"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Archive for September, 2015|Monthly archive page

Investors Are Mining For The Next Hot Commodity: Water. Wall Street Smells Profit As California Endures Devastating Drought

In Uncategorized on September 25, 2015 at 7:38 pm

Drip-irrigated lemon orchards at the Cadiz water project in the Mojave Desert.

Oldspeak: “Investing in the water industry is one of the great opportunities for the coming decades, Water is the scarce resource that will define the 21st century, much like plentiful oil defined the last century.” –Matthew J. Diserio ,Water Asset Management

Water has been taken for granted, but reliable access is no longer guaranteed, It will be seen as an asset class that will be allocated in portfolios like health care stocks or energy or real estate. -Disque D. Deane Jr., Water Asset Management

“Business as usual is in effect for Wall St. employed Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocrats in the water starved and drought-striken American west. Understand how these people think. At least one major Watermongerer, Chairman of Nestle, thinks “human beings have no right to water…. The biggest social responsibility of any CEO, is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise.Similarly, observe the deranged and terrifying logic of these Wall St. veterans, uttered quite casually. Their objective is to invest in and profit from water assets to which reliable access is no longer guaranteed. The “asset class” will be added to profitable portfolios established to further enrich their clients. And be sold to others at a premium. No mention of the madness of continuing to drill for water and grow water intensive crops in a fucking desert. No mentions of  the environmental impacts of desalination plants or the pipelines to be built to transport the product and where to store waste. These are nothing more than externalities in the demented calculus of “people” who see the world as something from which to extract market value. An expected view in corporate media outlet like NYT. But the most telling quote from this piece for me was this one  by a long time market analyst Steve Maxwell :”It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a public agency or a private company that manages your water, the prices are going up, It’s not because of municipal inefficiency or corporate greed. It’s because we’re running out of water.” That’s the bottom-line. The market won’t matter when the water runs out.” –OSJ

Written By  Nelson D. Schwartz @ The New York Times:

Gazing out of a turboprop high above his company’s main asset — 34,000 acres in the Mojave Desert with billions of gallons of fresh water locked deep below the sagebrush-dotted land — Scott Slater paints a lush picture that has enticed a hardy band of investors for a quarter-century.

Yes, Mr. Slater admits, his company, Cadiz, has never earned a dime from water. And he freely concedes it will take at least another $200 million to dig dozens of wells, filter the water and then move it 43 miles across the desert through a new pipeline before thirsty Southern Californians can drink a drop.

But tapping cash, as opposed to actual water, has never been a problem for Cadiz. “I think there’s plenty of money out there,” Mr. Slater said.

Real profits may be nearly as scarce as snow in the High Sierra, but Wall Street, as it is wont to do, smells profit as California endures its worst drought in decades.

“Investing in the water industry is one of the great opportunities for the coming decades,” said Matthew J. Diserio of Water Asset Management, a New York firm that is a major backer of Cadiz. “Water is the scarce resource that will define the 21st century, much like plentiful oil defined the last century.”

So far, though, this veritable Gold Rush has mostly turned up fool’s gold.

Over the last decade, Cadiz has accrued $185 million in losses, and revenue from the lemon groves and vineyards it owns in the Mojave has added up to only a trickle: $7.1 million total since 2005.

To develop the project, the company burns through $10 million to $20 million annually, paying for a never-ending battle in courthouses and conference rooms across California to win make-or-break government permits and to cover the salaries of its 10 full-time employees.

Cadiz has generated that money by borrowing and regularly issuing more shares, prompting skeptics to wonder if it will ever actually deliver any water, much less any profits.

“It’s a tough game,” said John Dickerson, chief executive of Summit Global Management, a 20-year-old San Diego firm that invests in water infrastructure companies, local water suppliers and water rights, both in the United States and overseas.

Scott S. Slater, the chief executive of Cadiz. Monica Almeida/The New York Times

“Cadiz has promoted the dream and for years Wall Street has pumped optimistic paper water for Cadiz,” he added. “But now the hard question for them is, Where is your real water and when can we drink it?”

Other water ventures have also promised more than they have been able to deliver, at least so far. Obstacles abound in the forms of skeptical regulators, wary customers and implacably opposed environmental groups.

But some projects are finally nearing fruition. Near San Diego, the privately held Poseidon Water is getting ready to flip the switch on a new desalination plant that it built after 15 years of battling lawsuits filed by environmental groups and waiting for go-aheads from cautious regulators.

The drought, however, hasn’t softened local opposition to private players like Cadiz or Poseidon entering California’s water market. A main reason is money.

After Poseidon’s new plant begins producing desalinated water late this year, the monthly water bill for a typical consumer in the San Diego area will rise by about $5, to $80, according to the San Diego County Water Authority.

Drip-irrigated lemon trees and vineyards are so far producing the project’s only revenue. Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Located on the grounds of a power plant in Carlsbad facing the Pacific Ocean, the facility should produce as much as 50 million gallons of drinking water a day, if not more, expanding the region’s water supply nearly 10 percent.

Nonetheless, for Adam Scow, California director of Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit environmental group that opposes the desalination project, any private control over the water supply is too much.

“Water is a public trust, and it shouldn’t be privatized,” Mr. Scow said. “It can’t be managed for the benefit of a few people like Poseidon’s investors. The rates are unjustified.”

Poseidon officials reject arguments from critics like Mr. Scow that they are taking advantage of consumers.

“The Carlsbad desalination project is a true public-private partnership,” said Andrew Kingman, executive vice president at Poseidon Water. “Poseidon’s role in the project is that of a service provider. The Water Authority doesn’t have any payment obligations for the water until it is converted and delivered, and thereafter has full control over its use.”

Cadiz plans to construct a 43-mile pipeline along the railroad tracks to carry water from the eastern edge of San Bernardino County to thirsty cities to the west. Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Indeed, despite fears that Wall Street is making money off the drought, so far it has mainly been Poseidon’s investors who have been on the losing end. The company’s first return on its investment is not expected until next year, after years on the drawing board. A similar Poseidon project up the coast in Huntington Beach is still mired in the permitting process.

“It took more than a decade of struggle to get the Poseidon project permitted, not the kind of experience to make for happy investors,” Mr. Dickerson said. “This may well discourage potential investors in future desalination projects in California.”

But for those with a long enough time horizon, water may ultimately prove to be a good investment.

“Water has been taken for granted, but reliable access is no longer guaranteed,” said Disque D. Deane Jr., a Wall Street veteran who runs Water Asset Management with Mr. Diserio. “It will be seen as an asset class that will be allocated in portfolios like health care stocks or energy or real estate.”

Their firm now oversees more than $500 million for pension plans, sovereign funds and wealthy families, and their flagship fund has generally outperformed global stock market benchmarks since inception in 2006. Assets at Impax Asset Management, a London-based firm that also focuses on water, have doubled to $1.8 billion over the last two years.

While some projects may be more far-fetched than others, experts involved in the business insist there’s nothing wrong with making a profit selling water.

“It takes money to process, treat and move water, but now water itself is becoming increasingly valuable in the West,” said Steve Maxwell, a veteran industry consultant who is based in Boulder, Colo.

“It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a public agency or a private company that manages your water, the prices are going up,” he added. “It’s not because of municipal inefficiency or corporate greed. It’s because we’re running out of water.”

Many investors are looking for less risky ways to make money in the water business. Rather than wade into bruising battles over water rights or developing new supplies only to face accusations of trying to profit off the drought, investors like Simon Gottelier of Impax are focusing on companies that supply infrastructure to water utilities and industrial users, not the water itself.

