>World needs to axe greenhouse gases by eighty percent

>by Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

Reuters (April 19 2007)

The world will have to axe greenhouse gas emissions by eighty percent by 2050, more deeply than planned, to have an even chance of curbing global warming in line with European Union goals, researchers said on Thursday.

Even tough long-term curbs foreseen by the EU or California fall short of reductions needed to avert a two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature rise over pre-industrial times, seen by the EU as a threshold for “dangerous change”, they said.

“If we are to have a fifty percent chance of meeting a two degrees Celsius target we would have to cut global emissions by eighty percent by 2050”, Nathan Rive of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo told Reuters.

“Any delay in implementing emissions reductions will make a two degree target practically unreachable”, he and colleague Steffen Kallbekken wrote of findings to be published in the journal Climatic Change.

The EU reckons that there would be dangerous disruptions to the climate such as ever more droughts, heatwaves, floods and rising seas beyond a two degrees Celsius ceiling. Temperatures already rose by about 0.7 Celsius in the 20th century.

An eighty percent global cut would mean rich nations, responsible for most heat-trapping emissions from fossil fuels burnt by power plants, factories and cars, would have to axe emissions by about 95 percent below 2000 levels by 2050.

Developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia, where emissions are rising sharply in line with energy use to help lift millions from poverty, would have to take on less swinging reductions, they said.


“Even the most ambitious proposals for emissions cuts in 2050, such as the UK draft climate bill which sets a cut of sixty percent, or the California target to reduce emissions by eighty percent by 2050, fall short”, they said.

A draft report by the UN climate panel due for release on May 4 in Bangkok also concludes that a maximum two degrees Celsius rise would be hard to achieve. Restraints on emissions consistent with the goal could cost up to three percent of world gross domestic product.

And Kalbekken and Rive said that global emissions would have to peak in 2025, with cuts in place by 2010, to achieve an eighty percent cut by mid-century. Any delays would sharply raise costs.

Under the UN’s Kyoto Protocol, 35 industrialized nations now have goals of cutting emissions by five percent below 1990 by 2008 to 2012. The United States, which says the plan is too costly and wrongly excludes developing states, is the main outsider.

UN climate negotiations focused on widening Kyoto beyond 2012 are stalled. Developing nations say they cannot be expected to cap emissions when energy use has been a key to economic growth by rich states since the Industrial Revolution.

Copyright (c) 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>The Global Scramble for Black Gold

>Oil and the Empire

by Alan Maass

www.counterpunch.org (March 30 2007)

The oil men of the Bush administration are trying to set up one of the biggest swindles in history – the great Iraq oil robbery.

The cabinet of the new Iraqi government – under pressure from the US occupiers who put them in power – approved a law that would undo Iraq’s nationalized system and give Western oil giants unparalleled access to the country’s vast reserves.

The oil companies would be guaranteed super-profits – on a scale unknown anywhere else in the Middle East – for a period of twenty to 35 years from oil pumped out of two-thirds or more of Iraq’s oilfields. Meanwhile, Iraqis would continue to endure poverty and the devastation of war while sitting atop what is estimated to be the third-largest supply of the world’s most sought-after resource.

The great Iraq oil robbery isn’t a done deal. Even if the law is finalized by May as expected, the major oil companies say they won’t have anything to do with production in Iraq until “security” is established – and that would mean a success for the occupiers and their Iraqi puppets that the US hasn’t been able to achieve over the past four years since the invasion.

Still, the law underlines the importance of the scramble for oil to the US empire – no matter how much George Bush and his administration deny it with claims about spreading “democracy” and making the world safe from terrorism.

The US government’s thirst for oil isn’t only about profits – and still less about securing supplies of a commodity that ordinary Americans depend on – but is also about power. In a world in which the economic and military might of nations depends significantly on access to oil, more control for the US means less control for its rivals.

These dual calculations – securing access for its own needs and controlling the access of others – have been central to the history of oil and the US empire, from the end of the 19th century, to the start of the 21st.


During the opening months of the Bush administration in 2001, Dick Cheney chaired a task force to set a new course for US energy policy.

Cheney and the White House invited a showdown with Congress by refusing to respond to even routine requests for information about the task force – like who served on it, and what their recommendations were.

