Five justices voted to eliminate sensible contribution limits to federal campaigns, giving those few people with the most money the loudest voice in politics.
By now you know that the Supreme Court on Wednesday issued an expected — though still horrendous — decision in McCutcheon v FEC.
The Roberts Court’s majority ignored four decades of campaign finance law and struck down overall limits on what an individual can give to federal candidates, fundraising committees and national political parties.
The decision is certain to give elite donors even more influence and power over our public policies, and ripple down to elections in states.
The new book, “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis, about how the stock market is rigged by super-fast computer trading; or perhaps you saw Lewis tell the story on 60 MinutesSunday night.
But it’s not just the stock market that is rigged. The whole system is rigged.
With Wednesday’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has doubled down on Citizen’s United crushing the last aspect of campaign finance reform. It is now official, or perhaps more “official.” Plutocracy = The United States of America. The rich will rule at levels beyond our imagination even just a few years ago.
Justice Breyer writing for the four Justices who don’t represent the billionaire class said the decision undermines the political integrity of our governmental institutions:
“It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. …What has this to do with corruption? It has everything to do with corruption…. Today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
Breyer couldn’t be clearer. And we can’t be clearer. This is depressing, infuriating, and it is time for us to revolt. Seriously. We can’t take this any more. We need to double down on our belief in democracy and fairness, not on the most elitist, disgusting Supreme Court in history – thanks to George Bush.
Reince Priebus, the Republican Party chairman, was practically giddy on Wednesday imagining the riches he can squeeze from big private bank accounts as a result of the Supreme Court decision that knocked down yet another campaign finance limit. “We are grateful and we are excited,” he said, explaining that donors will now be able to “max out” in giving to more party committees, at far higher levels than previously allowed.
But actually, it is the big donors who will be squeezing the parties, not the other way around. They now have far more power to dictate terms to politicians, and will soon begin issuing demands to benefit their special interests.
Why? Donors will now have a wide array of choices in where to spend their political dollars, thanks to the Supreme Court. The 2010 Citizens United decision, combined with lower-court rulings, opened the door to giving unlimited amounts of money to “super PACs” and nonprofit political groups, money that was spent on electing and defeating specific candidates. The court’s McCutcheon decision on Wednesday allows donors to give as much as $3.6 million to joint fund-raising committees set up by the parties, which can be used to benefit individual candidates.
That makes the parties players in the big-money race for the first time, since an individual’s contributions to party committees had been limited to $74,600 per election cycle. But the parties will be competing with the super PACs for those six-figure checks, and the check writers know it. For that kind of money, donors expect something beyond a nice table at a fund-raiser and a photo with a party leader. And the parties, which are controlled by the top lawmakers, are in a position to provide it — tax benefits, special clauses in regulatory bills, spending that helps a particular industry.
Donors, of course, have differing needs and demands. Some, like the Koch brothers, seek broad ideological change, knowing that reducing the overall power of government will give their widely scattered industries more freedom and higher profits, unburdened by pesky environmental and financial regulations. Others, like Tom Steyer, a billionaire investor, are more narrowly focused on specific issues, like reducing man-made climate change.
Industries and their executives often have even more closely tailored demands of government, and are willing to pay to make those demands in person. A cable company wants approval of a merger. Wireless companies and broadcasters want pieces of the frequency spectrum. Banks and payday lenders want less regulation and oversight. Medical device makers want to get rid of a tax. All of them spend fortunes on lobbying, and now their executives can dangle the prospect of millions before the parties to get the access they need. (The companies themselves can’t write those checks, but they can give whatever they want to super PACs and nonprofits.)
A memo by Covington & Burling, a legal and lobbying firm, explains to its corporate clients how giving post-McCutcheon will work. “The difference here is that, unlike with super PACs, elected politicians are able to request the contributions directly from the high-net-worth donor,” the firm wrote. The decision will “allow power to collect around any member [of Congress] who can command a national or regional base of wealthy donors, such as a prominent Tea Party or environmental advocate.” In other words, lawmakers who are the most responsive to special interests and ideologies will reel in the biggest donations to their parties, thereby gaining more power.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., showing insincere naïveté, doesn’t consider that purchase of access to be corruption, which he apparently detects only in bribery. But the donors know that American politics is now for sale, and they are ready to buy.
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Over the last several decades, the United States has adopted a series of campaign finance reform laws. If these laws were designed to reduce the power of money in politics, they have failed. Spending on political campaigns has exploded. Washington booms with masses of lobbyists and consultants.
But campaign finance laws weren’t merely designed to take money out of politics; they were designed to protect incumbents from political defeat. In this regard, the laws have been fantastically successful.
The laws rigged the system to make it harder for challengers to raise money. In 1972, at about the time the Federal Election Campaign Act was first passed, incumbents had a campaign spending advantage over challengers of about 3 to 2. These days, incumbents have a spending advantage of at least 4 to 1. In some election years, 98 percent of the incumbents are swept back into office.
One of the ways incumbents secured this advantage is by weakening the power of the parties. They imposed caps on how much donors can give to parties and how much parties can give directly to candidates. By 2008, direct party contributions to Senate candidates accounted for only 0.18 percent of total spending.
The members of Congress did this because an unregulated party can direct large amounts of money to knock off an incumbent of the opposing party. By restricting parties, incumbents defanged a potent foe.
These laws pushed us from a party-centric campaign system to a candidate-centric system. This change has made life less pleasant for lawmakers but it has made their jobs more secure, and they have been willing to accept this trade-off.
Life is less pleasant because with the parties weakened, lawmakers have to do many campaign tasks on their own. They have to do their own fund-raising and their own kissing up to special interests. They have to hire consultants to do the messaging tasks that parties used to do.
But incumbents accept this because the candidate-centric system makes life miserable for challengers. With direct contributions severely limited and parties defanged, challengers find it hard to quickly build the vast network of donors they need to raise serious cash. High-quality challengers choose not to run because they don’t want to spend their lives begging for dough.
The shift to a candidate-centric system was horrifically antidemocratic. It pushed money from transparent, tightly regulated parties to the shadowy world of PACs and 527s. It weakened party leaders, who have to think about building broad national coalitions, and gave power to special interests.
Then came the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which managed to make everything even worse. It moved us from a candidate-centric system to a donor-centric system. Donors were unleashed to create their own opaque yet torrential money flows outside both parties and candidates. This created an explosion in the number of groups with veto power over legislation and reform. It polarized politics further because donors tend to be more extreme than politicians or voters. The candidate-centric system empowered special interests; the donor-centric system makes them practically invincible.
The McCutcheon decision is a rare win for the parties. It enables party establishments to claw back some of the power that has flowed to donors and “super PACs.” It effectively raises the limits on what party establishments can solicit. It gives party leaders the chance to form joint fund-raising committees they can use to marshal large pools of cash and influence. McCutcheon is a small step back toward a party-centric system.
In their book “Better Parties, Better Government,” Peter J. Wallison and Joel M. Gora propose the best way to reform campaign finance: eliminate the restrictions on political parties to finance the campaigns of their candidates; loosen the limitations on giving to parties; keep the limits on giving to PACs.
Parties are not perfect, Lord knows. But they have broad national outlooks. They foster coalition thinking. They are relatively transparent. They are accountable to voters. They ally with special interests, but they transcend the influence of any one. Strengthened parties will make races more competitive and democracy more legitimate. Strong parties mobilize volunteers and activists and broaden political participation. Unlike super PACs, parties welcome large numbers of people into the political process.
Since the progressive era, campaign reformers have intuitively distrusted parties. These reformers seem driven by a naïve hope that they can avoid any visible concentration of power. But their approach to reform has manifestly failed. By restricting parties, they just concentrated power in ways that are much worse.
Hello We have buses? Will you join us? March with 350NYC and the Cowboy and Indian Alliance on Saturday, April 26th
Reject the Keystone XL Pipeline and protect our planet. Please join 350NYC on the bus and at the march. On Saturday, April 26th, people from all across the country will gather in DC and march once more to the White House, sending a final, unmistakable message to President Obama – reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and protect our land, our water, and our climate. This march is being led by the Cowboy and Indian Alliance – a coalition of farmers, ranchers, and Native Americans who’ve come together to oppose this pipeline that threatens the land that they work and love.
“We’ll gather at 11 AM on Saturday the 26th at the Alliance encampment on the Mall to hear from farmers, ranchers, tribal leaders and others who will be directly impacted by KXL and the tar sands. Then we’ll march to the White House to present a ceremonial painted tipi to President Obama. This tipi will represent our hope that he will reject KXL, and our promise that we will protect our land, water and climate if he chooses to let the pipeline move forward. Once the tipi is delivered, we’ll return to the encampment in song and make our pledge to continue resistance to the pipeline should it be approved.”
Are you ready to get on the bus with us?
What: Reject and Protect Gathering
Who: The Cowboy Indian Alliance, allied groups, and you!
Where: The National Mall, between 9th Street and 12th Street NW, in front of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, Washington, D.C. [Map]
When: Saturday, April 26 (note the new date). Gather at 10:30 a.m., speakers will begin at 11 a.m., and the procession will begin at 12:30 p.m.
NYC Bus Departure: The first bus will leave from 34th and 8th Ave. As more buses are added, other departure points may also be added.Please sign up NOW at our event web siteso we have time to assess the demand and add buses as needed.
Bus Schedule– subject to change
Bus departure from NYC: 6:00 a.m. Arrive in Washington: 10:00/10:30 a.m.
Departure from Washington DC: 3:30 p.m. Arrive back in NYC: 8:00/8:30 p.m.
Is The Latest Climate Report Too Much Of A Downer?
by Geoff Brumfiel
March 31, 2014
According to a new report, unless more is done to combat climate change, extreme weather like the drought now gripping California will only grow more common.Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Reading through the from the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it’s hard not to feel despondent about the state of the world.
The report’s colorful charts and tables tell of droughts and fires; depleted fisheries and strained cropland; a world in which heat-related disease is on the rise and freshwater is growing scarce.
“It’s risk, risk, risk, risk, risk,” says , a climate economist at the University of Sussex. “Climate change is dangerous, and we’re all going to die, and we’re all going to starve.”
Tol is a coordinating lead author on about the economic impacts of climate change, but he doesn’t believe climate change will be as destructive as the report might lead some to believe. He took his name off the dire because he felt it didn’t accurately account for human ingenuity.