“As long-term investors focused on managing a ‘sleep at night’ fund, we are reticent about water rights companies because of how emotive the issue can be,” Mr. Gottelier said. “We don’t want to make investments in companies that become a subject of ire from farmers or generate headlines.”

Disque Deane Jr., sitting, and Matthew J. Diserio are major backers of Cadiz. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

For Impax, that means there is appeal in stocks like Xylem, a maker of pumps, filtration equipment, and water treatment and testing supplies. Other Impax holdings might include makers of reverse osmosis membranes, like those at the heart of Poseidon’s new desalination plant, which Mr. Gottelier visited in June.

He sees California’s water shortage not just as a driver of demand for the individual companies in his portfolio, but also as a spur to individuals and institutions wanting in on the water trade but not ready for moonshots like Cadiz.

“There has been a dramatic increase in real and potential investor appetite,” Mr. Gottelier said. Much of the cash flowing into Impax is from institutional clients in Europe, where for-profit water systems have a long history, in contrast to the United States.

Back in the Mojave, in a trailer alongside a sun-baked airstrip built by Cadiz, Mr. Slater likes to show visitors a video of what appears to be an underground river 400 feet below the sand and sagebrush. As the temperature hovers at 95 degrees outside, the sight of all that crystalline, cool water conjures up visions of an imaginary oasis shimmering in the distance, drawing wanderers ever deeper into the desert.

But Mr. Slater insists it is within reach.

“Our expectation is that we’re going to turn dirt next year,” he promised. “We’ve never said before that this is the year. We’re saying it now.”

Correction: September 24, 2015 Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of an executive at Water Asset Management. He is Disque D. Deane Jr., not Dean. The error was repeated in an earlier version of a picture caption.

Advertisements

As Global Consumption Skyrockets, ‘Full Footprint’ Felt by Millions

In Uncategorized on September 22, 2015 at 1:59 pm

“As consumers, we influence the landscapes and lives of those who live near the extraction, manufacturing, disposal, and other impacts of the products we use every day.” (Photo: The Searcher/flickr/cc)

Oldspeak: “One of my favorite films “They Live” has come to pass. In the film there are ubiquitous and ever present messages everywhere from human’s alien overlords to “OBEY“, “MARRY AND REPRODUCE“, “NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT”, “CONFORM”, “SUBMIT”, “STAY ASLEEP”, “BUY”, “WATCH TV”, “NO IMAGINATION”, “DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY” and the all important one “CONSUME”. We have been primed our whole lives, for generations now, to consume, consume, consume, at ever increasing rates and more conspicuous fashion. This business as usual has not slowed down one bit, in fact it’s skyrocketing at time when the natural capital required to produce consumables are being depleted unsustainably. Coal consumption, meat consumption, plastic consumption, GMO consumption, car consumption, all have exploded in the midst of global ecological collapse. The “full footprint” anthropocentrically focused on humans impacted in the piece below is being felt far, far worse by the ecology & other life-forms on Earth upon which we depend for survival. Expect this trend to continue until all natural resources have been exhausted and/or environmental conditions deteriorate to a point where human activities can’t be supported…” -OSJ

 

Written By Deirdre Fulton @ Common Dreams:

Even as inequality and temperatures soar around the world, global consumption—a driving force behind economic and climate crises alike—has skyrocketed to levels never before experienced on Earth, according to a new analysis from the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues.

This year’s Vital Signs report, released Tuesday, tracks key trends in the environment, agriculture, energy, society, and the economy. It shows that “from coal to cars to coffee, consumption levels are breaking records.”

Yet “consumers often do not know the full footprint of the products they are buying, such as the embedded water in a t-shirt or steak, the pesticide exposure of cotton farmers, or the local devastation caused by timber companies cutting down forests to produce paper,” said Michael Renner, Vital Signs project director.

Indeed, writes Worldwatch Institute’s Gaelle Gourmelon, “our consumption choices affect more than ourselves—they affect the environment and the lives and livelihoods of millions.”

For example, the report points out, global meat production has more than quadrupled in the last 50 years to over 308 million tons in 2013—bringing with it considerable environmental and health costs due to its large-scale draw on water, feed grains, antibiotics, and grazing land.

“Beef is by far the most intensive of meats, requiring more than 15,000 liters of water per kilogram of meat produced,” writes Gourmelon, suggesting that ending factory-style livestock operations and eating less meat could help diminish the sector’s impact. “Beef production also uses three-fifths of global farmland despite its yield of less than 5 percent of the world’s protein and less than 2 percent of its calories.”

Another notable finding from the analysis: while Western Europeans and North Americans consume the most plastic per person, using 100 kilograms of plastic per person each year, just a fraction of that is recycled. In the U.S., for example, only 9 percent of plastic was recycled in 2012.

“As consumers, we influence the landscapes and lives of those who live near the extraction, manufacturing, disposal, and other impacts of the products we use every day,” Gourmelon concludes. “Once we see ourselves as part of the larger puzzle, we are better able to choose what we buy, how we eat, and for whom we cast our ballot.”

The Worldwatch Institute’s infographic, below, illustrates more staggering statistics:

(Credit: Worldwatch Institute)

(Credit: Worldwatch Institute)

Global Drought: Why Is No One Discussing Fresh Water At COP 21?

In Uncategorized on September 18, 2015 at 1:50 am

Oldspeak: “Leaving aside the fact that these “Conference Of Parties” meetings are grandiosely farcical, ‘policy-based, evidence making’ circle jerks of bloviation where no truly meaningful policy is ever implemented on the scale necessary to make a difference in the rapidly deteriorating conditions of our global ecology, this is an important question. Why is the global drought not up for discussion? How exactly will it be possible to realize this wondrous wind, solar, and other “green technology” fueled future, without adequate supplies of water to dig for the also rapidly depleting natural capital in the form of minerals and ore needed to build the shit to begin with?!?!? Given the fact that “Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points“, I don’t see this future happening. Especially when water scarcity is not topic up for discussion. With more are more stress being placed on these unsustainably depleted aquifers by every new human born, all the stuff you’ll read below about “mitigation”, “adaption” and “opportunities to do better” seem to me like nothing more than fantasy. COP 21 = COP OUT 21. Enjoy the Kabuki Theater.” -OSJ

Written By Katherine Purvis @ The Guardian U.K.:

Around the world, fresh water supplies are drying up: California in the US and São Paulo in Brazil are enduring historic droughts, groundwater sources have been plundered in south Asia, and globally more than 750 million people lack access to safe drinking water. The global fresh water shortage is one of the world’s most pressing challenges, yet the issue is not scheduled to be discussed at Cop21 – the UN’s climate change conference – in Paris this December.

Those working to deliver water to communities or conserve fresh water sources have a duty to demonstrate ways to adapt to climate change and help policymakers understand the importance of water in a warming world. NGOs, businesses and others working in the sector must build alliances to show how to improve the world’s water problems, such as making the transition to solar energy or planting drought-resistant crops.

This was the central message of a panel discussion, organised by the Guardian and the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), and sponsored by Fundación Femsa, which creates programmes focused on conservation and the sustainable use of water. The panel discussion was held at SIWI’s annual World Water Week conference.

Although Cop discussions have been held for the past 20 years, the issue of fresh water has not been part of the official agenda, even though it is so closely linked to climate change.

