response to the potential for a nuclear holocaust. Millions of people were affected by that “nuclear swerve.” And even if it is diminished today, the nuclear swerve could well have helped prevent the use of nuclear weapons.

With both the nuclear and climate threats, the swerve in awareness has had a crucial ethical component. People came to feel that it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to engage in nuclear war, and are coming to an awareness that it is deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for our children and grandchildren.

Social movements in general are energized by this kind of ethical passion, which enables people to experience the more active knowledge associated with formed awareness. That was the case in the movement against nuclear weapons. Emotions related to individual conscience were pooled into a shared narrative by enormous numbers of people.

In earlier movements there needed to be an overall theme, even a phrase, that could rally people of highly divergent political and intellectual backgrounds. The idea of a “nuclear freeze” mobilized millions of people with the simple and clear demand that the United States and the Soviet Union freeze the testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons.

Could the climate swerve come to include a “climate freeze,” defined by a transnational demand for cutting back on carbon emissions in steps that could be systematically outlined?

With or without such a rallying phrase, the climate swerve provides no guarantees of more reasonable collective behavior. But with human energies that are experiential, economic and ethical it could at least provide — and may already be providing — the psychological substrate for action on behalf of our vulnerable habitat and the human future.

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Robert Jay Lifton is a psychiatrist and the author of “Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima,” and a memoir, “Witness to an Extreme Century.”

A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 24, 2014, on page SR4 of the New York edition with the headline: The Climate Swerve.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on August 23rd, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor

Saudis Must Stop Exporting Extremism:

ISIS Atrocities Started With Saudi Support for Salafi Hate.

By ED HUSAIN,  

ALONG with a billion Muslims across the globe, I turn to Mecca in Saudi Arabia every day to say my prayers. But when I visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, the resting place of the Prophet Muhammad, I am forced to leave overwhelmed with anguish at the power of extremism running amok in Islam’s birthplace. Non-Muslims are forbidden to enter this part of the kingdom, so there is no international scrutiny of the ideas and practices that affect the 13 million Muslims who visit each year.

Last week, Saudi Arabia donated $100 million to the United Nations to fund a counterterrorism agency. This was a welcome contribution, but last year, Saudi Arabia rejected a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council. This half-in, half-out posture of the Saudi kingdom is a reflection of its inner paralysis in dealing with Sunni Islamist radicalism: It wants to stop violence, but will not address the Salafism that helps justify it.

Let’s be clear: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, the Shabab and others are all violent Sunni Salafi groupings. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Sunni Salafism across the globe.

Most Sunni Muslims around the world, approximately 90 percent of the Muslim population, are not Salafis. Salafism is seen as too rigid, too literalist, too detached from mainstream Islam. While Shiite and other denominations account for 10 percent of the total, Salafi adherents and other fundamentalists represent 3 percent of the world’s Muslims.

Unlike a majority of Sunnis, Salafis are evangelicals who wish to convert Muslims and others to their “purer” form of Islam — unpolluted, as they see it, by modernity. In this effort, they have been lavishly supported by the Saudi government, which has appointed emissaries to its embassies in Muslim countries who proselytize for Salafism. The kingdom also grants compliant imams V.I.P. access for the annual hajj, and bankrolls ultraconservative Islamic organizations like the Muslim World League and World Assembly of Muslim Youth.

After 9/11, under American pressure, much of this global financial support dried up  {something this website doubts indeed – a PJ comment}, but the bastion of Salafism remains strong in the kingdom, enforcing the hard-line application of outdated Shariah punishments long abandoned by a majority of Muslims. Just since Aug. 4, 19 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia, nearly half for nonviolent crimes.

We are rightly outraged at the beheading of James Foley by Islamist militants, and by ISIS’ other atrocities, but we overlook the public executions by beheading permitted by Saudi Arabia. By licensing such barbarity, the kingdom normalizes and indirectly encourages such punishments elsewhere. When the country that does so is the birthplace of Islam, that message resonates.

I lived in Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city, Jidda, in 2005. That year, in an effort to open closed Saudi Salafi minds, King Abdullah supported dialogue with people of other religions. In my mosque, the cleric used his Friday Prayer sermon to prohibit such dialogue on grounds that it put Islam on a par with “false religions.” It was a slippery slope to freedom, democracy and gender equality, he argued — corrupt practices of the infidel West.