Take crop yields, for example. The report says climate change will cause them to fall by a few percent per decade. But Tol says technological innovation will likely raise crop yields by 10 percent or more each decade.
“So it’s not that crop yields are going to fall, but they’re going to rise more slowly because of climate change,” he says. “And then of course it doesn’t sound as alarming.”
Tol adds, “Sea-level rise may be quite dramatic, if it weren’t for the fact that somebody in China invented the dike 3,000 years ago.” The Netherlands has been able to hold off the sea for more than a century, and others could do the same with proven technology.
Now to be clear: Tol still believes in climate change, and he still thinks it’s a serious problem. In fact, that’s why he’s speaking out — he thinks this report will split believers and deniers at just the time there needs to be a consensus on how to keep the world from getting even warmer.
“I think there is a real risk of this draft further polarizing the climate debate,” he says. And if people don’t work together to lower carbon emissions, he says, things will get even worse in the long term.
The report’s other authors say its gloomy tone is entirely justified. “Richard’s a great guy; I love him. But he’s not in the center of the scientific community,” says , who co-chaired the full report. He says Tol is one of more than 300 lead authors.
Field thinks the report appropriately warns of some difficult times ahead. The world’s poorest will be especially vulnerable, he says.
But Field acknowledges that predicting exactly what will happen is difficult, because people aren’t like melting glaciers. They don’t just sit there; they adapt.
“People have a tendency of changing what they do when they realize they have a problem; that’s the core essence of adaptation,” he says.
The new report does say adaptation could make climate change much less damaging to society. For instance, most projections point to a rise in global temperature of at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. But Field thinks improved transportation infrastructure, better disaster response and health care could all help lessen the rise’s impact.
And adapting won’t necessarily cost a lot, adds , director of based in Bangladesh.
Preparing for extreme weather like floods and cyclones doesn’t always mean building huge barriers against the ocean. “In most cases, it’s just societal preparedness,” Huq says. “It’s people having shelters to go to.”
“The rich don’t have any particular advantage here. It’s not technology that makes a difference,” Huq adds.
Tol, Huq and Field all agree: Climate change is happening. Humans aren’t helpless; they can adapt. But society will also need to make changes to avoid further warming.
Otherwise, things will get even more depressing.
U.N. Report Raises Climate Change Warning, Points To Opportunities
by Mark Memmott
“The effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans,” and the world is mostly “ill-prepared” for the risks that the sweeping changes present, .
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report.
The report also wastes no time in pointing a finger toward who is responsible: “Human interference with the climate system is occurring,” reads the first sentence .
As NPR’s tells our Newscast Desk, the panel “includes hundreds of scientists from around the world. Its past reports have made gloomy predictions about the impact of climate on humans. This time around, they’re also trying to prepare us. Chris Field, the co-chair of the new report, says improving health systems, making transportation more efficient, and beefing up disaster response can make a difference.”
“Things we should be doing to build a better world are also things we should be doing to protect against climate change,” Field says.
In the summary of its findings and recommendations, for instance, the panel suggests that ongoing efforts to improve energy efficiency, switch to cleaner energy sources, make cities “greener” and reduce water consumption will make life better today and could help reduce mankind’s effect on climate change in the future. While all people will continue to feel the effects of climate change, the report concludes that the world’s poorest populations will suffer the most from rising temperatures and rising seas unless action is taken.
Still, the report concludes that climate change is “already having effects in real time — melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains and mega-disasters. And the worst was yet to come. Climate change posed a threat to global food stocks, and to human security, the blockbuster report said.”
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” says Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC.
The BBC calls the Report: “the most comprehensive assessment to date of the impacts of climate change on the world.”
UN Climate Change Secretariat to Showcase Worldwide Climate
Action: Momentum for Change Call for Applications Now Open
Read the release on our website: unfccc.int/files/press/press_releases_advisories/application/pdf/pr20143103_momentum_callforapps.pdf
(Bonn, 31 March 2014) – Starting today, communities, cities, businesses and governments that are taking the lead on tackling climate change can apply to have their game-changing initiatives recognized by the UN Climate Change secretariat.
The secretariat officially opened the call for applications for its 2014 Lighthouse Activities today as part of wider efforts to mobilize action and ambition as national governments work toward a new universal climate agreement in 2015.
“This year, we are looking to do things a little differently,” said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres. “We will still shine a light on small, entrepreneurial solutions that are changing communities, as well as large initiatives that are transforming cities, businesses and governments. But we’re also looking to highlight initiatives with a bigger impact than ever before. Effectively addressing climate change requires action from all levels of society and from every sector, with efforts that are both small and large.”
The 2014 Lighthouse Activities will be selected by an 18-member, international advisory panel as part of the secretariat’s Momentum for Change initiative. Launched in 2011, Momentum for Change shines a light on the groundswell of activities underway across the globe to address climate change. This provides a positive context for international climate negotiations, showing that action on climate change is not only possible but that it is already happening – in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same.
Winning activities will be announced in November 2014 and officially recognized and celebrated during a series of special events in December at the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru.
The high visibility of the annual UN climate change negotiations creates a prominent platform on which the Lighthouse Activities are showcased and publicized – resulting in spin-off benefits that help the activities expand even further. For example, 2013 Lighthouse Activity winner Bernice Dapaah, whose organization builds bamboo bicycles in Ghana, was recently named a 2014 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Demand for her bamboo bicycles has spiked so dramatically she can barely keep up with orders pouring in from across the globe.
“Seeing these activities scale up and replicate is the really exciting part,” said Ms. Figueres. “It shows that climate action is increasing and picking up momentum as it goes.”
Please note that UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres will host a Google Hangout today (31 March) from 15:00 to 15:30 (CEST) to talk about the call for applications with previous Lighthouse Activity winners. Watch live at www.momentum4change.org
Learn more: unfccc.intmomentum4change.org
Momentum for Change on Facebook: facebook.com/ unfcccmomentum
Momentum for Change on Twitter: @Momentum_UNFCCC
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres on Twitter: @CFigueres
Digital assets: High-resolution images of the 2013 Lighthouse Activities are available at: www.dropbox.com/sh/md77sbijzm5f3jz/metZ3E8kvO
START with the term “tar sands.” In Canada only fervent opponents of oil development in northern Alberta dare to use those words; the preferred phrase is the more reassuring “oil sands.” Never mind that the “oil” in the world’s third largest petroleum reserve is in fact bitumen, a substance with the consistency of peanut butter, so viscous that another fossil fuel must be used to dilute it enough to make it flow.
Never mind, too, that the process that turns bitumen into consumable oil is very dirty, even by the oil industry’s standards. But say “tar sands” in Canada, and you’ll risk being labeled unpatriotic, radical, subversive.
Performing language makeovers is perhaps the most innocuous indication of the Canadian government’s headlong embrace of the oil industry’s wishes.
Soon after becoming prime minister in 2006, Stephen Harper declared Canada “an emerging energy superpower,” and nearly everything he’s done since has buttressed this ambition.
Forget the idea of Canada as dull, responsible and environmentally minded: That is so 20th century. Now it’s a desperado, placing all its chips on a world-be-damned, climate-altering tar sands bet.
Documents obtained by research institutions and environmental groups through freedom-of-information requests show a government bent on extracting as much tar sands oil as possible, as quickly as possible.
From 2008 to 2012, oil industry representatives registered 2,733 communications with government officials, a number dwarfing those of other industries. The oil industry used these communications to recommend changes in legislation to facilitate tar sands and pipeline development. In the vast majority of instances, the government followed through.
In the United States, the tar sands debate focuses on Keystone XL, the 1,200-mile pipeline that would link Alberta oil to the Gulf of Mexico. What is often overlooked is that Keystone XL is only one of 13 pipelines completed or proposed by the Harper government — they would extend for 10,000 miles, not just to the gulf, but to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.
After winning an outright parliamentary majority in 2011, Mr. Harper’s Conservative Party passed an omnibus bill that revoked or weakened 70 environmental laws, including protections for rivers and fisheries. As a result, one proposed pipeline, the Northern Gateway, which crosses a thousand rivers and streams between Alberta and the Pacific, no longer risked violating the law. The changes also eliminated federal environmental review requirements for thousands of proposed development projects.
President Obama’s decision on Keystone XL, expected later this spring, is important not just because it will determine the pipeline’s fate, but because it will give momentum to one side or the other in the larger tar sands battle. Consequently, the Canadian government’s 2013-14 budget allocates nearly $22 million for pro-tar-sands promotional work outside Canada. It has used that money to buy ads and fund lobbyists in Washington and Europe, the latter as part of a continuing campaign against the European Union’s bitumen-discouraging Fuel Quality Directive.
THE REDEEMING VALUE IN ALL OF THIS IS THAT CANADA HAS REDUCED THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MIDDLE EAST OIL STATES – BUT THEN WE MUST NOTE THAT SO FAR AS THE ENVIRONMENT IS CONCERNED CANADA IS NOW A MAJOR SINNER – NO LESS A SINNER THEN THE US FRACKING AFFECTIONADOS.
THE TAR AND THE FRACKED METHANE HAVE HIGHER IMPACT ON CLIMATE CHANGE THEN PETROLEUM OIL.
Beginning in 2006, Mr. Harper pledged to promulgate regulations to limit carbon emissions, but eight years later the regulations still have not been issued, and he recently hinted that they might not be introduced for another “couple of years.” Meanwhile, Canada became the only country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, in 2009 it signed the nonbinding Copenhagen Accord, which calls for Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent beneath its 2005 level by 2020. According to the government’s own projections, it won’t even come close to that level.
Climate change’s impact on Canada is already substantial. Across Canada’s western prairie provinces, an area larger than Alaska, mean temperatures have risen several degrees over the last 40 years, causing releases of greenhouse gases from melting permafrost and drying wetlands. The higher temperatures have led to the spread of the mountain pine beetle, which has consumed millions of trees. The trees, in turn, have become fodder for increasingly extensive forest fires, which release still more greenhouse gases. Given that scientists now think the Northern Hemisphere’s boreal forests retain far more carbon than tropical rain forests like the Amazon, these developments are ominous. At least the Harper government has indirectly acknowledged climate change in one way: It has made a show of defending the Northwest Passage, an increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that winds through Canadian territory.