Most people assumed this meant the task force was made up of energy industry executives, and their “deliberations” were organized around plotting new ways to line their pockets. This turned out to be completely accurate – and certainly not unexpected, given the makeup of the new administration.

“It isn’t so much under the sway of Big Oil as it is, well, infested top to bottom with oil operatives, starting with the president and vice president”, left-wing journalist Jeffrey St. Clair wrote on the CounterPunch Web Site.

“Eight cabinet members and the National Security Advisor came directly from executive jobs in the oil industry, as did 32 other Bush-appointed officials in the Office of Management and Budget, Pentagon, State Department and the departments of Energy, Agriculture and – most crucially in terms of opening up what remains of the American wilderness to the drillers – Interior”.

But Cheney and the task force had more on their minds than further deregulation or drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge.

They were also laying out the strategic aims of the “war on terror” to come.

It wasn’t called the “war on terror” yet. The September 11 attacks would take place half a year later, but ultimately, they were only the pretext for carrying out long-held plans for a more aggressive US imperialism.

Oil was at the heart of that agenda. Cheney’s energy task force concluded that declining resources and the rise of potential rivals such as China meant the US needed to tighten its grip – most of all, in the Persian Gulf region, which sits on more proven reserves of oil than the rest of the world combined.

The task force recommended that the US press allies like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to “open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment”.

But another focus was Iraq – where oil production remained in a shambles after the first Gulf War, and exports were restricted by US-backed United Nations sanctions. The task force reportedly examined maps of Iraqi oilfields – and the Pentagon produced a memo on “Foreign Suitors For Iraqi Oilfield Contracts” that analyzed contractors from dozens of countries and their intentions toward exploiting Iraqi’s oil if Saddam Hussein’s government was overthrown.

The interest in Iraq’s oil wasn’t new. A Pentagon document made the case that an “oil war” was a “legitimate” military option back in 1999 – while Bill Clinton was still president.

At that time, Dick Cheney was still lurking in the private sector, as the CEO of Halliburton, but he clearly agreed with the Democratic administration about the importance of oil. “The Middle East, with two-thirds of the oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize lies”, he said in a 1999 speech.

Of course, Cheney’s industry colleagues lusted after Iraqi oil as a source of profits. “Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas … [that] I’d love Chevron to have access to”, Chevron CEO Kenneth Derr said in 1998.

But Cheney and like-minded “hawks” from previous Republican administrations had their minds on a bigger picture. By the end of the 1990s, the newly formed Project for a New American Century provided a soapbox for the “neoconservatives” who would populate the Bush administration – such as Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and future Cheney aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

“While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of Saddam Hussein”, the PNAC hawks declared in a report issued not long before the 2000 election. War with Iraq would be part of a plan of “maintaining global US pre-eminence … and shaping the international security order in line with US principles and interests”.

The PNAC dogma became the outline of the Bush Doctrine promoted by the administration after the “war on terror” was launched – aggressive use of US power to prevent the development of any rivals to the US, now and into the future.

Pre-emptive war and an expanded US military presence worldwide would be necessary to “dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the US”, according to the White House’s National Security Strategy document issued in 2002.

In this context, oil is a dominant factor – because as important as it is to the economic fortunes of any country, it is even more so to their military might.


No one would doubt the critical importance of oil to the global economy. It accounts for 39 percent of global energy consumption, including 95 percent of energy used in ground, sea and air transportation. Petroleum is also a basic component in a range of products, like plastics and paints, that we take for granted today.

“But just as important”, as Saman Sepheri wrote in the International Socialist Review, “every tank, every airplane – from the B-52 to the stealth bomber – every Cruise missile and most warships in the US or any other nation’s military arsenal rely on oil to wage their terror”.

The decisive relationship of war and oil first emerged in the First World War. Britain, with its colonial control over Iranian oil, had a decisive advantage over the German-led Axis powers, allowing the Allies to “[float] to victory on a wave of oil”, in the words of Britain’s Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon.

By the Second World War, the scramble for oil was a strategic priority on all sides. “The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor to protect their flank as they grabbed for the petroleum resources of the East Indies”, author Daniel Yergin wrote in his history of oil titled The Prize. “Among Hitler’s most important strategic objectives in the invasion of the Soviet Union was the capture of the oil fields in the Caucasus. But America’s predominance in oil proved decisive, and by the end of the war, German and Japanese fuel tanks were empty.”