{ Above is an oxymoron – Wahhabism is the religious base that kept Salafism alive and is the base on which was mounted the Saudi throne. The Saudi monarchy and Wahhabism are one and the same so the Saudi treasury it is also the modern age father of Salafism. And what fills the Saudi treasury? Those are the foreign currencies spent at any gas-pump – be it by buying Saudi oil products or any oil products. As oil is fungible, any oil sold globally increases the value of Saudi oil sales.The bottom line is thus that anyone of us, by his thirst for oil, feeds ISIL.}

This tension between the king and Salafi clerics is at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s inability to reform. The king is a modernizer, but he and his advisers do not wish to disturb the 270-year-old tribal pact between the House of Saud and the founder of Wahhabism (an austere form of Islam close to Salafism). That 1744 desert treaty must now be nullified. 

{WHAT IS HE TALING ABOUT HERE – WHAT TENSION? IT REALLY IS A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP.
(PJ comment)}

The influence that clerics wield is unrivaled. Even Saudis’ Twitter heroes are religious figures: An extremist cleric like Muhammad al-Arifi, who was banned last year from the European Union for advocating wife-beating and hatred of Jews, commands a following of 9. 4 million. The kingdom is also patrolled by a religious police force that enforces the veil for women, prohibits young lovers from meeting and ensures that shops do not display “indecent” magazine covers. In the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, the religious police beat women with sticks if they stray into male-only areas, or if their dress is considered immodest by Salafi standards. This is not an Islam that the Prophet Muhammad would recognize.

Salafi intolerance has led to the destruction of Islamic heritage in Mecca and Medina. If ISIS is detonating shrines, it learned to do so from the precedent set in 1925 by the House of Saud with the Wahhabi-inspired demolition of 1,400-year-old tombs in the Jannat Al Baqi cemetery in Medina. In the last two years, violent Salafis have carried out similar sectarian vandalism, blowing up shrines from Libya to Pakistan, from Mali to Iraq. Fighters from Hezbollah have even entered Syria to protect holy sites.

Textbooks in Saudi Arabia’s schools and universities teach this brand of Islam. The University of Medina recruits students from around the world, trains them in the bigotry of Salafism and sends them to Muslim communities in places like the Balkans, Africa, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Egypt, where these Saudi-trained hard-liners work to eradicate the local, harmonious forms of Islam.

What is religious extremism but this aim to apply Shariah as state law? This is exactly what ISIS (Islamic State) is attempting do with its caliphate. Unless we challenge this un-Islamic, impractical and flawed concept of trying to govern by a rigid interpretation of Shariah, no amount of work by a United Nations agency can unravel Islamist terrorism.

Saudi Arabia created the monster that is Salafi terrorism. It cannot now outsource the slaying of this beast to the United Nations. It must address the theological and ideological roots of extremism at home, starting in Mecca and Medina. Reforming the home of Islam would be a giant step toward winning against extremism in this global battle of ideas.

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Ed Husain is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a senior adviser to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 23, 2014, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Saudis Must Stop Exporting Extremism

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on August 23rd, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

From the Ashes of Iraq: Mesopotamia Rises Again.

by Alexander H. Joffe
The National Interest – Posted also by The Middle East Forum
August 20, 2014

www.meforum.org/4780/iraq-mesopotamia-rises-again

 

The dissolution of the colonial creation named “Iraq” is now almost complete. Perhaps what comes next is a return to the past; not a brutal Islamic “caliphate,” but something more basic.

Today, Mesopotamia is reappearing. The term is a Greek word meaning “the land between the two rivers.” The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are the defining features, each arising in mountains far to the north of Baghdad. The rivers and their annual floods defined the landscape, the cycle of life and the worldview of civilizations. The deserts to the west and the mountains to the east and far north provided rough boundaries and were liminal spaces related to the center, but yet separate and apart, sunbaked and dangerous. Inside Mesopotamia was a cauldron.

From the Sumerians of the third millennium BCE through the Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations of the second and first millennia BCE, to the Abbasids of the eighth century CE and until the arrival of the British in the early twentieth century, the space called Mesopotamia was the container for civilizations that rose and collapsed. Cultures invented writing and built the first cities, growing and shrinking in response to changing river courses and global climate. They conquered and were conquered, traded with surrounding regions, and formed a baggy but recognizable whole—what we call Mesopotamian civilization.