Nevertheless, the Harper government has shown its disdain for scientists and environmental groups dealing with climate change and industrial pollution. The government has either drastically cut or entirely eliminated funding for many facilities conducting research in climate change and air and water pollution. It has placed tight restrictions on when its 23,000 scientists may speak publicly and has given power to some department managers to block publication of peer-reviewed research. It has closed or “consolidated” scientific libraries, sometimes thoughtlessly destroying invaluable collections in the process. And it has slashed funding for basic research, shifting allocations to applied research with potential payoffs for private companies.
With a deft Orwellian touch, Canada’s national health agency even accused a doctor in Alberta, John O’Connor, of professional misconduct — raising “undue alarm” and promoting “a sense of mistrust” in government officials — after he reported in 2006 that an unusually high number of rare, apparently tar-sands-related cancers were showing up among residents of Fort Chipewyan, 150 miles downstream from the tar sands. A government review released in 2009 cautiously supported Dr. O’Connor’s claims, but officials have shown no interest in the residents’ health since then.
Dr. O’Connor’s experience intimidated other doctors, according to Margaret Sears, a toxicologist hired by the quasi-independent Alberta Energy Regulator to study health impacts in another region near the tar sands operation. Dr. Sears reported that some doctors cited Dr. O’Connor’s case as a reason for declining to treat patients who suggested a link between their symptoms and tar sands emissions.
The pressure on environmentalists has been even more intense. Two years ago Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (who this month became finance minister) declared that some environmentalists “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest” and “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” Canada’s National Energy Board, an ostensibly independent regulatory agency, coordinated with the nation’s intelligence service, police and oil companies to spy on environmentalists. And Canada’s tax-collecting agency recently introduced rigorous audits of at least seven prominent environmental groups, diverting the groups’ already strained resources from anti-tar-sands activities.
Few Canadians advocate immediately shutting down the tar sands — indeed, any public figure espousing that idea risks political oblivion. The government could defuse much tar sands opposition simply by advocating a more measured approach to its development, using the proceeds to head the country away from fossil fuels and toward a low-carbon, renewables-based future. That, in fact, was the policy recommended by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, a nonpartisan, eminently moderate independent research group founded by another right-leaning prime minister, Brian Mulroney, in 1988. The Harper government showed what it thought of the policy when it disbanded the Round Table last year.
Jacques Leslie is the author, most recently, of “A Deluge of Consequences: A Riveting Adventure in the High Himalayas.”
A version of this op-ed appears in print on March 31, 2014, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Is Canada Tarring Itself?.
WASHINGTON — A sweeping new study on the effects of climate change — which the report says is already disrupting the lives and livelihoods of the poorest people across the planet — creates a diplomatic challenge for President Obama, who hopes to make action on both climate change and economic inequality hallmarks of his legacy.
The report, published this week by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, concludes that the world’s poorest people will suffer the most as temperatures rise, with many of them already contending with food and water shortages, higher rates of disease and premature death, and the violent conflicts that result from those problems.
Countries like Bangladesh and several in sub-Saharan Africa that are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change say the report strengthens their demand for “climate justice” — in other words, money, and plenty of it — from the world’s richest economies and corporations, which they blame for the problem.
Those countries and nongovernmental organizations point to a 2009 pledge by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to create a $100 billion annual climate fund for poor countries by 2020. The World Bank justified such an expenditure in a 2010 report concluding that it would take up to $100 billion a year to offset the ravages of climate change on poor countries.
Climate policy experts say that the United States, as the world’s largest economy, would be expected to provide $20 billion to $30 billion of that annual fund.
That puts Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been working aggressively behind the scenes to forge a United Nationsclimate change treaty in 2015, in a tough position.
But both men know there is no chance that a Congress focused on cutting domestic spending and jump-starting the economy will enact legislation agreeing to a huge increase in so-called climate aid. Since 2010, the Obama administration has spent about $2.5 billion a year to help foreign countries adapt to climate change and adopt low-carbon energy technology.
It will be a stretch even to continue that level of spending. Many Republicans, who control the House and have a chance to gain the Senate this fall, question whether climate change is real.
“If the White House actually wants something like this, it should begin by building support among congressional Democrats, but — at this point — I don’t see any real signs of support from House or Senate Democratic leaders at all,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio.
Vulnerable nations, emboldened by the new United Nations report, are demanding more, not less, from the United States.
Ronald Jean Jumeau, the United Nations ambassador from the island nation of Seychelles, and a spokesman for the Alliance of Small Island States, compared the proposed fund with the amount of money Congress approved after Hurricane Sandy.
“We know that $100 billion is not going to be enough,” Mr. Jumeau said. “After Sandy, Congress voted for $60 billion in recovery for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — for one storm. It shows you how much $100 billion is going to cover.”
“The science is getting better, and it tells us things are getting worse for us,” he added. “And the money is not coming. The window is starting to close on Mr. Obama’s ability to broker a treaty that could significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution in time to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change. This fall, at the United Nations General Assembly, world leaders will meet to put offers on the table for a climate change pact, a mix of commitments to cut fossil fuel pollution at home and provide money to poor countries to adapt. A few months later, at a two-week summit meeting in Lima, Peru, they will negotiate a draft of a final treaty that is set to be signed next year in Paris and take effect in 2020.
Diplomats say the new report has increased pressure on governments to reach a climate deal.
“By underscoring impacts and vulnerabilities, the report makes clear the urgency for strong action to reduce emissions and build greater resilience,” said Todd D. Stern, the State Department’s chief climate change negotiator.
In a speech in London last fall, Mr. Stern made clear that there was no chance that the United States would finance most of any climate adaptation fund with taxpayer dollars. “The fiscal reality of the United States and other developed countries is not going to allow it,” he said. Mr. Stern and others say the bulk of that money will have to come from private investors and corporations.
Nongovernmental organizations say that relying chiefly on the private sector will not be enough, especially as food supplies grow short. “The scientists could not have been more clear, particularly in the area of food security,” said Timothy Gore, an analyst for Oxfam, the antipoverty group. “There is no government that’s going to be able to stick around very long if the price of bread keeps going up, if they can’t feed their people.”
“I challenge anyone in the U.S. government to explain how the private sector is going to invest in what’s needed on the ground, like funding farmers in the Sahel region facing crop loss from changing rainfall patterns,” Mr. Gore said, referring to the area of Africa just south of the Sahara.
Hanging over the coming negotiations will be the specter of the failed 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Vice President Al Gore promised in those talks that the United States would act on climate change, only to have the Senate refuse to ratify that treaty. At a 2009 climate summit meeting in Copenhagen, Mr. Obama promised that Congress would soon pass a sweeping climate change bill. Just months later, the bill died in the Senate.
Mr. Obama is now trying to bolster his credibility on the issue by flexing his executive authority and acting without Congress. His administration is moving ahead with aggressive new Environmental Protection Agency regulations to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. At talks around the world, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Stern have sought to persuade other nations that, this time, the United States will be able to keep its commitments, since they do not require action from Congress.
The United States’ inability to offer more substantial aid to countries that did little to cause global warming will probably remain a major sticking point with developing nations, including India and China.
Still, Connie Hedegaard, the European Union commissioner for climate action, said she hoped that could eventually be overcome: “I think the $100 billion mark can be reached. It was understood in Copenhagen that it had to be a mix of public and private money. I think vulnerable groups — families in Bangladesh or the Philippines — don’t care whether a dollar coming their way is public or private.”
A version of this news analysis appears in print on April 1, 2014, on page A3 of the New York edition with the headline: Climate Study Puts Diplomatic Pressure on Obama.
Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come
YOKOHAMA, Japan — Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported Monday, and they warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.
The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.
Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said.
And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty. In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday.
The report was among the most sobering yet issued by the intergovernmental panel. The group, along with Al Gore, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to clarify the risks of climate change. The report released on Monday in Yokohama is the final work of several hundred authors; details from the drafts of this and of the last report in the series, which will be released next month, leaked in the last few months.
The report attempts to project how the effects will alter human society in coming decades. While the impact of global warming may actually be outweighed by factors like economic or technological change, the report found, the disruptions are nonetheless likely to be profound.
It cited the risk of death or injury on a widespread scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations.
“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger,” the report declared.
The report also cites the possibility of violent conflict over land or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”
The scientists emphasized that climate change is not just some problem of the distant future, but is happening now. For instance, in much of the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening water supplies for the region, the scientists reported. And the snow that does fall is melting earlier in the year, which means there is less meltwater to ease the parched summers.
In Alaska, the collapse of sea ice is allowing huge waves to strike the coast, causing erosion so rapid that it is already forcing entire communities to relocate.
“Now we are at the point where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization.
The experts did find a bright spot, however. Since the group issued its report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are starting extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists.
“I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report, and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif.
Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the grounds that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.
A striking example of the change occurred recently in the state of New York, where the Public Service Commission ordered Consolidated Edison, the electric utility serving New York City and some suburbs, to spend about $1 billion upgrading its system to prevent future damage from flooding and other weather disruptions.
The plan is a reaction to the blackouts caused by Hurricane Sandy. Con Ed will raise flood walls, bury some vital equipment and launch a study of whether emerging climate risks require even more changes. Other utilities in the state face similar requirements, and utility regulators across the United States are discussing whether to follow New York’s lead.
But with a global failure to limit greenhouse gases, the risk is rising that climatic changes in coming decades could overwhelm such efforts to adapt, the panel found. It cited a particular risk that in a hotter climate, farmers will not be able to keep up with the fast-rising demand for food.
“When supply falls below demand, somebody doesn’t have enough food,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist who helped write the new report. “When some people don’t have food, you get starvation. Yes, I’m worried.”
The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.
The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during a dayslong editing session in Yokohama.
The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations are private.
The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases.
Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.
Two decades of international efforts to limit emissions have yielded little result, and it is not clear whether the negotiations in New York this fall will be any different. While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many wealthy countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from rising economic powers like China and India.
For the world’s poorer countries, food is not the only issue, but it may be the most acute. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions in major growing regions have helped to throw supply and demand out of balance, contributing to price increases that have reversed decades of gains against global hunger, at least temporarily.
The warning about the food supply in the new report is much sharper in tone than any previously issued by the panel. That reflects a growing body of research about how sensitive many crops are to heat waves and water stress.