The US emerged from the war as the dominant world superpower, and a central part of its postwar strategy depended on maintaining control over oil resources, particularly the vast reserves discovered in the Middle East – “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest prizes in world history”, the State Department said in a document.

US companies had been decisive in establishing Saudi Arabia – the first “fundamentalist” Islamic state built around the Saud clan. Texaco and Standard Oil of California formed the Arab American Oil Company (ARAMCO) to share its concessions for exploration and marketing of Saudi oil. ARAMCO and the US government ended up creating much of the Saudi state machine from scratch to serve their needs.

During the early 1950s, in Iran, the other crucial pillar of Middle East oil production, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq nationalized the British-controlled Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The CIA organized a coup to overthrow Mossadeq, restoring the brutal regime of the Shah to serve as a regional strongman guaranteeing Western oil interests.

The other important surrogate for the US was Israel. Without oil resources itself, Israel was a colonial settler state funded with tens of billions of dollars in US aid to serve as a military watchdog against any threat to Western interests by Arab nationalist regimes.

US power over the region suffered a blow with the 1978-79 revolution that toppled the Shah. President Jimmy Carter ordered the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force to stop “any attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region [which] will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States”.

Meanwhile, the US encouraged neighboring Iraq, under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party, to invade Iran – and quietly backed the decade-long war that followed, at a cost of more than one million lives.

When Hussein threatened to slip the leash, invading Kuwait in 1990, George Bush Sr organized a coalition of “the bullied and the bribed” for a war that killed hundreds of thousands.

The same priority – on protecting and extending US control over the flow of Middle East oil – has continued through the rush to exploit newly available oil reserves in the Caspian Sea region, the scheming for a pipeline through Afghanistan and beyond.


The question of who controls the oil is made even more intense by the threat that it is drying up. Depending on how pessimistic or optimistic the estimate, world production of oil will peak in either the next few years or next few decades – at which point, the cost of extracting the remaining oil is expected to rise rapidly.

This end-of-oil scenario is emerging as worldwide demand for oil is growing at a faster pace than ever.

The US continues to claim the lion’s share, accounting for 25 percent of oil consumption with just five percent of the world’s population. But the big increases in demand are coming from the developing world’s economic powerhouses China and India – precisely the nations that sections of the US establishment fear could develop into rivals over the coming century.

The stage is thus set for oil to play the same central role in the imperialist competition – economic, political and military – between nations in the 21st century as it did in the 20th.

In this light, the Bush administration’s motivations in pushing for the new Iraq oil law are clearer.

For one thing, Iraqi oil production has been hampered by two decades of war and sanctions – its reserves will be an important unexploited source as oil becomes more scarce.

US companies would love to take advantage of the super-profits guaranteed by the production-sharing agreements (PSAs) that the Iraqi government would sign under the law.

PSAs are usually used in situations where the oil is difficult to extract, so the company’s investment in production is substantial. But the opposite is the case in Iraq – the cost of extraction is about $1 per barrel, and the selling price on the world market is around $60 a barrel. And under the PSA, foreign oil companies would be guaranteed seventy percent of the profits – seven times the typical share under other contracts in the Middle East.

But that’s assuming they get away with it. The Iraqi government is expected to approve the oil law, but getting Western oil companies to come in under circumstances of a civil war and widespread opposition to the US military presence is another matter.

The other aim of the oil law, as left-wing Iraq expert Michael Schwartz put it in a recent interview with Socialist Worker, is to give US companies “control over the spigots” – so that the US will “get to decide how much is going to get pumped at any particular moment, and who it will be sold to”. But the crisis of the occupation has frustrated this aim as well.

Meanwhile, rather than being intimidated by US power, Iran has benefited from Washington’s crisis in Iraq, and is more willing than ever to strike out on its own. One consequence has been Iran’s deeper ties with China – the very country the US hoped to force into line with its tightened grip on Persian Gulf oil.

Washington’s rulers aren’t about to give up, however. For the last century, the world’s governments have been ready to go to war over oil – and they will again, until a new society that places priorities on democracy, freedom and justice is established.