Water projects that help communities adapt to climate change

The panellists suggested that the most effective way for water to be incorporated into climate policy would be through an action agenda where those working in the sector could show governments the types of water projects that could help communities mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

“It’s important to demonstrate initiatives and good examples to drive the process – don’t depend on the decisions being made in Paris,” said Karin Lexén, director of World Water Week, International Process and Prizes. Benedito Braga, president of the World Water Council, agreed: “We need to have interesting proposals of projects on the ground, which means involving not only national governments, but also the private sector and the academic community.”

However, there was some debate around whether or not water needs to be included in the resulting climate change agreement from Cop21. “One of the things I’ve seen throughout all these years of Cop talks is that even if the topic is not present [in the text], the water still creeps in,” said Vidal Garza Cantu, director of Fundación Femsa.

The language used to talk about climate change was a key theme throughout the discussion. David Tickner, WWF’s head of fresh water programmes, said that while some people do not understand climate change, they do understand floods and droughts. “If we communicated on floods and droughts and their connection to climate change in some areas, that could help our politics.”

Encouraging governments and policymakers to look at how water is essential to their biggest priorities, such as energy supply, could also help, said Dominic Waughray, head of public-private partnerships at the World Economic Forum.

India’s reliance on coal

Waughray cited India’s pursuit of energy access through coal as an example. While coal may be the cheapest and most reliable source of energy for India, it is crucial to demonstrate that in the long run, it is not the most sustainable option because of the amount of water needed. “How secure is your coal plan when you’ll need an awful lot of water to cool all those power stations?” said Waughray, demonstrating how to present the issue to officials. “In the US, 26% of installed capacity for coal is in water-stressed areas, and look what’s happening to them right now – they are close to blackouts in some states. Is that where you want to be?”

This highlighting of the risks of using water so recklessly has encouraged action in the private sector. “We have looked at our business risk and understood how climate change and water issues are going to change how we do business in 10 or 20 years’ time, and impact on our profitability” said Ellen Silva, senior manager of applied sustainability at General Mills.

“I would call out to corporations to be transparent about your risks. Face them and you’ll find partners lining up to work with you and solve those problems.”

Tickner, however, urged caution around using risk terminology, saying that while it resonates with the private sector and governments, opportunities must also be talked about. “What are the opportunities here for governments and business to do things better? Opportunity terminology can also be very powerful,” he said. Waughray agreed: “The risk issue has sunk in. The next stage is opportunity and that’s where this momentum, the alliance-building and the positive engagement about solutions, comes into play.”

Collaboration was frequently proposed as a way to see water included in climate change discussions, with many recognising that, in the past, some of the most effective alliances were formed on the sidelines. Waughray cited the New York declaration on forests, a commitment by world leaders to end natural forest loss by 2030 that grew out of the secretary general’s Climate Summit in 2014, as a successful example in the forestry sector.

Lexén explained that during the various climate conferences and diplomatic processes over the years, SIWI has tried to stay on the sidelines, talking to people about how they can assist the organisation’s work. “What we’ve seen when we’ve been in the corridors of conferences, is that we get more and more requests from the secretariat to feed into their programmes.” Sometimes, Lexén told the audience, it is more important to be there and be ready to respond to the cause than to ask decision makers: “Please could you put a bit about water in [the Cop21] text?”

One alliance the water community could build upon, said Cantu, is with science. “When you get the basics of scientific knowledge and technology in to the discourse on water, you get all the allies that you want,” he said. “It’s important that we pursue knowledge on water to the edge, to share it with other communities and make it available so we can allow other allies to join in a very clear effort.”

The issue of finance, and how to obtain funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation projects, was raised by several of the expert panellists. The water sector must reach out to governments that can make changes, support ideas around adaptation, and put the financial resources in place, said Braga: “You have a beautiful declaration, you commit to this and that, but where is the money going to come from?” The goal, he said, is to motivate governments to contribute to a fund that will support poor countries already facing the effects of climate change to become more resilient.

Green Climate Fund

The chair of the debate, Karl Mathiesen, however, questioned whether or not such a financial mechanism already existed in the form of the Green Climate Fund – a framework established by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – to redistribute money from developed to developing countries, to fund adaptation and mitigation initiatives.

Braga said yes, that is the purpose of the fund, but that until now it has focused on reducing carbon emissions and not measures such as building water infrastructure and supporting water governance.

Lexén added that throughout the World Water Week conference, she had listened to talks by Héla Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the Green Climate Fund: “I think the message she is conveying is that there’s a decision for the fund to give 50% to adaptation projects and 50% to mitigation projects. But so far, they haven’t received high-quality projects on water so we need to deliver on that.”

Tickner stressed the importance of water professionals being involved in the planning and design of any financial mechanisms geared towards funding climate change adaption and mitigation measures.

As for the types of initiatives water professionals show to decision makers, Tickner had a range of ideas: “We could show how you can conserve areas such as peatlands or wetlands, which are important carbon sinks.

“We could help to show how you can zone river basins to get the maximum sustainable hydropower out of them, without screwing up ecosystems.

“We could work on demand management for water. We can show urban spatial planning and its win-wins for water, climate, biodiversity and health. There are 101 things we can do that would be positive, full of great opportunities and will produce mutual benefits.

“If bad mitigation or adaptation projects get funded, they can have really negative trade-off effects,” he said. “So we need to get in there and ask how can you design a project where: those trade-offs are transparent; there is an equitable process for making decisions about what gets approved and what doesn’t; and as many win-win projects are funded as possible.”

On one viewpoint the panel was unanimous: that Cop21 is not the end of efforts to get water included in climate change talks. “This is just part of a process,” said Braga. “We should not think only of one single event – it’s a process that moves forward.”

How Humans Cause Mass Extinctions

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2015 at 1:25 am

Oldspeak: “What’s the use of a nice house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

Henry David Thoreau

“A pretty no-nonsense delineation of the present situation. Speaking plainly about a couple of the root causes of the ever accelerating 6th Mass Extinction: unsustainable over consumption and the population bomb. Meanwhile the vast majority of humans ensconced in the life-extinguishing system of death that is Industrial Civilization, can’t wait to have more babies and buy more shit that they don’t need. Without much of a fight as Chris Hedges has said, ” we have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death.” And we now must reap what we’ve sown.” -OSJ

 

Written By Paul R. Ehrlich & Anne H. Ehrlich @ Project Syndicate:

There is no doubt that Earth is undergoing the sixth mass extinction in its history – the first since the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. According to one recent study, species are going extinct between ten and several thousand times faster than they did during stable periods in the planet’s history, and populations within species are vanishing hundreds or thousands of times faster than that. By one estimate, Earth has lost half of its wildlife during the past 40 years. There is also no doubt about the cause: We are it.

We are in the process of killing off our only known companions in the universe, many of them beautiful and all of them intricate and interesting. This is a tragedy, even for those who may not care about the loss of wildlife. The species that are so rapidly disappearing provide human beings with indispensable ecosystem services: regulating the climate, maintaining soil fertility, pollinating crops and defending them from pests, filtering fresh water, and supplying food.

The cause of this great acceleration in the loss of the planet’s biodiversity is clear: rapidly expanding human activity, driven by worsening overpopulation and increasing per capita consumption. We are destroying habitats to make way for farms, pastures, roads, and cities. Our pollution is disrupting the climate and poisoning the land, water, and air. We are transporting invasive organisms around the globe and overharvesting commercially or nutritionally valuable plants and animals.