David B. Lobell, a Stanford University scientist who has published much of that research and helped write the new report, said in an interview that as yet, too little work was being done to understand the risk, much less counter it with improved crop varieties and farming techniques. “It is a surprisingly small amount of effort for the stakes,” he said.
Timothy Gore, an analyst for Oxfam, the anti-hunger charity that sent observers to the proceedings, praised the new report for painting a clear picture. But he warned that without greater efforts to limit global warming and to adapt to the changes that have become inevitable, “the goal we have in Oxfam of ensuring that every person has enough food to eat could be lost forever.”
Palestinian students visit Auschwitz in first organized visit.
Visit is part of program that aims to teach Israeli and Palestinian students about the other side’s suffering in effort to study how empathy could facilitate reconciliation.
By Matthew Kalman | Mar. 28, 2014
A group of 30 Palestinian students arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Thursday (yesterday), in what is believed to be the first organized visit by Palestinian students to a Nazi death camp.
The students are spending several days in Kraków and O?wi?cim guided by two Jewish Holocaust survivors.
A news blackout on the trip was requested by the organizers. The presence of the Palestinian group at Auschwitz-Birkenau is being reported here for the first time.
The students from Al-Quds University and Birzeit University, near Ramallah, are participating in a joint program on Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution with the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The program’s aim is for Israeli and Palestinian students to learn about the suffering that has helped shape the historical consciousness of the other side.
Last week, a group of Israeli students visited the Dheisheh refugee camp, located south of Bethlehem, to learn about the Palestinian experience of suffering during the founding of Israel in 1948 – known to Palestinians as the Nakba (“the catastrophe”).
The reactions of each group will be studied by a group of PhD psychology students to see whether exposure to the conflicting historical narrative helps the students to understand their enemy, and facilitates efforts toward reconciliation and coexistence.
The Palestinian side of the program is directed by Mohammed S. Dajani, professor of American Studies at Al-Quds. Because of the Palestinian freeze on joint projects with Israeli universities, the Palestinian students are participating under the banner of Prof. Dajani’s Wasatia movement of moderate Islam.
Israeli groups regularly visit refugee camps in the West Bank searching for cross-border understanding, but the Palestinian visit to Auschwitz is unprecedented. It grew out of a visit by Prof. Dajani as part of a large Jewish-Muslim-Christian delegation in 2011, after which he coauthored a New York Times op-ed entitled “Why Palestinians Should Learn About the Holocaust.”
Since then, Prof. Dajani has written what he believes to be the first objective introduction to the Holocaust for Palestinian students in Arabic, which he hopes will become a textbook used in Palestinian schools and universities.
“Basically, we want to study how empathy with the Other could help in the process of reconciliation,” Prof. Dajani says. “I feel I would like Palestinians to explore the unexplored, and to meet these challenges where you might find that within their community there will be a lot of pressure on them not to do it or questioning why they are doing it, or that this is propaganda. I feel that’s nonsense.”
Prof. Dajani says more than 70 students applied for the 30 places on the Poland trip, but five later dropped out because of peer pressure. He says the choice of Dheisheh for the Israeli students was not meant to suggest there was an equivalence or even a direct link between the Holocaust and the Nakba. They were chosen as the symbolic events that have deeply affected the psyche on both sides of the conflict.
“We are seeking knowledge,” he says. “We are seeking to know what has happened; why did it happen; how can it be prevented from happening again? I believe it is very important to break this wall of bigotry, ignorance and racism that has separated us from crossing over to this new realm.”
“One of my students asked me why we should learn about the Holocaust when the Israelis want to ban even the use of the word ‘Nakba,’” he adds. “My response was: ‘Because in doing so, you will be doing the right thing. If they are not doing the right thing, that’s their problem.’”
Prof. Dajani, who was banned from Israel for 25 years for his activities for Fatah in Lebanon in the 1970s and ’80s, says the student program is a practical expression of his belief that Israelis and Palestinians can settle their differences through compromise, moderation and human contact. He says his own visit to the Nazi death camp had a profound effect that he wishes to share with his students.
“I was also raised in the culture of denial, so for me, to go and see and look and be on the ground – it was a very sad experience for me. It had a lot of impact,” he admits. “I was shocked about the inhumanity of man to man. How can this happen? Why did it happen? Why would man be this cruel?
“It was shocking for me, because it showed me the deep, deep, dark side of human evil,” he adds.
Prof. Dajani has a track record of espousing views that are unpopular with the Palestinian academic mainstream. He is one of the few Palestinian professors to openly oppose the call for Palestinians and others to boycott Israeli universities.
Hanna Siniora, a veteran campaigner for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, says Prof. Dajani’s initiative should be welcomed.
“It’s very important for people to see the viciousness of such acts,” he says. “It should touch them in their humanity, in their sense of understanding that human beings don’t do evil things like that. This has caused a major problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because the psyche of the Israelis is so tormented by what happened to the Jewish people that they cannot trust anybody.
“This is an educational trip. It opens the eyes and minds,” he adds. “If there is an empty place, I’d like to come along,” he says.
White House Unveils Plans to Cut Methane Emissions.
By CORAL DAVENPORT, The New York Times,
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday announced a strategy to start slashing emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas released by landfills, cattle, and leaks from oil and natural gas production.
The methane strategy is the latest step in a series of White House actions aimed at addressing climate change without legislation from Congress. Individually, most of the steps will not be enough to drastically reduce the United States’ contribution to global warming. But the Obama administration hopes that collectively they will build political support for more substantive domestic actions while signaling to other countries that the United States is serious about tackling global warming.
In a 2009 United Nations climate change accord, President Obama pledged that by 2020 the United States would lower its greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels. “This methane strategy is one component, one set of actions to get there,” Dan Utech, the president’s special assistant for energy and climate change, said on Friday in a phone call with reporters.
Environmental advocates have long urged the Obama administration to target methane emissions. Most of the planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution in the United States comes from carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning coal, oil and natural gas. Methane accounts for just 9 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution — but the gas is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so even small amounts of it can have a big impact on future global warming.
And methane emissions are projected to increase in the United States, as the nation enjoys a boom in oil and natural gas production, thanks to breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing technology. A study published in the journal Science last month found that methane is leaking from oil and natural gas drilling sites and pipelines at rates 50 percent higher than previously thought. As he works to tackle climate change, Mr. Obama has generally supported the natural gas production boom, since natural gas, when burned for electricity, produces just half the greenhouse gas pollution of coal-fired electricity.
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club have campaigned against the boom in natural gas production, warning that it could lead to dangerous levels of methane pollution, undercutting the climate benefits of gas. The oil and gas industry has resisted pushes to regulate methane leaks from production, saying it could slow that down.
A White House official said on Friday that this spring, the Environmental Protection Agency would assess several potentially significant sources of methane and other emissions from the oil and gas sector, and that by this fall the agency “will determine how best to pursue further methane reductions from these sources.” If the E.P.A. decides to develop additional regulations, it would complete them by the end of 2016 — just before Mr. Obama leaves office.
Among the steps the administration announced on Friday to address methane pollution:
- The Interior Department will propose updated standards to reduce venting and flaring of methane from oil and gas production on public lands.
- In April, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management will begin to gather public comment on the development of a program for the capture and sale of methane produced by coal mines on lands leased by the ederal government.
- This summer, the E.P.A. will propose updated standards to reduce methane emissions from new landfills and take public comment on whether to update standards for existing landfills.
- In June, the Agriculture Department, the Energy Department and the E.P.A. will release a joint “biogas road map” aimed at accelerating adoption of methane digesters, machines that reduce methane emissions from cattle, in order to cut dairy-sector greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.
Advocates of climate action generally praised the plan. “Cutting methane emissions will be especially critical to climate protection as the U.S. develops its huge shale gas reserves, gaining the full greenhouse gas benefit from the switch away from coal,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former White House climate change aide under President Bill Clinton, now with the German Marshall Fund.
Howard J. Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for oil and gas companies, said he hoped the steps would not lead to new regulations on his industry. “We think regulation is not necessary at this time,” he said. “People are using a lot more natural gas in the country, and that’s reducing greenhouse gas.”
Since cattle flatulence and manure are a significant source of methane, farmers have long been worried that a federal methane control strategy could place a burden on them. But Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said that his group was pleased that, for now, the administration’s proposals to reduce methane from cattle were voluntary.
“All indications are that it’s voluntary,” he said, “but we do see increased potential for scrutiny for us down the line, which would cause concern.”
DAKOPE, Bangladesh — When a powerful storm destroyed her riverside home in 2009, Jahanara Khatun lost more than the modest roof over her head. In the aftermath, her husband died and she became so destitute that she sold her son and daughter into bonded servitude. And she may lose yet more.
Ms. Khatun now lives in a bamboo shack that sits below sea level about 50 yards from a sagging berm. She spends her days collecting cow dung for fuel and struggling to grow vegetables in soil poisoned by salt water. Climate scientists predict that this area will be inundated as sea levels rise and storm surges increase, and a cyclone or another disaster could easily wipe away her rebuilt life. But Ms. Khatun is trying to hold out at least for a while — one of millions living on borrowed time in this vast landscape of river islands, bamboo huts, heartbreaking choices and impossible hopes.
Climate scientists have concluded that widespread burning of fossil fuels is releasing heat-trapping gases that are warming the planet. While this will produce a host of effects, the most worrisome may be the melting of much of the earth’s ice, which is likely to raise sea levels and flood coastal regions.
Such a rise will be uneven because of gravitational effects and human intervention, so predicting its outcome in any one place is difficult. But island nations like the Maldives, Kiribati and Fiji may lose much of their land area, and millions of Bangladeshis will be displaced.
“There are a lot of places in the world at risk from rising sea levels, but Bangladesh is at the top of everybody’s list,” said Rafael Reuveny, a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University at Bloomington. “And the world is not ready to cope with the problems.”
The effects of climate change have led to a growing sense of outrage in developing nations, many of which have contributed little to the pollution that is linked to rising temperatures and sea levels but will suffer the most from the consequences.
At a climate conference in Warsaw in November, there was an emotional outpouring from countries that face existential threats, among them Bangladesh, which produces just 0.3 percent of the emissions driving climate change. Some leaders have demanded that rich countries compensate poor countries for polluting the atmosphere. A few have even said that developed countries should open their borders to climate migrants.
“It’s a matter of global justice,” said Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies and the nation’s leading climate scientist. “These migrants should have the right to move to the countries from which all these greenhouse gases are coming. Millions should be able to go to the United States.”