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Buying only what you need …

>… is like a gift to yourself

by Craig Wilson

USA Today (December 02 2003)

I did what many Americans did over the weekend. I went shopping with my mother. Actually I went looking. My mother went shopping.

Some of you may remember that back in January I wrote about how I was going to attempt to go through the year without buying anything. Food. Yes. Plants for the garden. Yes. Gifts for other people. Sure.

But another shirt or sweater for myself? No.

I made the New Year’s proclamation after realizing I already had too much stuff, so much I was actually embarrassed. So I joined what’s called the simplicity movement, cleaning out the closet in an attempt to clean out the mind.

I’m not alone in this. The day after Thanksgiving – one of the biggest shopping days of the year – has been proclaimed “Buy Nothing Day” by activists who want to put some perspective on America’s hunger to purchase. I joined the cause months before.

Since January, hundreds of you have written, wondering how I was doing. Had I succumbed to a cashmere scarf in March, a new bathing suit in June, a slicker come September?

Did I ever fall off the wagon? Of course.

Did I throw in the towel and rush to the Ralph Lauren end-of-summer sale? No.

Did my checking account soar and my credit card bill plummet? Yes and yes.

I even kept a list of my indiscretions.

I confessed early on that I bought two pairs of jeans. I couldn’t get into my old ones, which also had ripped. I’ve since lost weight, and the new jeans are now useless. I’m wearing a pair that had been stored away for a few years. The irony is not lost on me.

I also bought a pair of boat moccasins for walking the dog. Years of early-morning treks to the park had taken their toll on the old pair. I looked upon the purchase as more a necessity than a luxury.

But the purchase I’m most embarrassed about is a tennis sweater I got while on vacation in England. It’s white with a purple band around the V-neck collar. It came from A E Clothier on King’s Parade in Cambridge, and yes, it’s quite natty.

But it belongs on a grass court there more than it belongs in my drawer here. I’m not sure what came over me. Maybe it was vacationitis – no, it’s not a word but should be – because it happened again. A shirt from Hackett’s in London. Maybe I thought holiday purchases were exempt. I’ve already given it away.

This fall, my boss asked me how I was doing, how it felt not to buy much of anything for a year. I told her it feels like an alcoholic must feel when he stops drinking. Liberating. Cleansing.

And like a recovering alcoholic steering clear of bars, I find myself walking by stores. They seem like museums to me now. I look through the window and see the lovely displays, but I never touch.

My partner, Jack, asks whether I’m going to continue what he calls “my little exercise in restraint”. I just might.

After all, buying just what you need, not what you think you need, isn’t a bad way of life. In fact, it’s quite a good way of life.

Especially when you can still accept gifts.

Copyright USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Company Inc.


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Beyond Munich

>The UN Security Council Helps Disarm a Prospective Further Victim of US Aggression {*}

by Edward Herman and David Peterson

ZNet Commentary (April 02 2007)

Imagine that when Hitler was threatening to invade Poland, after having swallowed Czechoslovakia – with the help of the Western European powers’ appeasement of Hitler at Munich in September 1938 – the League of Nations imposed an arms embargo on Poland, making it more difficult for the imminent victim to defend itself, and at the same time suggested that Poland was the villainous party. That didn’t happen back in 1939, but in a regression from that notorious era of appeasement something quite analogous is happening now.

Here is the United States, still fighting a brutal war of conquest in Iraq, which it is now doing with UN Security Council approval, with open plans and threats to attack Iran and engage in “regime change”, gathering aircraft carriers off the coast of Iran, already engaging in subversive and probing attacks on the prospective target, and the UN Security Council, instead of warning and threatening the aggressor warns, threatens and imposes sanctions on the prospective victim!

The way it works is that the United States stirs up a big fuss, proclaiming a serious threat to its own national security, and expressing its deep concern over another state’s flouting of Security Council resolutions or dragging its feet on some point of order such as weapons inspections – we know how devoted the United States and its Israeli client are to the rule of law!