The more people there are, the more of Earth’s productive resources must be mobilized to support them. More people means more wild land must be put under the plow or converted to urban infrastructure to support sprawling cities like Manila, Chengdu, New Delhi, and San Jose. More people means greater demand for fossil fuels, which means more greenhouse gases flowing into the atmosphere, perhaps the single greatest extinction threat of all. Meanwhile, more of Canada needs to be destroyed to extract low-grade petroleum from oil sands and more of the United States needs to be fracked.

More people also means the production of more computers and more mobile phones, along with more mining operations for the rare earths needed to make them. It means more pesticides, detergents, antibiotics, glues, lubricants, preservatives, and plastics, many of which contain compounds that mimic mammalian hormones. Indeed, it means more microscopic plastic particles in the biosphere – particles that may be toxic or accumulate toxins on their surfaces. As a result, all living things – us included – have been plunged into a sickening poisonous stew, with organisms that are unable to adapt pushed further toward extinction.

With each new person, the problem gets worse. Since human beings are intelligent, they tend to use the most accessible resources first. They settle the richest, most productive land, drink the nearest, cleanest water, and tap the easiest-to-reach energy sources.

And so as new people arrive, food is produced on less fertile, more fragile land. Water is transported further or purified. Energy is produced from more marginal sources. In short, each new person joining the global population disproportionately adds more stress to the planet and its systems, causing more environmental damage and driving more species to extinction than members of earlier generations.

To see this phenomenon at work, consider the oil industry. When the first well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859, it penetrated less than 70 feet into the soil before hitting oil. By comparison, the well drilled by Deepwater Horizon, which famously blew up in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, began a mile beneath the water’s surface and drilled a few miles into the rock before finding oil. This required a huge amount of energy, and when the well blew, it was far harder to contain, causing large-scale, ongoing damage to the biodiversity of the Gulf and the adjacent shorelines, as well as to numerous local economies.

The situation can be summarized simply. The world’s expanding human population is in competition with the populations of most other animals (exceptions include rats, cattle, cats, dogs, and cockroaches). Through the expansion of agriculture, we are now appropriating roughly half of the energy from the sun used to produce food for all animals – and our needs are only growing.

With the world’s most dominant animal – us – taking half the cake, it is little wonder that the millions of species left fighting over the other half have begun to disappear rapidly. This is not just a moral tragedy; it is an existential threat. Mass extinctions will deprive us of many of the ecosystem services on which our civilization depends. Our population bomb has already claimed its first casualties. They will not be the last.

Nations’ Pledges To Cut Carbon Emissions Insufficient To Avoid Catastrophic Climate Change; Set Course for Disastrous Warming: Analysis

In Uncategorized on September 11, 2015 at 8:14 pm

Oldspeak: “Here’s what we know: “Everyday politics is therefore dominated not by evidence-based policy-making but by attempts at ‘policy-based evidence-making‘ and global warming is likely to surpass the 2c “guardrail“, this news is a logical outcome. As we’ve seen from my last post, scientists are actually being discouraged from reporting facts. Is it any surprise then, that our policies are utterly incompatible with the reality we face? The reality is this: We’re currently on track for 3.2 to 5c of warming a.k.a extinction. The longer policy makers continue to pretend that 2c of warming is achievable at the same time that entirely too much carbon continues to be emitted by the day, while dirty energy producers keep on with “drill baby drill” and far too little is being done to reduce emissions the more certain our fate is sealed. It’s not difficult to understand. Technology that does not exist is being relied upon to make 2c warming scenarios plausible.  And by the way we’re destroying many of the life-forms that remove carbon from the atmosphere at breakneck speed. It’s time to accept that the 2c “guardrail” is no longer feasible. This is the awful truth about climate change that no one wants to admit. This delusional policy can only be countenanced for so much longer.  We’re fucked. “Ignorance Is Strength.” -OSJ

 

Written By Andrea Germanos @ Common Dreams:

Greenhouse gas reduction pledges countries have submitted to the United Nations in advance of global climate talks set the planet on a path that keeps critical climate goals out of reach.

That’s according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a project of four research organizations that assesses nations’ climate pledges and actions. It released its findings Wednesday as talks are underway in Bonn, Germany, where global delegates are working to streamline the draft text for the UN climate change summit in Paris in December, known as COP21.

“One would have expected all the new Government climate targets combined to put the world on a lower emissions pathway, but they haven’t,” said Louise Jeffery of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

CAT analyzed what are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted by 15 governments, which together cover 64.5% of global emissions. Taken collectively, their plans would fail to avert a potentially disastrous level of warming, the analysis found.

“It is clear that if the Paris meeting locks in present climate commitments for 2030, holding warming below 2 degrees C could essentially become infeasible, and 1.5°C beyond reach,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, which joins the Potsdam Institute as one of the four organizations comprising CAT.

It classified seven of the INDCs as inadequate, six as medium, and two as sufficient.

The United States was among those given the medium rating. That status, CAT states, “indicates that the U.S. climate plans are at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution.”

CAT states that its “analysis shows that in order to hold global warming below 2°C, governments need to significantly strengthen the INDCs they have submitted to date.”

Regardless of pledges, some climate activists expect little progress from the Paris meeting.

As Alex Scrivener, policy officer at Global Justice Now, wrote at Common Dreams last month, COP21 won’t be the answer to climate change. That’s because “it will not be dealing with the underlying problem—the unfair economic system that puts the interest of fossil fuel addicted corporations above those of the people,” he wrote.

“So instead of being distracted by the false hope of a summit breakthrough, we should concentrate on putting pressure on our politicians to reduce emissions at home and building a broad and diverse movement to change the political context of climate policy. This means fighting trade deals that bestow rights on fossil fuel corporations. It means fighting the politics of austerity that forces us to accept ‘cheap’ coal instead of investing in clean, democratically controlled energy systems. And it also means fighting against the privatization of energy globally,” Scrivener writes.

The need for mass popular mobilizations to effect such change was also stressed in a joint statement recently issued by key leaders from the global climate justice movement.

“For more than 20 years, governments have been meeting, yet greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased and the climate keeps changing. The forces of inertia and obstruction prevail, even as scientific warnings become ever more dire,” the statement reads.

Yet “our actions are much more powerful than we think.”

“In the past, determined women and men have resisted and overcome the crimes of slavery, totalitarianism, colonialism or apartheid. They decided to fight for justice and solidarity and knew no one would do it for them. Climate change is a similar challenge, and we are nurturing a similar uprising,” they write.

 

The Fire Next Time: Record-Breaking Wildfires, Greenland Melting and Earth’s Hottest Month Ever

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2015 at 8:41 pm
A massive wall of wildfire smoke, blowing in from record-breaking fires in Eastern Washington, covers Puget Sound and Seattle. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

A massive wall of wildfire smoke, blowing in from record-breaking fires in eastern Washington State, covers Puget Sound and Seattle. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

Oldspeak: “Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return….Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?” -James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time” 1963

“Behold! In an utterly synthetic, sanitized & death-phobic culture, the sheer length and breadth of madness wrought to avoid death, prolong life, enhance comfort, improve convenience and make life easy for humans;  has in fact had the unfortunate consequence of bringing about conditions precipitating a “Great Dying”. A Dying like none other experienced on Earth, in a mere instant on a geologic time-scale.  Sacrificing the beauty of our lives for concepts like “things”, politics, economies, ideologies & sense pleasures all to ignore the only immutable fact of life; that our love of life is nestled in a cradle of death. Dahr Jamail is back with his latest dispatch, bearing witness to the myriad of death, destruction and disintegration fear fueled human activity caused. As per usual, the news is getting shittier as time passes.  Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick… ” -OSJ

Written By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

When I go up into the mountains, I’m used to being afforded magnificent views of alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, crystal-clear mountain streams, glaciers tucked under the shoulders of high valleys, stratified ridges arcing into the sky, and views so far into the distance one can sense the curvature of earth.