River deltas around the globe are particularly vulnerable to the effects of rising seas, and wealthier cities like London, Venice and New Orleans also face uncertain futures. But it is the poorest countries with the biggest populations that will be hit hardest, and none more so than Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated nations in the world. In this delta, made up of 230 major rivers and streams, 160 million people live in a place one-fifth the size of France and as flat as chapati, the bread served at almost every meal.
A Perilous Position
Though Bangladesh has contributed little to industrial air pollution, other kinds of environmental degradation have left it especially vulnerable.
Bangladesh relies almost entirely on groundwater for drinking supplies because the rivers are so polluted. The resultant pumping causes the land to settle. So as sea levels are rising, Bangladesh’s cities are sinking, increasing the risks of flooding. Poorly constructed sea walls compound the problem.
The country’s climate scientists and politicians have come to agree that by 2050, rising sea levels will inundate some 17 percent of the land and displace about 18 million people, Dr. Rahman said.
Bangladeshis have already started to move away from the lowest-lying villages in the river deltas of the Bay of Bengal, scientists in Bangladesh say. People move for many reasons, and urbanization is increasing across South Asia, but rising tides are a big factor. Dr. Rahman’s research group has made a rough estimate from small surveys that as many as 1.5 million of the five million slum inhabitants in Dhaka, the capital, moved from villages near the Bay of Bengal.
The slums that greet them in Dhaka are also built on low-lying land, making them almost as vulnerable to being inundated as the land villagers left behind.
Ms. Khatun and her neighbors have lived through deadly cyclones — a synonym here for hurricane — and have seen the salty rivers chew through villages and poison fields. Rising seas are increasingly intruding into rivers, turning fresh water brackish. Even routine flooding then leaves behind salt deposits that can render land barren.
Making matters worse, much of what the Bangladeshi government is doing to stave off the coming deluge — raising levees, dredging canals, pumping water — deepens the threat of inundation in the long term, said John Pethick, a former professor of coastal science at Newcastle University in England who has spent much of his retirement studying Bangladesh’s predicament. Rich nations are not the only ones to blame, he said.
In an analysis of decades of tidal records published in October, Dr. Pethick found that high tides in Bangladesh were rising 10 times faster than the global average. He predicted that seas in Bangladesh could rise as much as 13 feet by 2100, four times the global average. In an area where land is often a thin brown line between sky and river — nearly a quarter of Bangladesh is less than seven feet above sea level — such an increase would have dire consequences, Dr. Pethick said.
“The reaction among Bangladeshi government officials has been to tell me that I must be wrong,” he said. “That’s completely understandable, but it also means they have no hope of preparing themselves.”
Dr. Rahman said that he did not disagree with Mr. Pethick’s findings, but that no estimate was definitive. Other scientists have predicted more modest rises. For example, Robert E. Kopp, an associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute at Rutgers University, said that data from nearby Kolkata, India, suggested that seas in the region could rise five to six feet by 2100.
“There is no doubt that preparations within Bangladesh have been utterly inadequate, but any such preparations are bound to fail because the problem is far too big for any single government,” said Tariq A. Karim, Bangladesh’s ambassador to India. “We need a regional and, better yet, a global solution. And if we don’t get one soon, the Bangladeshi people will soon become the world’s problem, because we will not be able to keep them.”
Mr. Karim estimated that as many as 50 million Bangladeshis would flee the country by 2050 if sea levels rose as expected.
Already, signs of erosion are everywhere in the Ganges Delta — the world’s largest delta, which empties much of the water coming from the Himalayas. There are brick foundations torn in half, palm trees growing out of rivers and rangy cattle grazing on island pastures the size of putting greens. Fields are dusted white with salt.
Even without climate change, Bangladesh is among the most vulnerable places in the world to bad weather: The V-shaped Bay of Bengal funnels cyclones straight into the country’s fan-shaped coastline.
Some scientists believe that rising temperatures will lead to more extreme weather worldwide, including stronger and more frequent cyclones in the Bay of Bengal. And rising seas will make any storm more dangerous because flooding will become more likely.
Bangladesh has done much to protect its population by creating an early-warning system and building at least 2,500 concrete storm shelters. The result has been a vast reduction in storm-related deaths. While Cyclone Bhola in 1970 killed as many as 550,000 people, Cyclone Aila in 2009 killed 300. The deadliest part of the storm was the nearly 10-foot wall of water that roared through villages in the middle of the afternoon.
The poverty of people like Ms. Khatun makes them particularly vulnerable to storms. When Aila hit, Ms. Khatun was home with her husband, parents and four children. A nearby berm collapsed, and their mud and bamboo hut washed away in minutes. Unable to save her belongings, Ms. Khatun put her youngest child on her back and, with her husband, fought through surging waters to a high road. Her parents were swept away.
“After about a kilometer, I managed to grab a tree,” said Abddus Satter, Ms. Khatun’s father. “And I was able to help my wife grab on as well. We stayed on that tree for hours.”
The couple eventually shifted to the roof of a nearby hut. The family reunited on the road the next day after the children spent a harrowing night avoiding snakes that had sought higher ground, too. They drank rainwater until rescuers arrived a day or two later with bottled water, food and other supplies.
The ordeal took a severe toll on Ms. Khatun’s husband, whose health soon deteriorated. To pay for his treatment and the cost of rebuilding their hut, the family borrowed money from a loan shark. In return, Ms. Khatun and her three older children, then 10, 12 and 15, promised to work for seven months in a nearby brickmaking factory. She later sold her 11- and 13-year-old children to the owner of another brick factory, this one in Dhaka, for $450 to pay more debts. Her husband died four years after the storm.
In an interview, one of her sons, Mamun Sardar, now 14, said he worked from dawn to dusk carrying newly made bricks to the factory oven.
He said he missed his mother, “but she lives far away.”
Discussions about the effects of climate change in the Ganges Delta often become community events. In the village of Choto Jaliakhali, where Ms. Khatun lives, dozens of people said they could see that the river was rising. Several said they had been impoverished by erosion, which has cost many villagers their land.
Muhammad Moktar Ali said he could not think about the next storm because all he had in the world was his hut and village. “We don’t know how to support ourselves if we lost this,” he said, gesturing to his gathered neighbors. “It is God who will help us survive.”
Surveys show that residents of the delta do not want to migrate, Dr. Rahman said. Moving to slums in already-crowded cities is their least preferred option.
But cities have become the center of Bangladesh’s textile industry, which is now the source of 80 percent of the country’s exports, 45 percent of its industrial employment and 15 percent of its gross domestic product.
In the weeks after the storm, the women of Dakope found firewood by wading into the raging river and pushing their toes into the muddy bottom. They walked hours to buy drinking water. After rebuilding the village’s berm and their own hut, Shirin Aktar and her husband, Bablu Gazi, managed to get just enough of a harvest to survive from their land, which has become increasingly infertile from salt water. Some plots that once sustained three harvests can now support just one; others are entirely barren.
After two hungry years, the couple gave up on farming and moved to the Chittagong, Bangladesh’s second-largest city, leaving their two children behind with Mr. Gazi’s mother.
Mr. Gazi found work immediately as a day laborer, mostly digging foundations. Ms. Aktar searched for a job as a seamstress, but headaches and other slum-induced health problems have so incapacitated her that the couple is desperate to return to Dakope.
“I don’t want to stay here for too long,” Mr. Gazi said. “If we can save some money, then we’ll go back. I’ll work on a piece of land and try to make it fertile again.”
But the chances of finding fertile land in his home village, where the salty rivers have eaten away acre upon acre, are almost zero.
Dozens of people gathered in the narrow mud alley outside Mr. Gazi’s room as he spoke. Some told similar stories of storms, loss and hope, and many nodded as Mr. Gazi spoke of his dreams of returning to his doomed village.
“All of us came here because of erosions and cyclones,” said Noakhali, a hollow-eyed 30-year-old with a single name who was wearing the traditional skirt of the delta. “Not one of us actually wants to live here.”
Produced by Catherine Spangler, David Furst, Hannah Fairfield, Jacqueline Myint, Jeremy White and Shreeya Sinha.
A version of this article appears in print on March 29, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: As Seas Rise, Millions Cling to Borrowed Time and Dying Land.
A Stanford Social Innovation Review on Beyond Aid.
This as leaders across sectors convene at the UN in NewYork to discuss the new post-2015 global agenda – the opportunity to collaborate on a new breed of large-scale development projects known as innovative financing has never been brighter.
Imagine you have the opportunity to define how the world develops for the next 15 years. All government projects, nonprofit work, and foundation funding would cater to your agenda. If you are one of the representatives of the 193 United Nations member states currently discussing the new global agenda, your job entails exactly that.
By 2015, when the current development agenda expires, the international community must determine a new set of goals, and how to achieve and fund them. Based on early recommendations from the UN Secretary General’s office, this next-generation agenda will probably be more ambitious in scope and cost than the present Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While the current MDGs focus on a narrowly defined set of eight goals, the new global agenda will likely aim to both end poverty and increase sustainable development across many dimensions.
Relying on aid to fund the next development agenda will leave a gap of over 600 billion dollars, even if aid levels increase.
The proposed new, more ambitious agenda—depending on its scope—will cost approximately $1 trillion annually. This far exceeds current international aid, or overseas development assistance (ODA), which typically hovers around $150 million per year. Even if aid rises to the levels that rich countries pledged they would give per several international agreements—0.7 percent of developed countries’ gross national income (GNI)—aid would add up to only about $330 billion annually. Relying purely on current funding channels has proven insufficient (see chart). Rich country government assistance lags far behind the needs of poor and middle-income countries. Even with increased private-sector spending to these countries, funding will not flow to the right areas; the goal of private sector investments is not to reduce poverty and increase development. Left alone, the amount of funding reaching the new development agenda will leave a significant gap; thus, we must look for new, unconventional channels to finance the next round of development funding. As leaders across sectors convene to discuss the new agenda they have a clear opportunity to collaborate on a new breed of large-scale development projects.
Unlocking More Money Through Innovative Financing
Development projects known as “innovative financing” reflect a new way of filling this funding gap. The term, coined in 2002 at a UN conference, refers to projects that raise money for development in new ways and spend money more effectively.