{Let’s remember history as it really happened – not as it was dreamed-up b y the French and British Empires, and later on by the American Oil-Industry forging an American Empire of Oil. The bottom line of this posting we are getting to is that thre never were Nations of Iraq or Syria and it seems now that there never will be a repeat of what the colonial powers did here for their own purpose. This article leads us to undeerstand that in Mesopotamia – as a region – there always was a strong South opposed by a North with a middle moving in between the two, and in contact with an arid desert West and an arid mountain area on the East. (PJ comment)}

Internal distinctions were paramount. Babylonia in the south was dominated by the rivers and the annual flood, irrigation agriculture and seemingly unrelenting heat and mud. Assyria in the northern, rain-fed zone sat amidst undulating plains and foothills. Culturally, Babylonia was older and more developed, the “heartland of cities” going back to 4000 BCE, a primacy that Assyria acknowledged even in periods when they dominated the south. By and large, both shared the same deities and myths, the same aggressive tendencies, and the same fear and loathing of surrounding regions. But competition, warfare and repression were constant.

For inhabitants, that is to say the kings and priests whose thoughts we read on clay tablets many millennia later, Mesopotamia the whole, a unity of north and south, was an ideal—the supreme prize, something overseen by the gods—to be aspired to and claimed by quotidian rulers. But, much like the idea of “Iraq,” it was conceptual, rather than practical. The south often dominated the north and vice versa, but never for very long.

Then, as now, the neighbors were a problem. One historical parallel seems especially apposite today. The Third Dynasty of Ur was short-lived, existing from around 2212 to 2004 BCE. It arose in southern Mesopotamia after the fall of the Semitic Akkadian Empire and revived the culture of the original or dominant southern ethnic group, the Sumerians. This dynasty created a fanatically integrated state, where temples, palaces and estates spun elaborate networks of supply and whose record keeping was unprecedented. As a territorial state, it was not far-flung; its core area extended only from modern Baghdad south to the Arabian Gulf, but it briefly reached into Iran and Assyria.

Toward the end of the dynasty, however, ruler Su-Sin faced a growing threat, the Amorites. These Semitic-speaking peoples arose somewhere on the middle stretches of the Euphrates River and surrounding steppe-lands in what is, for now, called Syria. Amorites were regarded with contempt and fear by the neo-Sumerians. It was said they did not cultivate grain, nor did they cook their meat. They did not even bury their dead.

Whether this terrifying image was correct or was something cultivated by Ur III scribes, Amorites themselves, or both is unknown. But Su-Sin’s response was to build a wall—the “wall against the Martu,” perhaps 280 kilometers in length—to keep the Amorites out. It didn’t work, any better than other walls in antiquity designed to keep barbarians out. The Ur III dynasty collapsed and was followed by centuries of conflict between various dynasties.

Eventually, the Amorites took control, their most famous scion being Hammurabi of Babylon. Like all Mesopotamian dynasties before and since, it was necessary to connect with the greater Mesopotamian tradition; Hammurabi’s lineage was crafted to show he descended from ancient kings and was the restorer of justice. Hammurabi’s famous “law code” described him as the pious defender of widows and orphans, when in fact he was their maker. No surprise that Saddam Hussein was often depicted with Hammurabi and with Nebuchadnezzar, destroyer of the temple in Jerusalem. Similarly, ISIS’ claims to the Islamic “caliphate,” to the restoration of glory and piety can be viewed through the same lens. In Mesopotamia, the past is always charter.

As concession to divisive reality, the Ottoman Turks had ruled Mesopotamia with three administrative units, in which a bewildering assortment of ethnic groups coexisted uncomfortably. About the Sunni-dominated state created by Britain, their “Iraq,” a revived medieval term, little more need be said. The claptrap monarchy they invented gave way to a repressive and then tyrannical “republic.” As it happened, America disposed of Saddam Hussein, although the Arab Spring may have done the same. In a historical irony, an act of imperialist intervention thus undid a previous one.

So it is as well with Syria, now divided into warring territories along lines familiar three thousand years ago. Many, especially ISIS itself, pointed to the vehement erasure of the so-called “Sykes-Picot” line, the 1916 boundary between British and French spheres of influence, from which the borders of Iraq and Syria were drawn. ISIS even bulldozed the berm that marked this mostly arbitrary line.

The symbolism of Sykes-Picot in the minds of Westerners and Islamists alike is telling, if nothing else, of the psychological impact of the last century. Their borders, drawn with thick pencils on imprecise maps, looked to the future, to a Middle East under Western domination. Iraq, and Syria, created holes where none existed.

Iraq has fractured along traditional lines; Kurdistan in the north, the Sunni regions around Baghdad and west toward the Euphrates and the Shiite regions of the south. These correspond roughly to Assyria and Babylonia, and the swing zones in the middle over which they fought endlessly. Hordes more terrifying than the Amorites—judging from their tweets of mass murder and crucifixion—rush in from the west while Persia struggles to defend its Shiite vassal state in Baghdad.