In the Iraq case, this noise was echoed and amplified in the media, often splashed across headlines and drummed up in editorial commentary. In turn, elite opinion in the United States and Britain coalesced around the beliefs (a) that a WMD-related crisis really existed in Baghdad and (b) that it required the Security Council’s special attention. Straight through March 19 – 20 2003, Iraq, the prospective target of a full-scale attack, decried the absurdity of this US-UK noise, and filed regular communiques with the Security Council and Secretary General documenting the US-UK aerial strikes on its territory, {1} including the “spikes of activity” period from September 2002 onward. {2} The vast majority of the world’s states and peoples also rejected the war propaganda – including the largely voiceless US public, where in the weeks before the war, two-thirds of non-elite opinion stood firmly behind multilateral approaches to defuse the crisis, foremost of which was permitting the UN weapons inspections to take their course. {3} But then, as now, pretty much the entire world recognized the US-UK hijacking of the Security Council, and its strategic misdirection away from a defense of the actual target of the threats (Iraq) onto the execution of the policy of the states making those threats while playing the role of Iraq’s potential victims (the US and UK).

So the aggression planning proceeded then and does now with the cooperation of the UN and international community. In the Iraq case, the Security Council allowed itself to be bamboozled into restarting the weapons-inspection process, accepting this as the urgent matter, rather than the war-mobilization and threat of aggression by the United States and its British ally. Although the Security Council did not vote approval of the US-British attack, it helped set it up by inflating the Iraq threat and failing to confront the real threat posed by the United States and Britain. Then, within two months after “shock and awe”, the Security Council voted to give the aggressor the right to stay in Iraq and manage its affairs, thereby approving a gross violation of the UN Charter after the fact.

Now, four years later, the Security Council has outdone itself. Not only has it failed to condemn the US and Israeli threat to attack Iran – the threat itself a violation of the UN Charter, {4} and one made ever-more real by the US invasions of neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq during this decade alone, now followed by a huge US naval buildup near Iran’s coast to levels not seen since the US launched its war on Iraq four years ago in what the New York Times just called a “calculated show of force”. {5} But even worse, the Council has aided and abetted these potential aggressors by adopting three resolutions in the past eight months under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, each of which affirms that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to international peace and security, and reserves for the Council the right to take “further appropriate measures” should Iran fail to comply – that is, should Iran not cave-in to US demands on exactly the terms demanded. {6}

Since July 31, the Council has demanded that Iran “suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development” {7} – despite the fact that Iran’s right to engage in these activities is guaranteed under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. {8} Since December 23, it has identified the existence of Iran’s nuclear program with so-called “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” {9} – despite the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency has never shown Iran’s program to be engaged in any kind of activities other than peaceful ones. Indeed, in the December 23 resolution, the Council used the phrase “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” no fewer than eight different times to describe Iran’s nuclear program, the clear – and perfectly false – allegation being that for Iran to do research on and develop its indigenous nuclear fuel capabilities places Iran in violation of its NPT commitments.

But perhaps most egregious of all, the March 24 resolution prohibits Iran from selling “any arms or related material” to other states or individuals (paragraph 5), and calls upon all states “to exercise vigilance and restraint” in the sale or transfer of a whole list of weapons systems to Iran, “in order to prevent a destabilizing accumulation of arms” (paragraph 6). {10} As the editorial voice of The Hindu immediately recognized, the first term is critical “not so much because the Islamic Republic is a major vendor of weapons even to Hamas or Hizbollah but because it gives the US an excuse to intimidate or interdict all Iranian merchant shipping under the guise of ‘enforcement'”. {11} Likewise with the second term, which, if history is any guide, Washington will interpret as a strict prohibition on weapons sales to Iran, thus depriving the potential victim, faced with attack by one or more nuclear powers, of the right to obtain even non-nuclear means of self defense. This of course has been a standard US tactic over many years, even against puny victims – Guatemala in 1954 and Nicaragua in the 1980s, among other cases. But now the United States has succeeded in getting the Security Council to help it impede the self-defense of yet another target of aggression. In this truly Kafkaesque case, the state targeted for attack (Iran) has been declared a threat to the peace by the Security Council, at the behest of a serial aggressor openly mobilizing its forces to attack the “threat”. {12}

It should be recognized that the treatment of Iran’s nuclear program, and the Security Council’s cooperation in this treatment, is the ultimate application of a global double standard, enforced by an aggressive superpower now able to get away with both hypocrisy and murder. Only the United States and its allies may possess nuclear weapons. They alone may threaten to use nukes. They alone may improve their nukes and delivery systems. Only client states such as Israel may remain outside the NPT indefinitely and without penalty. The United States may ignore its NPT obligation to work toward nuclear disarmament. It may even renege on its promise never to use nukes against nuke-free states that joined the NPT. But no matter. By sheer fiat-power, no other state may acquire nukes without US consent. Nor as the case of Iran shows may a state engage in its “inalienable right” to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes unless and until the United States approves.