But on August 22, as I carefully climbed my way toward one of the high summits of Eastern Olympic National Park, the solace of the mountains eluded me due to an ominous sign. The view east – toward what has now officially become the largest complex of wildfires in history for Washington State, where over one-quarter million acres have burned – was dominated by a large, greyish-white plume of smoke that stretched as far north and south as I could see.

At first it appeared as a large storm cloud layer, which was confusing given that the weather-folk had called for a stable high-pressure ridge over western Washington through the weekend. But as I continued through the morning, the large white wall neared and slowly began enveloping the entire eastern mountains of the Olympics, and my eyes began to burn as I smelled the smoke.

By the time I reached the summit of my climb, the view south was already obscured by the smoke as it began to fully infiltrate Olympic National Park.

Looking south from high up in the Eastern portion of Olympic National Park, wildfire smoke begins making its way into the park. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

Looking south from high up in the eastern portion of Olympic National Park, wildfire smoke begins making its way into the park. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

John Muir once wrote, “I must break away and get into the mountains to learn the news.” Today, given we are well along into abrupt anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), Muir’s quote has taken on an entirely new meaning, as the convulsions wracking the planet are starkly clear when we venture out into nature.

Back home after my climb, the wildfires were all over the news. Several firefighters had died recently while battling the blazes in eastern Washington, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show how over half the entire country was covered in wildfire smoke generated by literally hundreds of fires, and the smoke was bad enough in Seattle to have triggered health alerts.

The US is now officially in the worst wildfire season in its history, as almost 7.5 million acres across the country have burned up since spring.

Articles about ACD’s impacts are now being published in more mainstream outlets, carrying titles that include verbiage like “the point of no return,” and it is high time for that, given what we are witnessing.

A recently published study by the UK-US Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Reliance revealed that “major shocks” to worldwide food production will become at least three times more likely within the next 25 years due to increasingly extreme weather events generated by ACD. One of the coauthors of the report warned of a “very frightening” future due to the synthesis of ACD and food demands from a constantly growing global population.

Meanwhile, July officially became the hottest month ever recorded on the planet, setting 2015 on course to easily become the hottest year ever recorded.

This month’s dispatch is replete with evidence of our growing crisis, including record-breaking amounts of ice being released from Greenland, more species under threat of extinction, and millions of acres of the planet burning up in wildfires across North America alone.

Earth

A trove of papers recently released in the journal Science have warned that the planet’s forests are all under major threat of being annihilated, due to the ever-expanding human footprint, coupled with ACD. The introduction to the studies reads: “These papers document how humans have fundamentally altered forests across the globe and warn of potential broad-scale future declines in forest health, given increased demand for land and forest products combined with rapid climate change.”

Speaking of which, another recent report, this one coming from the Center for Global Development, showed that the planet is on a trajectory to lose an amount of tropical forest land equivalent to the size of India by 2050.

Meanwhile, geologists with the US Geological Survey and researchers from the University of Vermont recently showed that Washington DC is, quite literally, sinking into the sea. “It’s ironic that the nation’s capital – the place least responsive to the dangers of climate change – is sitting in one of the worst spots it could be,” senior author of the paper, Paul Bierman, said. “Will the Congress just sit there with their feet getting ever wetter?”

At the moment, the answer to his question is obvious: The lawmakers that frequent our capital city are making no bold moves to address that city’s flooded future.

Food production, as aforementioned, is being dramatically undermined by ACD. In Nigeria, the country’s ability to feed itself is rapidly diminishing due to higher temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns. At least half the farmers there had been unable to even plant their crops at the time of this writing.

Animal species continue to bear the brunt of ACD all over the globe as well.

A recent study showed that in the UK, ACD is generating severe droughts that have placed several species of butterflies there at risk of extinction.

Another report showed how a disease spreading rapidly across the planet’s tadpole populations is now threatening the global frog population. Scientists who authored the report warn that this is further evidence of the sixth great extinction event the earth is now experiencing.

Another dismaying development: The ever-shrinking area of sea ice is deleteriously impacting the Arctic’s walrus population. This season could see another dramatic beaching event like that of last summer, in which 35,000 walruses dragged themselves out of the sea and onto a beach due to lack of sea ice.

Meanwhile, the ongoing drought in California has caused an “emergency situation” for trees in that state, as lack of water is causing unprecedented die-offs. The drought there is also wiping out several of the native fish populations, of which many are expected to disappear within the next two years if the drought persists.

Lastly in this section, unprecedented heat coupled with an intense drought has caused “glacial outbursts” on Washington State’s Mount Rainier. “Outbursts” occur when large pools of ice-melt form within the glaciers, then plunge from within the glacier, sending torrents of silt-filled water, boulders and trees down the slopes of the mountain, wiping out anything in its path.

While these outbursts have happened periodically throughout history, they are expected to increase in both frequency and severity as ACD progresses.

Water

As usual, circumstances on the water front continue to worsen around the planet.

In the Pacific Northwestern region of the US, over a quarter million sockeye salmon heading up the Columbia River have either died or are in the process of dying due to warmer water temperatures. Biologists warn that at least half of this year’s returning fish will be wiped out, and ultimately as much as 80 percent of the total fish population could perish. Both Oregon and Washington states have already instituted closures of sport fishing due to the warmer waters and drought conditions persisting in both states.

In the Eastern Pacific Ocean, a giant bloom of toxic algae that is a threat to the health of both ocean species and humans alike spans from southern California all the way up to Alaska. Researchers are linking the size and intensity of the bloom to ACD. The bloom is already killing off sea lions that inhabit the coast and is still not showing signs of going away. Researchers said it was the largest bloom they had ever seen.

A report showed how ACD is in the process of rapidly reversing a natural phenomenon of 1,800 years of ocean cooling, while another study revealed that ocean acidification will continue and likely worsen, even if carbon sequestration and cleanup efforts were to begin in an immediate and dramatic fashion.

Back on land, droughts around the globe continue to make headlines.

One in Puerto Rico, that continues to worsen, has caused that country’s government to extend its dramatic water rationing measures, which have now been ongoing for weeks.

A study published in Geophysical Research Letters unequivocally linked California’s severe drought to ACD, saying that ACD has already “substantially increased” both the frequency and intensity of future droughts.

More news around the California drought emerged, showing that the river that runs through San Jose, the 10th largest city in the US, has dried up completely, severely harming fish and wildlife dependent on the water for their survival.

NASA released findings showing that California’s Central Valley, where the bulk of all the farming in the state takes place, is literally sinking, due to how much groundwater is being drawn out to compensate for the drought conditions. It is yet another destructive feedback loop: ACD has caused the drought to be far more severe than normal, which has caused humans to over-pump groundwater, leading to the sinking of the land.

The world’s glaciers are in peril. A disturbing report has shown that they have shrunk to their lowest levels ever witnessed in the history of record-keeping. They are melting at an accelerating rate – two to three times faster than the 20th century average melt rate.