Given a variety of creative names, in truth innovative financing programs take just three different forms: pay only for results, make funding of the development agenda a safer investment, and find new funders.
Variations of innovative financing programs include known mechanisms such as social impact bonds or pay-for-success programs, which are used more and more frequently—research by Dalberg suggests at least a half dozen new initiatives have launched annually, on average, since 2002. To date, these programs have been initiated independently and for an array of causes on an ad-hoc basis.
Development leaders now have the opportunity to apply innovative finance tools on a major scale and in a systematic way; they also have new information on where and how to apply them. The most promising element of innovative financing is its ability to unlock pools of funds from the private sector, which typically finds development projects too risky and the results too uncertain to warrant investment. Funders of these development programs do not need to be impact investors looking for social returns; instead, programs can generate high returns or reduce risk for traditional investors. Innovative financing can also tap into additional public funds by providing opportunities for global coordination and public-private partnerships.
Pay only for results:
Spending money more effectively by paying for results rather than promises has two benefits: It reduces the total size of the fund needed to achieve the next-generation agenda and also ensures a greater impact from every dollar spent. For example, when the development community learned that Western pharmaceuticals were holding back from developing a cheap pneumonia vaccine for Africa because of a legitimate fear that there would be no money to buy these vaccines after they invested in building capacity, they designed an innovative financing program. The resulting program, known as the Pneumococcal Advance Market Commitment, guaranteed a minimum market size to any pharmaceutical company that could develop an appropriate vaccine. This enabled Pfizer and others to scale facilities that have since vaccinated more than 10 million children; it also enabled them to sell vaccines at less than 10 percent of their usual cost. Another results-based innovative financing mechanism, the Haiti Mobile Money prize, rewarded mobile operators in Haiti with $6 million to build out mobile banking. If applied to initiatives in the next development agenda, such cost-effective programs would reduce the total dollars needed.
Make funding development safe:
Innovative financing mechanisms include a whole suite of creative funding vehicles that shift risk away from funders, making development projects a safer investment. This includes social impact bonds and insurance for funders, who can then invest in projects that would otherwise be too risky—for example, global health clinics, rural energy, and agriculture equipment. The recently launched HUGinsure provides up to $400 million in insurance backed by Lloyd’s, making it safe for private sector banks to fund unproven social impact projects. A potential new malaria bond will draw on public-private funders who will pay program implementers only if malaria eradication is successful. Such social impact bonds allow third-party backers like governments to take on risk instead of the private sector funder. Without these mechanisms, private funders tend to invest in sectors such as natural resource extraction, which offer immediate returns. But with them, private funders can benefit from sectors with more diffuse value, such as health and infrastructure.
Find new funders
Innovative mechanisms for raising new funds broaden the funding toolkit beyond simple grants and equity. Such mechanisms include ongoing programs such as social taxes and voluntary solidarity contributions, which raise small amounts of funds over time. A solidarity tax on airline tickets in France, for example, charges travelers a few dollars each time they leave French soil, and has raised nearly $2 billion since 2006 for the global health initiative UNITAID. This can also include large programs such as carbon emissions trading, which has raised more than $30 billion since 2002.
The Private Sector Potential:
Compared to international aid—which represents less than 1 percent of available funding for development—harnessing private sector funding presents a significant new opportunity for backing the new development agenda. Private sector spending within and flowing to low- and middle-income countries represents a rapidly growing pool –more than $20 trillion (see chart). Tapping into even a small portion of that through innovative financing would draw immense new resources. And more effectively allocating this funding means fewer dollars will be needed.
Private sector funds available for international development represent a pool more than one hundred times larger than aid dollars.
Innovative financing has been limited in size because setting up global mechanisms requires convening major decision-makers and alignment around agenda items. In the past, innovative financing mechanisms have raised only about $1 billion to $3 billion in new funds annually. But as heads of state, foundation CEOs, and international development leaders come together to discuss development priorities over the next year, the development community has a unique opportunity to set up new innovative financing mechanisms on a much bigger scale.
Though this funding would bridge only a small portion of the $1 trillion required for the next-generation development agenda, without it, many areas with benefits beyond financial returns will remain underfunded—private sector investors will continue to fund only clearly profitable projects such as mining. With increased coordination and fresh lessons from past experiments, development leaders can effectively wield innovative financing for greater impact.
Angela Rastegar Campbell (@angelarastegar) is a Project Leader at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, where she has worked with the Gates Foundation, the UN Foundation, and GAVI on projects related to the new development agenda and innovative financing. Angela holds an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BA in Human Biology from Stanford University.
UN to Observe Earth Hour to Focus Global Attention on Need for Climate Action.
New York, 27 March – The UN will participate in the 2014 edition of Earth Hour on Saturday 29 March. Coming in the lead-up to the Climate Summit this September, this global initiative aims to focus attention on the need for climate action. Organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Earth Hour encourages individuals, companies, organizations and governments throughout the world to switch off their lights for one hour at 8:30 p.m., local time worldwide. The initiative started as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Since then it has grown to engage over 150 countries and hundreds of millions of people last year. The date traditionally coincides with the Spring and Autumn equinoxes in the northern and southern hemispheres respectively, which allows for near coincidental sunset times in both hemispheres, thereby ensuring the greatest visual impact for a global “lights out” event. All UN staff members around the world have been invited to take part both in their office and home in order to demonstrate the UN’s commitment to support action on climate change, one of the top priorities of the Organization. For the last few years, the UN Headquarters in New York and many other UN offices around the world have been part of the many international landmarks participating in this initiative. This year the UN is going the extra mile and turning off all non-essential lights within the UN complex in New York for three hours from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Geneva and many other UN offices worldwide will also participate. Earth Hour recognizes that everyone’s involvement is needed in order to make a collective impact and take accountability for their ecological footprint. For more information please visit: www.un.org/climatechange
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, is up for re-election, and he is under pressure to show fealty to his state’s powerful coal interests.
To that end, he introduced a resolution earlier this year to block a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency that would set limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. As written, the proposal would effectively stop construction of most new coal-fired plants.
Like all proposed regulations, the E.P.A.’s is subject to public comment and revision before it becomes final. And under the Congressional Review Act of 1996, Congress can only vote to overturn final regulations, not proposed rules. But none of that has stopped Mr. McConnell from putting forward a resolution under the review law to block the E.P.A. proposal. If the measure passes — a long shot because it would be subject to a legal challenge and a presidential veto — it could be used to derail federal rule-making not only on greenhouse gas emissions but a range of issues, including food, drug and auto safety.
And even if it fails, Mr. McConnell’s ploy escalates already dangerous levels of antiregulatory fervor, while creating a template for playing politics with the regulatory process.
If Democrats were to reject the emissions resolution on the solid grounds that the law does not allow for review of proposed regulations, Mr. McConnell would invariably depict the vote as anti-coal.
That, in turn, could invite other senators to play the same mischievous game, in hopes that a rejection of their antiregulatory resolution would be similarly misconstrued.
A no vote on a resolution to derail a workplace safety proposal, for instance, could be portrayed as a slap at small businesses.
A vote against a resolution to derail a food safety proposal could be depicted as anti-farmer.
Mr. McConnell has been relentless in using tactics to distort and nullify the processes that make government run.
For the sake of proper rule-making as well as public health and safety, Democrats cannot indulge him on this latest attempt.
At a time when terrorism committed in the name of Islam is rampant, we are continuously being assured—especially by three major institutions that play a dominant role in forming the Western mindset, namely, mainstream media, academia, and government — that the sort of Islam embraced by “radicals,” “jihadis,” and so forth, has nothing to do with “real” Islam.
“True” Islam, so the narrative goes, is intrinsically free of anything “bad.” It’s the nut-jobs who hijack it for their own agenda that are to blame.
More specifically, we are told that there exists a “moderate” Islam and an “extremist” Islam—the former good and true, embraced by a Muslim majority, the latter a perverse sacrilege practiced by an exploitative minority.
But what do these dual adjectives—”moderate” and “extremist”—ultimately mean in the context of Islam? Are they both equal and viable alternatives insofar as to how Islam is understood? Are they both theologically legitimate? This last question is particularly important, since Islam is first and foremost a religious way of life centered around the words of a deity (Allah) and his prophet (Muhammad)—the significance of which is admittedly unappreciated by secular societies.
Both terms—”moderate” and “extremist”—have to do with degree, or less mathematically,zeal: how much, or to what extent, a thing is practiced or implemented. As Webster‘s puts it, “moderate” means “observing reasonable limits”; “extremist” means “going to great or exaggerated lengths.”
It’s a question, then, of doing either too much or too little.
The problem, however, is that mainstream Islam offers a crystal-clear way of life, based on the teachings of the Koran and Hadith—the former, containing what purport to be the sacred words of Allah, the latter, the example (or sunna, hence “Sunnis”) of his prophet, also known as the most “perfect man” (al-insan al-kamil). Indeed, based on these two primary sources and according to normative Islamic teaching, all human actions fall into five categories: forbidden actions, discouraged actions, neutral actions recommended actions, and obligatory actions.
In this context, how does a believer go about “moderating” what the deity and his spokesman have commanded? One can either try to observe Islam’s commandments or one can ignore them: any more or less is not Islam—a word which means “submit” (to the laws, or sharia, of Allah).
The real question, then, is what do Allah and his prophet command Muslims (“they who submit”) to do? Are radicals “exaggerating” their orders? Or are moderate Muslims simply “observing reasonable limits”—a euphemism for negligence? — when it comes to fulfilling their commandments?
In our highly secularized era, where we are told that religious truths are flexible or simply non-existent, and that any and all interpretations and exegeses are valid, the all-important question of “What does Islam command?” loses all relevance.
Hence why the modern West is incapable of understanding Islam.
Indeed, only recently, a Kenyan mosque leader said that the Westgate massacre, where Islamic gunmen slaughtered some 67 people, “was justified. As per the Koran, as per the religion of Islam, Westgate was 100 percent justified.” Then he said: “Radical Islam is a creation of people who do not believe in Islam. We don’t have radical Islam, we don’t have moderates, we don’t have extremists. Islam is one religion following the Koran and the Sunna“ [emphasis added].
Note his point that “Radical Islam is a creation of people who do not believe in Islam,” a clear reference to the West which coined the phrase “radical Islam.” Ironically, the secular West, which relegates religious truths to the realm of “personal experience,” feels qualified to decide what is and is not “radical” about Islam.