We are in the midst of a crisis within the post-war international system, as a serial aggressor is now able to mobilize the Security Council, tasked with the maintenance of international peace and security, to declare the state that it threatens with war a menace to the peace and to help the aggressor disarm its target. This carries us beyond Munich.


* The authors would like it understood that a shorter, standard op-ed length version of this commentary was drafted and submitted very widely across the major US print media – and found to be 100 percent unpublishable.

1. For an extensive list of documents filed at the United Nations by the Iraqi Government over the period August 29 2001, through March 26 2003, see David Peterson, “No Memo Required”, ZNet, July 1 2005.

2. See David Peterson, “Spikes of Activity”, ZNet, July 05 2005, ; and David Peterson, “British Records of Prewar Bombing of Iraq”, ZNet, July 06 2005.

3. See Steven Kull et al, Americans on Iraq and the UN Inspections, Program on International Policy Attitudes, January 21-26 2003.

4. See, for example, Chapter I, Article 2: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations” (paragraph 4).

5. “USS John C Stennis Now Operating in Persian Gulf”, Navy Newsstand, March 27 2007; “Russian intelligence sees US military buildup on Iran border”, RIA Novosti, March 27 2007; and Michael R Gordon, “US Opens Naval Exercise in Persian Gulf”, New York Times, March 28 2007.

6. See Chapter VII, & lt; http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/chapter7.htm . We believe it essential to understand that for the Security Council to adopt a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter means above all that either a threat to the peace, a breach of the peace, or an act of outright aggression has occurred. Otherwise, there is no point to the Council’s resort to its Chapter VII functions and powers. Regardless of what the Council’s other members may believe about the import of the Iran resolutions, their assent to these resolutions grants an enormously powerful and dangerous tool of coercion to the United States.

7. Resolution 1696, July 31 2006, paragraph 2.

8. See the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Preamble, and Articles I, II, and IV.

9. Resolution 1737, December 23 2006, paragraph 2.

10. Resolution 1747, March 24 2007, paragraph 5, paragraph 6.

11. “Stepping towards the precipice”, Editorial, The Hindu, March 27 2007.

12. See Edward S Herman and David Peterson, “Hegemony and Appeasement: Setting Up the Next US-Israeli Target (Iran) for Another ‘Supreme International Crime'”, ZNet, January 27 2007.


Edward S Herman is an economist and media analyst, co-author with Noam Chomsky of Manufacturing Consent.

David Peterson is a Chicago-based researcher and journalist.


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Breaking the Consumer Habit

>Living the Buy Nothing Life

by Jenny Uechi

adbusters.org (April 20 2007)

San Francisco, 1951.

A living room fills with warm laughter and the aroma of fresh-baked goodies. Suburban housewives walk around the room exchanging smiles, telling stories. It’s like any other casual gathering, except for one twist: this is a Tupperware party, everyone is here to shop.

Painting over gray decades of war and depression with bright pastels, products like Tupperware ushered in a new era of prosperity, renewal and superabundance. Consumer goods like the television set and the Cadillac became more than just necessities for life: for millions of consumers, they were the essence of life itself.

Fast forward to 2005. A group of friends in the San Francisco Bay Area are meeting over a potluck dinner. Disillusioned by the endless consumer rat race, they are here to discuss how to not shop, to put an end to needless consumption. Taking the concept of Buy Nothing Day to the extreme, they have decided to attempt a full year without buying new products. Dubbing themselves “The Compact” after the Mayflower pledge at Plymouth Rock, the group vowed to limit their shopping to food, medicine and basic hygiene products, buying used wherever they could. Since the local news began covering them, their story has exploded, appearing everywhere from the Today Show to The Times of London. Today, with 8,000 new members and 55 subgroups worldwide – from regions as varied as Singapore and Iceland – the Compact are finding themselves at the forefront of the turning tide against consumer culture.