As if to punctuate the findings of the report, the world’s fastest-melting glaciers, located in Greenland, recently lost the largest amount of ice on record in just a 48-hour period.

As a result of the incredible melting rates of glaciers, snowpack and ice fields around the globe, sea levels are now rising faster than ever.

Thus, as recently released research shows, global communities and cities located on river deltas – which includes over a quarter of a billion people – are at risk and will have to relocate.

Fire

Given the extensive record-breaking drought that has afflicted most of the western US, the fact that this summer’s fire season came in with a roar came as little surprise. Hardly halfway through the summer, fires across California, Washington, Colorado and in Glacier National Park in Montana were making headlines.

By early August, nearly 10,000 firefighters in California alone were battling at least 20 wildfires that had already forced more than 13,000  people to evacuate their homes.

Shortly thereafter, thousands of wildfires were raging across drought-plagued California, and before the middle of the month, a staggering 300,000 new acres were burning each day up in Alaska, where fires had scorched over 6 million acres thus far in the year, and hundreds of fires continued to burn. That makes this year already the second-largest wildfire season in Alaska’s history, with more of the summer remaining.

Reports have emerged warning of the impact of the fires upon Alaska’s permafrost: They have removed millions of acres of the tundra and forest that previously protected the frozen ground.

In early August, the US Forest Service announced that for the first time in the history of that department, it needed to spend over half of its entire budget on fighting wildfires.

Despite this, given the record-breaking drought conditions across the west, large numbers of the fires were left to burn out of control, due to high winds, dry conditions, and lack of fire-fighting capabilities and resources.

Air

In case anyone had any doubt about how hot the planet is already becoming, the Iranian city of Bandar Mahshahr experienced a heat index of 165 degrees in August, nearly setting a world record for heat index measurements, which factor in humidity along with temperature.

In July, incredibly hot temperatures in Tajikistan caused a rapid melting of glaciers, which triggered flooding and mudslides that generated nearly 1,000 ACD refugees.

Meanwhile, across the Middle East in August, more than 20 people died and nearly 100 had to be hospitalized due to incinerating heat that baked the region, along with intense humidity levels. Basra, Iraq, saw 123 degrees, and the Iraqi government had to instate a four-day “holiday” so people wouldn’t feel obliged to work in the stifling heat.

Lastly in this section, a recent report stated that Texas will likely see a dramatic escalation in heat-related deaths and coastal extreme storm-related losses in the upcoming decades due to escalating ACD impacts.

Denial and Reality

There is never a dull moment in the “Denial and Reality” section.

Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton’s stated plan to address abrupt ACD, which amounts to federal subsidies for solar panels, was immediately labeled as “silly” in early August, just after Clinton’s plan was announced, by leading climate scientist James Hansen, who headed NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies for more than three decades.

“You cannot solve the problem without a fundamental change, and that means you have to make the price of fossil fuels honest, “Hansen said of her plan. “Subsidizing solar panels is not going to solve the problem.”

During a recent forum, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz went on the record expressing full-on denial of ACD, saying that the debate about ACD was a “device” used by liberals to appeal to “environmentalist billionaires and their campaign donations.”

On another front, builders in San Francisco are moving forward with plans to construct major bay-front developments of office space and homes worth more than $21 billion, in areas that are extremely susceptible to flooding – despite dire warnings of imminent sea-level rise.

On the bad news front for the deniers, however, a recent study showed there is absolutely no link between sunspot activity and ACD … a fabricated argument the deniers enjoy trotting out to try to “disprove” reality.

More bad news for the deniers comes, once again, from the Pope, who set up an annual Catholic Church “day of care” for the environment. The Pope said the day would be a chance for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to “thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”

And Catholics aren’t the only faith leaders working to do something to address ACD.

Islamic religious and environmental leaders from around the world recently issued a call to rich countries, along with those that are oil producers, to end all fossil fuel use by 2050 and to begin rapidly ramping up the institution and use of renewable energy sources.

The Islamic leadership, which issued “The Islamic Climate Declaration,” said the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have “a religious duty to fight climate change.”

The final blow to ACD deniers in this month’s dispatch comes from none other than the US Department of Defense, which issued a report to Congress that said that ACD poses a “present security threat” that is not only a “long-term risk,” but poses immediate short-term threats as well.

Big Oil Uses U.S. Gov’t To Eliminate Threats To Drilling Plans, Research Supressed, Scientists Harassed, Terminated

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Source: Greenpeace

Oldspeak: “It is a systemic problem far beyond BOEMRE, It’s in all the agencies, the universities. It’s state and federal and a broad systemic problem in Alaska….There is an unwritten orthodoxy in Alaska, that dissenting opinions regarding unsustainable economic and political paradigms here need to be suppressed and silenced. Everybody knows that. There’s a very strong political dynamic where agencies and public institutions like the university are captured by the oil industry because it pays 95% of the state budget. Federal agencies bend over backwards for the oil industry and tend to marginalize voices that threaten that dynamic. If you criticize oil, you will have hell to pay… There aren’t very many dissenters. The whole point of making an example of me and Charles [Monnett] was to suppress people from doing that in the future. People have learned that if they want to keep their job and their pay check, and their pension and their benefits, they need to keep their head down.” –Dr. Rick Steiner, Professor, Marine Conservation

“In the context of this reality, in a maniacal ecocidal ever more destructive pursuit of profit, is there any wonder that Alaska is on fire as in no other time in recorded history? This is perfect example of the madness of Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy begotten by Industrial Civilization. Corportate “persons” funding government education and research institutions and dictating what is and isn’t researched, published and disclosed. Important science and research censored, scientists abused, harassed and drummed out of jobs when their findings don’t serve the ends of polluters. Can we reasonably expect anything but politically mediated and watered down science and research from institutions in the unfortunate condition of being captured by the industries their findings affect? Not likely. “Profit Is Paramout”,  -OSJ.

Written By Kamil Ashan @ Alter Net:

In February 2011, Charles Monnett, an Arctic marine biologist who in 2006 published the first observations of a decline in the polar bear population of the Arctic due to melting sea ice, was interviewed by Eric May and Lynn Gibson from the Department of Interior’s Office of the Inspector General. The conversation was perplexing. May and Gibson, criminal investigators with the IG, began by suggesting that Monnett was being investigated for scientific misconduct, but early on in the conversation they admitted that neither of them had any training in science and biology.

From there, the transcript of the conversation, a document released by Monnett’s legal representation, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), becomes murkier. May and Gibson’s line of questioning shifts several times, making it increasingly unclear what aspects of misconduct were being investigated. Monnett explains that his findings, published in Polar Biology, were peer-reviewed; May responds by asking how Polar Biology got involved. Monnett painstakingly takes May and Gibson through the calculations and observations underlying his data, but they seem dissatisfied and change tacks.

What happened after isn’t murky at all. Soon after the interview, Dr. Monnett’s hard drive and notebooks were seized. In July 2011, Monnett found out from his employer, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), that he had been put been put on administrative leave, barring him from speaking to his colleagues or continuing his research.

The investigation had turned in to a virtual witch-hunt—but when the IG finally released its report toward the end of 2012, its only allegations were of an administrative nature. Monnett subsequently filed a whistleblower complaint against BOEMRE, alleging that the official harassment had impeded him from doing his job and that the Interior Department was violating its own scientific integrity policies intended to protect federal scientists from political interference. In November 2013, Monnett reached a $100,000 settlement with BOEMRE.