Consider one example: Allah commands Muslims to “Fight those among the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, nor embrace the religion of truth [i.e., Islam], until they pay the jizya [tribute] with willing submission and feel themselves subdued” [Koran 9:29].
How can one interpret this verse to mean anything other than what it plainly says? Wherein lies the ambiguity, the room for interpretation? Of course there are other teachings and allusions in the Koran that by necessity lend themselves over to the fine arts of interpretation, or ijtihad. But surely the commands of Koran 9:29 are completely straightforward?
In fact, Muhammad’s 7th century followers literally acted on this and similar verses (e.g., 9:5), launching the first Muslim conquests, which saw the subjugation of millions of Christians, Jews, and others, and the creation of the “Muslim world.” Such jihadi expansion continued until Islam was beaten on the battlefield by a resurgent West some two or three centuries ago.
Western scholarly works, before the age of relativism and political correctness set in, did not equivocate the meaning of jihad. Thus the authoritative Encyclopaedia of Islam‘s entry for “jihad” states that the “spread of Islam by arms is a religious duty upon Muslims in general … Jihad must continue to be done until the whole world is under the rule of Islam … Islam must completely be made over before the doctrine of jihad [warfare to spread Islam] can be eliminated. Islamic law expert and U.S. professor Majid Khadduri (1909-2007), after defining jihad as warfare, wrote that “jihad … is regarded by all jurists, with almost no exception, as a collective obligation of the whole Muslim community.”
In short, how can a sincere Muslim—by definition, one who has submitted to the teachings of Allah—”moderate” verses like 9:29? How can he “observe reasonable limits” vis-à-vis these plain commands to combat and subjugate non-Muslims?
Must Muslims not, at the very least, admit that such teachings are true and should be striven for—even if they do not personally engage in the jihad, at least not directly (but they are encouraged to support it indirectly, including monetarily or through propaganda)?
Are all such Muslims being “extreme” in light of the commands of Koran 9:29—which specifically calls for the taking of money from Christians and Jews—or are they simply upholding the unambiguous teachings of Islam?
One may argue that, if Muslims are to take Koran 9:29 literally, why are Muslim nations the world over not declaring an all-out jihad on all non-Muslim nations, including America? The ultimate reason, of course, is that they simply can’t; they do not have the capability to uphold that verse (and Islamic teaching allows Muslims to postpone their obligations until circumstances are more opportune).
A quick survey of history before the meteoric rise of Western military might put Islam in check makes this especially clear.
Bottom line: If Islam teaches X and a Muslim upholds X—how is he being “extreme”? Seems more logical to say that it is Islam itself that is being “extreme.” Similarly, if a self-professed Muslim does not uphold Islamic teachings—including prayer, fasting, paying zakat, etc. — how is he being a “moderate”? Seems more logical to say that he is not much of a Muslim at all—that is, he is not submitting to Allah, the very definition of “Muslim.”
It’s time to acknowledge that dichotomized notions like “moderate” and “extreme” are culturally induced and loaded standards of the modern, secular West—hardly applicable to the teachings of Islam—and not universal absolutes recognized by all mankind.
Take Action: Urge U.S. & EU to Oppose Imminent U.N. Appointment of Richard Falk’s Wife.
As Richard Falk ends his despicable 6-year UN term this Friday, his wife, co-author and closest collaborator Dr. Hilal Elver (above) is about to be named to her own 6-year UN term, as expert on the right to food.
This Cuban-created position was for years held by Jean Ziegler – founder and recipient of the “Moammar Qaddafi Human Rights Prize” — which he abused to attack America, Israel and the West.
Given her shameful record of extremist politics, there is no doubt that Falk’s wife intends to do the same. And that essentially Falk will retain his U.N. influence after all.
The only way to stop Elver’s appointment to this 6-year global post is if the U.S. and EU make clear they will vote NO if her name is moved forward.
Stop this from happening on Friday.
FALK FINALLY LEAVES UNHRC
FALK’S WIFE JOINS UNHRC
Promotes writings of 9/11 conspiracy theorist David Ray Griffin, who in turn thanked him in his book “The New Pearl Harbor”
Promotes writings of 9/11 conspiracy theorist David Ray Griffin, who in turn thanked her in his book “The New Pearl Harbor”
Accuses Israel of “genocide”
Accuses Israel of “genocide”
Accuses Israel of “Apartheid” in latest and final UN report
Accuses Israel of “Water Apartheid” in latest Qatar lecture
Says criticism of Turkish demagogue Erdogan is “exaggerated”
Says criticism of Turkish demagogue Erdogan is “exaggerated”
Targets America and the West in his articles, books and lectures
Targets America & the West in her articles, books & Facebook page
Urge world leaders to oppose the
outrageous nomination of Hilal Elver.
Elie Wiesel with former President George W. Bush and the Dalai Lama. Photo: wiki commons.
The movie Noah is generating global controversy even before its release. Bill Maher set the blogosphere alight when he ranted that the movie was “about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it, and his name is God. What kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at?”
The question of why God allows the innocent to suffer is the most challenging in all religion. But while the Bible offers examples, like the flood, where sin is expressly identified as the cause of suffering, it is both foolhardy and blasphemous for humans to ever claim to know why people suffer or to hold them accountable for their own agony.
The man-is-sinful-God-is-just response is arrogant and sanctimonious and provides small comfort for a parent who, say, God forbid, loses a seven-year-old child who was obviously without sin. After suffering some uncontrollable tragedy, rabbis and priests would inflict the final indignity against the victim by telling him that either his suffering is in reality something good – but he is too blind to see it – or that he must be cleansed of wrongdoing. Rubbing people’s noses in their pain and misery is hardly a just response to tragedy.
One of the books that most changed my life was Elie Wiesel’s The Town Beyond the Wall. Wiesel, whom I have been privileged to know for 25 years, is a man haunted by heartbreak, having lost most of his family in Auschwitz and survived that hell when he was only a teenager. In his novel he introduces Elisha, a character thinly modeled on Wiesel himself, who wishes to return from France to Poland after the war in order to confront his Gentile neighbor who silently watched as the Jews of his town were herded together like sheep for the gas-chambers. But it is clear in the book that the neighbor is a metaphor for G-d Himself, who stood by watching silently as the Jews of Europe went to the crematoria. Elisha rails and thunders against a creator who can allow such cruelty. But far from blaspheming or storming against G-d from a point of sacrilege, Elisha does so as a religious man within a framework of faith. Where other religions advocate total submission to the divine will, the word “Israel” translates literally as “he who wrestles with G-d” and Wiesel has spent his life demanding accountability from a God who seemingly watches passively as evil triumphs.
Man need not bow his head in humble obedience in the face of seeming divine miscarriages of justice. The authentic response to suffering is not to bow our heads in submission but to protest to G-d when He allows cruelty to dominate the earth. This is fully in the tradition of Abraham at Sodom and Gomorrah and Moses at the Golden Calf, both of whom demand that God grant clemency even after the Almighty has declared a sinful party to be deserving of destruction.
In The Town Beyond the Wall, Wiesel introduces an astonishing literary character named Varady. This challenge to the Divine is perhaps best contained in this haunting figure, a former scholar who has become a recluse and emerges after many years of seclusion to preach a sermon to the town. “He emphasized the strength of man, who could bring the Messiah to obedience. He claimed that liberation from Time would be accomplished at the signal of man, and not of his Creator… ‘Each of you, the men and women who hear me, have G?d in his power, for each of you is capable of achieving a thing of which G?d is incapable!… [man] will conquer heaven, earth, sickness, and death if he will only raze the walls that imprison the Will! And I who speak to you announce my decision to deny death, to repel it, to ridicule it! He who stands before you will never die!’”
It is a mark of our distance from authentic Judaism today that many spiritual leaders teach us to succumb to circumstance and find meaning in suffering rather than challenge God to make things betters.
I remember so vividly how the Lubavitcher Rebbe used to pound the table in front of thousands of people when he would hear of the deaths of Israelis soldiers, demanding of God, “Ad Masai?” How much longer, Lord? How long will you be silent and when will you send the Messiah and push death from the earth?” The Rebbe was never compliant and was always defiant.
What G-d wishes of us is not to make peace with disease and death but to work strenuously toward a blessed, Messianic future. As another of Wiesel’s characters, Pedro, declares, “The dialogue ? or… duel… between man and his G?d doesn’t end in nothingness. Man may not have the last word, but he has the last cry.” Redemption from suffering is discovered only when we protest against it to G?d, and the most effective way of dealing with suffering is to extend ourselves to other humans in friendship and compassion. This includes never allowing another to suffer in silence, and never to blame people for the misfortune that may befall them. G-d is omnipotent. He does not need mankind’s defense. But humans are vulnerable and we must all run to each other’s rescue.
Approximately a year ago, I listened to a renowned Rabbi lecture on Saturday afternoon in Englewood to a crowd of educated, modern orthodox Jews about the Holocaust. He spoke of how the genocide of the Jews was punishment for Jewish abandonment of God and tradition. He said that the Jews of Europe had become corrupt and secular, materialistic and self-centered. God sent the Nazis to punish them. He then hit his high note. The proof of this truth, he said, was the Jewish women who were forced to take off their clothes before going into the crematoria. Many paraded around in front of the German guards uninhibited and unashamed. That’s how far from the Jewish laws of modesty they had strayed.
Jewish women, condemned to death, were being defamed by a man who had never met them. And rather than protest, we all sat in blissful silence.
It’s time to make some noise.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of “The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
The Arctic is changing. A shrinking polar icecap—now 40 percent smaller than it was in 1979—has opened not only new shipping routes, but access to 13 percent and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas, respectively.
Today, the region’s vast energy, mineral and marine resources draw substantial international and commercial interest.
What can the U.S. do to strengthen the Arctic offshore oil and gas governance regime as it takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015?
In a new report, Offshore Oil and Gas Governance in the Arctic: A Leadership Role for the U.S., authors Charles K. Ebinger, John P. Banks, and Alisa Schackmann review the current framework regarding offshore Arctic energy exploration, and recommend efforts the U.S. should take to assert leadership in the region, such as:
Establish oil spill prevention and response as a guiding theme for its Arctic Council chairmanship;
Appoint a U.S. Arctic ambassador;
Accelerate development of Alaska-specific oil and gas standards; and
Strengthen bilateral arrangements with Russia and Canada.