What the Compacters are doing is neither radical nor revolutionary; millions of people around the world live this way, and have lived this way for generations. Yet the Compact threatens and challenges everything that people have come to believe about “the good life” in the industrialized world. Reactions to the movement have been passionate, ranging from applause to outrage. Compact members have been accused of being “self-congratulatory braggarts” who are “destroying America’s economy”. One Compacter in Chilliwack, Canada, recalls friends reacting as if she had joined a Satanic cult. Love it or hate it, the Compact has made people question and the real motives behind their daily purchases.

“I used to shop to entertain myself”, confesses Lori Wyndham Jolly, an American expat and Compacter living in Berkshire, UK. “I’d go into a record store and buy a whole load of discount CDs, or into a chemist and get a lot of cheap cosmetics … I didn’t do this because I needed any of that stuff, but just to fill the emptiness. I read a throwaway line in paperback once, but it’s stuck with me: People shop because they’re lonely.”

“We’re constantly on the drive to consume more stuff”, says Rachel Kesel, a Bay Area Compacter who keeps a closely followed blog about her experiences. “It becomes a habit and not necessity”.

The reasons why people join the Compact are varied. Some join to cut back on spending, others to reduce waste, still others to escape materialism and focus on spiritual values. One thing they all recognize is that shopping is not the solution to their problems – in fact, it may very well be the cause to many of them.

“Money and debts seem to be ruling our life”, observes Ru’na Bjo”rg Gartharsdo’ttir, a Compacter in Iceland. She explains to Adbusters that she joined the Compact to escape what she calls the “vicious cycle” of consumerism – the chronic overwork to be able to spend more; the social disintegration resulting from overwork; the environmental damage caused by consumer waste; conflict over resources to supply consumer demand. In other words, a myriad of problems loosely bound by the innocent desire for an iPod or a luxury car collection.

It is no coincidence that the emergence of the Compact coincides with the rising popularity of the down-shifting and environmental movements. People throughout the developed world have realized that, unlike our psychological desires – which are infinite – our physiology and environmental resources have limits. Our body can’t handle eighty-hour workweeks on a 6,000-calorie-per-day diet, no more than our earth can handle cities like New York producing 12,000 tons of solid waste every single day, or the hundreds of millions of discarded cell phones that release cancer-causing toxins into the air. Something, someday, will have to give.

For now, most Compacters defensively state that their choice is a strictly “personal” one and that they have no political agenda. Yet they continue to stir up discontent by turning their back on a sacred ideal, the belief shared by billions around the world that “more” is better than “just enough”. Marketers are hoping this is a fringe movement. The signs point elsewhere. According to recent surveys by sociologist Juliet Schor, 81 percent of Americans believe their country is too focused on shopping, while nearly ninety percent believe it is too materialistic. Newspapers such as USA Today received record reader responses when columnist Craig Wilson swore off shopping for a full year. Radical anti-consumers such as the Freegans (people who survive on discarded food and products) are proving that people can survive off the waste of affluent consumers.

Gartharsdo’ttir, for her part, speaks with some pride when people tell her that her refusal to shop will shake her country’s economy. “It shows clearly the strong influence the marketing forces currently have on the nation”, she says. “We should rule our lives and decide what comes first”.


Compact’s blog is at http://sfcompact.blogspot.com/


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>How Will Our Grandchildren See Us?

>by Scott Bontz

The LandInstitute.org (March 27 2007)

Thirty years ago, Alex Haley’s “Roots” on television inspired millions to sleuth their blood ties to history. On this anniversary, let’s imagine what our own descendants will make of us when they look back.

What they will see is that Earth’s people more than tripled between 1950 and 2050. They’ll see that halfway through this explosion, American material consumption had grown so voracious that four Earths would be needed for everyone on the planet to live the same way. And they’ll see that billions tried.

They’ll see that this combination exhausted and poisoned water supplies, exterminated hundreds of thousands of species, and plowed under forests and grasslands, eroding essentially irreplaceable soils.