The tale of Dr. Monnett is now a few years old, but instructive. Both Monnett and PEER have maintained that Monnett was harassed and essentially eliminated from the ranks of BOEMRE because he represented a threat to the financial stakes of oil companies like Shell hoping to open up the Alaskan Arctic for offshore drilling projects, and that suppressing scientific research was seen as necessary for Shell’s permits to go through. At the time, BOEMRE had been reviewing Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic. It approved those permits in 2012, and again, in a highly contentious decision by the Obama administration, earlier this year.

Now, years after the debacle, Monnett says he has complex feelings about the dynamics of the science done in federal agencies, given how overbearing the oil industry is and its pervasive influence on the government.

The Bush administration, Monnett recalls, had “created an environment where the managers [of BOEMRE] were very hostile and aggressive towards some of the scientists…which led to a number of people leaving the agency. These people were being actively attacked by managers, screamed at in hallways, threatened with all sorts of actions. Some of them were even being threatened with legal action. The agency just wasn’t receptive to honest analysis.”

“Because of pressure from industry and the administration…certain timelines had to be met, and those timelines weren’t long enough to allow [scientists] to do complete analysis. Management was dictating the outcomes…which is against the law in my view.”

The Bush administration’s agenda from the very beginning was pro-drilling, and therefore invested in fast-tracking Shell’s permits for the Arctic. During the administration’s tenure, there was a mass exodus of scientists from BOEMRE—at the time known as the Minerals Management Service—who were under pressure to overlook the overwhelming environmental concerns of Arctic oil drilling in their analyses.

But Monnett’s investigation began in 2011, not during the Bush administration but during the Obama administration, foretelling Obama’s climate legacy of paying lip service to climate change while fast-tracking Shell’s offshore drilling plans all the same.

On Monday morning, President Obama arrived in Alaska to shed “a spotlight on what Alaskans in particular have come to know: climate change is one of the biggest threats we face, it is driven by human activity, and it is disrupting Americans’ lives right now.” The trip, mere weeks after the final approval for Shell’s summer plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea, is likely to be seen in retrospect as illustrative of the schizophrenic energy policy the Obama administration has long espoused.

The Limits of Academic Freedom

Scientific suppression and the loss of many scientists to BOEMRE during the Bush administration have been well-documented, but as Dr. Monnett’s case reveals, something similar, if not worse, has been underfoot during the current administration. As the case of Professor Rick Steiner demonstrates, the influence of oil goes well beyond federal agencies in Alaska.

A tenured professor of marine conservation at the University of Alaska, Steiner spent a large part of his career in the Arctic and then Anchorage, Alaska. Steiner had been a vocal opponent of offshore oil drilling since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and a staunch defender of marine conservation—positions that got him in to trouble multiple times during his career.

In December 2007, soon after Monnett’s polar bear paper was published, there was a federal proposed rule to list polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. At the time, Gov. Sarah Palin publicly stated that Alaska state marine mammal biologists (ADFG) disagreed with the rule, but Steiner was unsatisfied. After much resistance from the ADFG, he obtained the state review through a federal Freedom of Information Act request. The review, underscoring the dishonesty of the Palin administration, showed that marine mammal scientists overwhelmingly agreed that polar bears should be classified as endangered. This move, and many others, put Steiner on the radar as a staunch advocate of marine conservation and opponent of the pervasive influence of the oil industry in Alaska.

In 2008, when the federal government began to consider an expansion of oil development projects in Alaska, Steiner continued to raise major environmental concerns. Written records released by PEER chart out what happened next: the University of Alaska and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration terminated the grant funding for Steiner’s research work. The documents demonstrate how pressure from NOAA led university officials to cut Steiner’s funding: federal officials wrote that they “had an issue with Steiner” and that his environmental advocacy could “cause problems nationally” for the agency. PEER called this one of the first instances where a university and federal agency admitted to removing a faculty member’s funding because of their environmental positions.

Steiner filed multiple internal grievance claims which were all rejected by the university, and in February 2010, Dr. Steiner resigned from the university faculty on principle. Soon after, he was told by a friend who had been in a meeting with university officials that oil executives had met with university officials, telling them point blank that as long as Steiner continued to oppose the oil industry, the university would not get a dime of its money. The University of Alaska, like many public institutions in Alaska, is funded largely by oil revenues.

Like Monnett, Steiner says his experience taught him the limits to academic and scientific freedom in a place like Alaska. “It is a systemic problem far beyond BOEMRE,” he explains. “It’s in all the agencies, the universities. It’s state and federal and a broad systemic problem in Alaska.

“[The University] felt I was being too much of an advocate for marine conservation which is in contradiction to their professed goal of being in favor of academic freedom.”

And indeed, the brazen nature of the university’s statements on Steiner’s case is deeply shocking. In the recommendation to cut Steiner’s funding, Dean Wiesenburg of the University of Alaska noted that Steiner “regularly takes strong public positions on issues of public debate.” Steiner, he said, “has chosen to be a maverick and work independently.”

To Steiner, what this means is clear. “There is an unwritten orthodoxy in Alaska,” he explains, “that dissenting opinions regarding unsustainable economic and political paradigms here need to be suppressed and silenced. Everybody knows that. There’s a very strong political dynamic where agencies and public institutions like the university are captured by the oil industry because it pays 95% of the state budget. Federal agencies bend over backwards for the oil industry and tend to marginalize voices that threaten that dynamic. If you criticize oil, you will have hell to pay.”

“There aren’t very many dissenters. The whole point of making an example of me and Charles [Monnett] was to suppress people from doing that in the future. People have learned that if they want to keep their job and their pay check, and their pension and their benefits, they need to keep their head down.”

A Handy Guide to Scientific Suppression

The cases of Charles Monnett and Rick Steiner have dire implications for how we view Shell’s offshore drilling plans in the Chukchi Sea this summer, and the lengths to which they went to acquire the permits. Much of this can only be guessed at. Steiner talks about the prevailing culture where federal agencies and universities begin to eliminate scientists who do not conform to the pro-oil agenda by not granting promotions or incentive awards, or giving them inadequate annual performance reviews. Another tactic, he says, is overwhelming staff scientists with trivial tasks, pulling them off projects for which they are qualified.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, an organization that seeks to protect scientist whistleblowers, can add to this list. “The range of things we see,” he says, “range from attempts to terminate, suspend, crippling internal investigations. In one case involving a lab director, the funding for his graduate students was jeopardized so he lost a lot of his research capacity. Preventing publications has no limits—in one case, a scientist was raising issues and her email privileges were taken away. We were left scratching our heads wondering how that could have happened.”

One possible remedy is scientific integrity policies that protect whistleblowers, but as Ruch explains, they are far from satisfactory. “Industry puts pressure on government agencies, and government agencies are the instrument of retaliation,” he explains. “For the most part, scientists have few legal protections. These scientists are not covered by whistleblower laws, because they’re not disclosing violations of law, fraud, or abuse. They’re disclosing suppression of research, or watering down of methodologies or the omission of key findings.”

“The law generally treats these as a matter of opinion and in these cases, the chain of command generally wins over the staff scientist.”

In his experience, Ruch says “scientific integrity policies operate within the Department of the Interior—those were weakened in December to make it even more difficult to sustain a complaint. Up until that time, there had been 2 instances out of 14 where the scientist involved faced multiple suspensions and the responsible managers escaped punishment altogether. It’s difficult to advise scientists in good conscience to file complaints under their own name because they’re unlikely to resolve in anything good.”