More of what is old is new again. ISIS threatens the Haditha Dam on the Euphrates, which if destroyed, would unleash catastrophic floods, much as the Assyrian king Sargon II did in 710 BCE against rebellious Babylonian ruler Merodach-Baladan. Cutting off the water supply, as ISIS did when it captured the Fallujah Dam earlier this year, is an even more ancient tactic; the cities of Lagash and Umma had fought a water war around 2500 BCE.

Ethnic cleansing and mass slaughter, proud announcement of the mutilation and execution of captives as nearly religious expressions of power, arbitrary decisions to provision or starve captive populations—all these are ancient Mesopotamian patterns of conflict. Only the destruction of Islamic religious buildings and sites by ISIS is truly new; Mesopotamian dynasties were fastidious about maintaining or restoring the cults and temples of conquered city-gods, even though the gods’ statues might “choose” to dwell in the conqueror’s city.

Geography is the container for cultures and helps create their possibilities and limits. Iraq was always a figment, as well as an ideal held by people who, for a few decades following the European style, thought of themselves as a nation-state. But underlying dynamics have proven stronger, and Iraq is no more. The ancient cauldron returns and decades of warring tribes and dynasties likely await.

——————–

Alex Joffe is editor of The Ancient Near East Today, the monthly e-newsletter of the American Schools of Oriental Research. He is also a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Related Topics:  Iraq  |  Alexander H. Joffe

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on August 12th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

Dear Friends and Family of Africa.com,

Unprecedented. Historic. Watershed. Milestone.

Independent of what you may think of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, there is no doubt that the event could be characterized by all of these terms.

It represented a moment in history when the game changed between the US and Africa; the Summit will play a significant role in the shaping of Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

50 presidents. 1400 accredited media. 80 official events.

  Teresa’s five key observations are summarized here:

1) Ebola got more attention than it deserved – but for those Americans engaged in the bilateral meetings, the topic served as a vehicle to demonstrate that the vast and varied continent of Africa can not be painted with a single brush stroke. When the questions were raised by American, you could hear a collective sigh among the Africans, and the Americans were forced into a geography lesson that required them to understand that the ebola outbreak impacted three of the fifty four countries on the continent.

2) The main event was not the meeting among the fifty heads of state, but the business forum hosted by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Mike Bloomberg (in his capacity as businessman, not former mayor). This was a business summit, and the African presidents got to “come along” to the party. 

There were two principal events during the week:  a) The Leaders Summit where the 50 heads of state met with Obama and b) the Business Forum where business leaders met with Obama.

In terms of influence, keep in mind that the following parties were at the Business Forum, not the Leaders Summit: 

US Delegation: 

Moderator Charlie Rose – Journalist
Jeff Immelt – CEO of GE
Virginia Rometty – CEO of IBM
Andrew Liveris – CEO of Dow Chemical
Ajay Banga – CEO of Mastercard
David Rubinstein – CEO of the Carlyle Group
Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart
Muhtar Kent – CEO of Coca Cola 
Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone

African Delegation:

Aliko Dangote – CEO of Dangote Group
Mo Ibrahim – CEO of Mo Ibrahim Foundation
Tony Elumelu – CEO of Heirs Holdings
Sim Tshabala – CEO of Standard Bank
Strive Masiyiwa – Chairman Econet Wireless

3) If one were to ask the average millennial African which American companies have a great influence on the continent today, the answer would no doubt include Facebook and Google. It is interesting to note that the West Coast was not represented in these business meetings.

4) African presidents have been invited en masse, in this type of context, by several trading regions throughout the world, including China and the E.U. This was simply the first hosted by the United States. Take note that the next Chinese summit is scheduled for the end of August. Keep your eye on the news to see how the Chinese react to the US’ entry into this game.

5) The First Ladies Summit was co-hosted by Michelle Obama and Laura Bush. The corporate influence in that event was also very strong, with Walmart and Caterpillar deeply engaged, including Walmart’s pledge of $100 million to empower women in Africa.

There was so much to this event, that I want to point you to additional sources of information, should you have an interest in learning more. Much like our Africa.com Top 10 curated news, I have curated my Top 7 stories on the Summit from Africa.com, New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, and the White House’s official website. Please find links to these articles below.

Thank you for your continued interest in Africa.com and the work we do to cover Africa. 

As always, we value your comments and observations. Please feel free to reply to this email 
with any thoughts you may have.

Kindest regards,

Teresa

Teresa Clarke
<info@africa.com>

Africa.com LLC
3 Columbus Circle
15th Floor
New York, NY 10023

Teresa’s Top 7 Stories about the US-Africa Summit:

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