Establish oil spill prevention, control, and response as the overarching theme for U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015-2017.
Create the diplomatic post of “Arctic Ambassador.”
Establish a Regional Bureau for Polar Affairs in the U.S. Department of State.
Accelerate the ongoing development of Alaska-specific offshore oil and gas standards and discuss their applicability in bilateral and multilateral forums for the broader Arctic region.
Strengthen bilateral regulatory arrangements for the Chukchi Sea with Russia, and the Beaufort Sea with Canada.
Support the industry-led establishment of an Arctic-specific resource sharing organization for oil spill response and safety.
Support and prioritize the strengthening of the Arctic Council through enhanced thematic coordination of offshore oil and gas issues.
Support the establishment of a circumpolar Arctic Regulators Association for Oil and Gas.
To learn more, watch this video and read the new policy brief from the Brookings Energy Security Initiative:
“I congratulate you and your collaborators on the report and
on the Energy Security Initiative. The active interest and involvement of Brookings in Arctic affairs is, and will be,
of enormous importance for the future development of the region.”
—H.E. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of Iceland (written to Dr. Charles Ebinger)
We hope you will find this new report an informative primer on Arctic governance and a dependable reference in discussing Arctic affairs. We encourage your feedback by emailing ESI Project Coordinator Colleen Lowry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles K. Ebinger Director, Energy Security Initiative at Brookings
A new study warns that the world faces serious risks from warming and that the poor are most vulnerable, but it avoids the kinds of specific forecasts that have sparked controversy in the past. READ MORE»
If President Obama really wants to end the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records, he doesn’t need to ask the permission of Congress, as he said on Tuesday he would do. He can just end it himself, immediately.
That’s what Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, urged him to do. “The president could end bulk collection once and for all on Friday by not seeking reauthorization of this program,”Mr. Leahy said.
Ending bulk collection now wouldn’t undermine Mr. Obama’s proposal to Congress. In fact, if his promise is matched by the final details (which are not yet available), it could be an important and positive break from the widespread invasion of privacy secretly practiced by the National Security Agency for years.
Getting a law to create strong judicial oversight of data collection would be a check on the ambitions of future presidents. But once the question is tossed into the maelstrom of Congress, where one party routinely opposes anything the president wants, the limits could be delayed, or diluted, or just killed. And while lawmakers wring their hands, the invasion of privacy will continue.
As Charlie Savage reported in The Times on Tuesday, the president is planning to ask Congress to end the N.S.A.’s systematic collection of telephone records begun under President George W. Bush, an action already endorsed by his independent board of advisers. The records will be left in the hands of the phone companies, where they belong, until the N.S.A. gets permission from a judge to review an individual record because of a possible tie to terrorism. (The companies would only have to store the data 18 months, compared with the agency’s five years.)
The requirement for judicial review is one of the most important parts of the president’s plan. Just as police departments have to get a court order for a wiretap, the intelligence agencies need to present their justification to an outside arbiter for a request of telephone data, which can be as revealing as the content of a conversation. The provision distinguishes the White House plan from a much weaker bill introduced by the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, which would allow the N.S.A. to subpoena individual records without judicial approval.
But there are still important unknown details. What standard of suspicion does the government need to meet to persuade a judge? Administration officials said it would be the “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of terror ties now used by the N.S.A. when examining phone records, but that remains an unacceptably weak level of proof. Judicial review should require a clearer, stronger standard, though it is doubtful Congress will approve one.
It’s not clear, as Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote, whether the proposal covers all the methods the intelligence agencies use to collect personal and financial records, and whether the N.S.A. will delete the records it has. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which will consider the requests for records, should be required to disclose how often it says yes.
The immediate question, though, is why the president feels he needs to wait for Congress before stopping mass collection. As Mr. Obama said on Tuesday, because of Edward Snowden’s revelations, “we have to win back the trust not just of governments but, more important, of ordinary citizens.”
Continuing the current surveillance program while lawmakers argue is not the way to begin winning back the country’s trust.
The U.S. government will never “win back the trust” of the American people because it represents the interests of multinational…
“The immediate question, though, is why the president feels he needs to wait for Congress before stopping mass collection.”I believe your…
That NYT states the FISA Court “should be required to disclose how often it says yes,” is in flat contradiction to the sugary analysis…
Edward Snowden. (illustration: Jason Seiler/TIME)
Obama Just Opened the Door for Snowden’s Immunity.
By Michael Maiello, Esquire
25 March 2014
oday, Charlie Savage at The New York Times reports that the Obama administration will propose the end of the NSA’s bulk data collection program, replacing it with a more targeted, more thoroughly court supervised alternative. It is an imperfect solution for those who suspect that the FISA court is too eager to grant such requests but Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the paper that this was “a sensible outcome.”
As we are a good way through Obama’s second term as president, I think it’s more than fair to say that we would not be here, at the cusp of sensibility, without the actions of Edward J. Snowden, the former NSA contractor who now lives in Russia under the protection of Vladimir Putin. Snowden took and released an uncounted number of sensitive documents from his employers and is responsible for disclosing the breadth and scope of the NSA’s global telecommunications surveillance program. Had the details of this program remained rumor and whisper as they were for the bulk of Obama’s tenure, it’s a fair bet that nothing would be changing now.
This is the very essence of whistleblowing. Snowden brought information to the public so that the public could reasonably demand changes from its leaders. Obama was seemingly happy to ignore the surveillance issue until forced, much as he was seemingly happy to hold an ambiguous view on same sex marriage until public opinion made vagaries impossible.
The knock on Snowden’s whistleblowing is that he revealed details of the government’s legal activities. The Times makes clear that this is a problematic claim, at best:
“It was part of the secret surveillance program that President George W. Bush unilaterally put in place after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, outside of any legal framework or court oversight.
In 2006, as part of a broader Bush administration effort to put its programs on a firmer legal footing, the Justice Department persuaded the surveillance court to begin authorizing the program.”
So far as legality goes you have the Bush administration grabbing power by using the broadest possible interpretation of one part of a massive post-crisis law and then persuading a secret court that acts with little public oversight to bless it. Then Obama just went along with the momentum. The legality here is hardly as thoroughly debated as say, the separation of church and state or Obamacare.
Late last year there was some talk that Snowden could be granted amnesty in exchange for returning whatever other documents were in his possession and cooperating to help the government’s security agencies not fall prey to other employees and contractors. This was shot down by the White House. Spokesman Jay Carney insisted: “Mr. Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information and he faces felony charges here in the United States. He should be returned to the United States as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process in our system.”
But all crimes have a context. It might be convenient for the criminal to claim they were acting in the public’s interest and it might be rare but Obama’s proposal is clearly an admission that Snowden broke the law to identify government activities that should, at the very least, be radically changed.
Obama has a lot of options here. The smart choice is to offer Snowden immunity in exchange for his future cooperation. If the intelligence services are going to continue to outsource classified functions, then Snowden has a lot to offer in terms of protecting legal and necessary secrets. Another is a blanket pardon. Less good but still acceptable is an agreement to commute whatever sentences Snowden receives, should he agree to stand trial.
When the government operates in secret, there is little hope for change. The public can have no opinion about what it doesn’t know. Obama’s proposal is an admission that Snowden was right. It doesn’t make sense to insist that the citizen who prodded his recalcitrant government into action should be punished.
Our state’s Common Retirement Fund is the third largest pension plan in the country, with $160 billion in investments. It’s heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry, and we think that makes no sense at all.
Climate change is real, it’s here, and it’s endangering the biodiversity and natural resources we depend on, as well as the physical infrastructure that makes our state run. Why is a state that’s still rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy invested in the very companies driving this crisis?
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has the power to divest New York from fossil fuels, and divestment has the power to rein in the fossil fuel industry — an industry that’s both driving the climate crisis and polluting our democracy. I think that’s an easy call, but evidently the Comptroller needs a little more convincing.
Rally co-sponsors include: Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, GreenFaith, Responsible Endowments Coalition, United for Action, Green Party of New York, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, Green Map System, Cuny Divest, Hunter Sustainability Project, NYU Divest, Barnard Columbia Divest for Climate Justice, and Fossil Free Fordham
The northern reaches of the planet are melting at a pace few nations can afford to ignore, yielding potentially lucrative returns in energy, minerals, and shipping, explains this CFR InfoGuide.
Emerging Arctic Explored in New CFR InfoGuide
March 25, 2014—The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has released a new interactive guide examining the economic opportunities and environmental risks emerging in the Arctic. Climate change, technological advances, and a growing demand for natural resources are driving a new era of development in the Arctic region. Many experts assert that Arctic summers could be free of sea ice in a matter of decades, opening the region up to hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, most notably in energy production and shipping.
But the region’s warming will also bring new security and environmental complications, particularly for the five Arctic Ocean coastal states—the United States, Russia, Denmark (Greenland), Canada, and Norway.
“I don’t think about the Arctic in isolation. I think about it in terms of its location in the center of some major geopolitical developments,” says Michael Byers, Canada research chair in global politics and international law at the University of British Columbia, in the overview video. He adds that U.S.-Russia relations, global climate change, and the development of China as an economic power dependent on shipping are all issues that converge in the Arctic.
The “Emerging Arctic” InfoGuide includes:
an overviewvideo with insights from Scott Borgerson, CEO, CargoMetrics and Cofounder, Arctic Circle; Michael Byers; Heather Conley, senior fellow and director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Marlene Laruelle, research professor of international affairs at George Washington University;
a timeline highlighting commercial, political, and environmental milestones in the Arctic;
infographics detailing the region’s demographics, oil and gas potential, and ships and shipping routes;
an interactive diagram showing the intersecting affiliations of Arctic Council member states; and
policy options for a stable and sustainable future in the Arctic.
an interactive map showcasing the receding sea ice, regional oil and gas resources, areas of diplomatic dispute, seasonal shipping routes, and the five Arctic Ocean coastal states;
The “Emerging Arctic” InfoGuide is the third in a series that also includes “China’s Maritime Disputes” and “Child Marriage.” InfoGuides, produced by the CFR.org editorial team, utilize a responsive design for tablets and mobile devices. Various multimedia sections are embeddable, including the timeline, map, and infographics. CFR’s interactive offerings also feature the Emmy Award–winning Crisis Guides and the Global Governance Monitor.
About CFR The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.