Early in 2009, Obama released a presidential directive to develop policies that restore scientific integrity to federal actions, including providing federal scientists better whistleblower protections. At the time, this was hailed as a huge leap in the right direction.

Ruch feels not much has changed. “The agencies in the Interior have largely ignored the presidential directive,” he explains. “Some policies claim protections but have no mechanisms by which that protection is implemented, which makes it empty protection.”

Environmental groups argue that this scientific suppression, and overlooking the enormous environmental risks, has been key to the Obama administration’s approval of Shell’s permits this year. Much of the information detailing the safety and reliability of Shell’s operations has not been released to the public, despite multiple FOIA requests by groups like Greenpeace and PEER. A recent FOIA request by PEER, directed at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), seeks to release information on how Shell’s plans for certified by third-party observers, as well as information on the deployment of capping stack and containment domes in the event of an oil spill. BSEE has not responded. PEER has now filed a lawsuit in a federal district court to bring these details to light.

As President Obama continues his trip in Alaska to highlight the dangers of climate change amid overwhelming opposition from environmental and indigenous groups, it begs big questions about the administration’s overarching legacy with federal scientists and the oil industry. Ruch feels strongly about this: “In terms of the actions inside these agencies, there has been no discernible difference between those under George Bush, who was an oil man, and Barack Obama, a constitutional law professor who when his own Commission on the Deepwater Horizon spill met with him, one of the very first questions he asked was about Arctic drilling.”

“It has been clear that Arctic drilling is part of the ‘all-the-above’ energy strategy and the same sort of suppression and the same suite of issues have never really been analyzed.”

For an administration pretending to conduct a dramatic push toward mitigating climate change, that is a shameful record.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Kamil Ahsan is a freelance journalist and a doctoral student in developmental biology at the University of Chicago.

“The real crisis is denial” – Call It What It Is: A Global Migration Shift From Climate, Not a Migrant or Refugee Crisis

In Uncategorized on September 1, 2015 at 11:50 am

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk toward the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate, August 10, 2014.(Photo: Reuters/Rodi Said)

Oldspeak: “The ‘politics of naming‘ is always whimsical isn’t it? Bravo. Very few people have the courage to name this what it is. I watched Democracy Now earlier today, a progressive non-corporate news program, and they spent the 1st 40 minutes talking to experts and doctors politicos, and they had all kinds of reasons for why this was happening, war, corruption, failed governments, economic problems, etc, etc, but not one mentioned the root cause of this populations shift. Habitat that is no longer hospitable to humans. Habitat that is boiling, or burning, or sinking or flooding or not producing food and water.  All the symptoms people seems to be fixated on are borne of a rapidly destabilizing ecology. That’s it. I’d go further than the author and say that the real crisis not merely denial, though that is an important factor, it is “civilization”.  It, at the scale it is currently is incompatible with he Ecology that sustains it.  Can’t have that conversation though. De-growth, is not an option for our voraciously insatiable Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocratic overlords. Our great and wondrous civilization has been deemed essential and impervious to fetters. Superior to all that Is. That illusion will only last for so much longer. The most important point made in this piece for me is “We need to recognize we now live in an age of mass climate migration. Banter over building walls or policing seas or drawing classifications matters little.” Nuff said.” -OSJ

Written By Jeff Biggers @ Common Dreams:

Hundreds more died off the coast of Libya today, on the heels of 71 deaths of migrants trapped in the back of a truck near Vienna, Austria. At the same time, NASA officials just warned that rising global sea levels from climate change could affect coastal regions, including 150 million residents in Asia who lived “within a meter from the sea.”

While news organizations and policymakers around the world wrestle with calling displaced persons “refugees” or “migrants”or “asylum-seekers,” a far more dangerous precedence of denial over a looming global shift of populations largely from climate change is taking place.

There is not a migrant or refugee crisis. We’re in the midst of a global migration shift. While its unrelenting realities of forced displacement, whether from war, persecution or economic despair originate from disparate causes, they all share a singular fact: The nascent stages of this historical migration shift require long-term planning, not short-term designation.

Standing on the shores of Sicily two summers ago, the jagged remains of a shattered boat at our feet, I listened to an Italian villager describe the voyage of “migranti” across the Mediterranean. The survivors of the boat crash, which had been launched from Libya, included Somalis, Nigerians, Eritreans, and Syrians, among others.

Framing the issue as part of a cycle of migration, on an island whose ruins and current ways betray millennia of migration realities, the Sicilian fisherman understood better than anyone of what the United Nations refugee agency recently termed a “paradigm change” in unprecedented levels of forced displacement.

Nearly 60 million people fled their homes in 2014, according to a recent UN report. Within a generation, according to estimates by numerous climate scientists and the international organizations dealing with migration, 150-200 million people could be displaced by the fallout of severe drought, flooding and extreme climate.

As the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences noted in a recent study, “the severity and duration of the recent Syrian drought,” which has triggered some of the largest displacements of refugees across the Mediterranean, are a significant part of the roots of the Syrian civil war itself.

“This is just the beginning,” the Sicilian told me, who has watched the shifting populations over the years. In fact, nearly 200,000 travelers have been rescued attempting to cross “mare nostrum” in 2015.

The real crisis is denial: Of inaction by Europeans on the seas to meet the immediate urgency of rescue; and on land, to recognize a historical cycle of transition and migration that requires integration, regeneration of communities and climate action.

The old saying–a crisis is never a crisis until it is validated by disaster–has never been truer than in the Mediterranean and other migration corridors in Asia and the Americas. An estimated 2,000 nameless human beings have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean in the last nine months.

As a writer, I agree with Al Jazeera editor Barry Malone that words matter, especially in how we define human realities. However, the term “refugee” is no less dehumanizing than “migrant,” when we are dealing with deadly border crossings and subsequent marginalization. In both instances, we deracinate people from their homelands, their countries of origin, their ethnicity, and their very names–and a future.

A recent “10-Point Plan to Solve Europe’s Refugee Crisis” proposed by German officials fails into the same well-meaning but illusory trap: It calls on European nations to “help genuine refugees,” as if migration from environmentally ravaged and climate destabilized economies, including parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, is somehow less “genuine.”

This is not only wrong; it is delusive. We need to recognize we now live in an age of mass climate migration. Banter over building walls or policing seas or drawing classifications matters little.

While the United Nations Population Division designates “migrant” as someone has resided for a year or longer in a country other than their own, perhaps it’s time we come up with a new term for climate refugees–or migrants. Or, rather, perhaps it’s time, as Italian parliament member Luigi Manconi recently wrote, to transform our view of migration from a “crisis” management situation to a long-term opportunity for economic and cultural gain. Or, in the case of Goslar, Germany, recognize the possibilities of migration in regenerating a depressed local economy.

Earlier this summer in Bologna, Italy, I met Frederick, an eastern Nigerian immigrant and university student, who I had interviewed last year. His journey across the north African deserts, and through the labyrinths of war-torn Libya, had been harrowing. He fled his country for myriad reasons. In the year since our first meeting, he had learned basic Italian, gained proper residency documents, and found a seasonal job in construction.

“I won’t be returning to Nigeria any time soon,” he told me, and discussed educational and entrepreneurial ideas.

Indeed, Frederick isn’t a crisis for Italy or Europe. The unfolding hardship of climate change along his path, alas, remains one.