They’ll see that what fueled the “free market” was humanity’s biggest free lunch: We exploited energy accumulated over millions of years – coal, oil and natural gas. And we did it even though we knew we’d run out.

They’ll see that burning these fossil fuels raised temperatures and sea levels to drive tens of millions from coastal cities and drown rich delta soils, turned rich midcontinent farmland into desert, and made storms in wetter regions destructively stronger and erratic.

They’ll see that even during this delayed reaction to the Big Burn, fossil fuels petered out, and with them the irrigation and fertilizer that made it possible to feed so many extra billions.

And they’ll see that before the resulting hardships, people in the richest countries got much fatter, yet no happier.

They – the Children of the Great Depletion – will see that we squandered Earth, their birthright, for the sake of the “good life”.

This portrait in the making, some of it based on climate modeling but most of it already fleshing out in fact, is grim. But we can leave a better picture if we work now to save a planet that’s still in many ways a garden.

This will require us to radically redefine progress and what we mean by “standard of living”. We can’t measure these only with material yardsticks, aiming only for “efficiency” with energy and materials, which just frees capital for more consumption. The goal will be what writer Wendell Berry calls “poorer in luxuries and gadgets, but … richer in meaning and more abundant in real pleasure”. We must make an honest accounting of what our planet can support long term. We must remember that human endeavor is merely a subsidiary of Earth Ltd.

Since the free market has failed us here, we need new rules of taxation, regulation and treaty. So:

* Make the American way of life negotiable. Our fuel burning pumps into the atmosphere more global-warming carbon dioxide than any other nation, even though Number Two China has more than four times as many people. We have to lead the way out.

* Do this by taxing fossil fuels to slash release of greenhouse gases. Price these fuels at their true, long-term cost, including illness from pollution and food production lost to climate change. Invest the revenue in sustainable alternatives. Do it soon: Leading NASA climate scientist James Hansen reckons we have a decade at most to start reducing greenhouse gases before drastic climate change becomes inevitable.

* End tax exemptions for any more children than two – those predating the rule excepted. Through government subsidy make contraceptives and sterilization surgery free. Even if nothing else about sex is taught in school, explain exponential growth.

* Negotiate with other affluent countries to cut consumption. Again, it’s our responsibility to lead.

* For poor nations, greatly expand aid, but make it conditional: They must control population and pollution, and protect land, air and water. This investment could be far less than current military spending, yet better for long-term national security.

* And for policy and individual conduct in general, recognize that what we call economic growth, running now on so much principal from the natural world, cannot last. Instead of spending like there’s no tomorrow, conserve – make this the United States of Conservation – and pass along a good life to our descendants.

What could make them prouder?


Scott Bontz wrote this for the Prairie Writers Circle, a project of the Land Institute, Salina, Kansas. He edits institute publications.


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Lines of beauty

>by John Gray

New Statesman (April 23 2007)

At the Same Time by Susan Sontag
(Hamish Hamilton, 256 pages, GBP 18.99)

ISBN 0241143713

The first of the essays and speeches that are collected in At the Same Time {1} is a meditation on beauty. Written during the last years of Susan Sontag’s life, when she was ill with cancer, these sixteen pieces brim over with vitality. Every one of them opening up fresh lines of thought, they are in no sense last words. Unlike many politically engaged writers, Sontag never hankered after the security of a finished system of thought. If she acquired a reputation for contrarian thinking it was because she responded directly to historical events, which rarely conform to ideological stereotypes.

Enraging bien-pensants when she noted that Reader’s Digest gave a truer picture of communism than could be found in the journals of the left, she provoked fury on the right by observing (in a piece written just after the 9/11 attacks, included in this volume) that politics had been replaced by a kind of psychotherapy whose goal was to spare the American public from being burdened by too much reality – not least the reality of intractable conflict in the Middle East. In each case, she was speaking a truth that had been silenced by prevailing opinion.

At the Same Time is a record of Sontag’s thinking in progress. Even so, the book’s opening reflections on beauty undoubtedly express her lifelong beliefs – and may help unravel a persistent paradox in her life as a writer. Against the puritan tradition that suspects aesthetic values because they threaten the primacy of morality, she declares that “beauty, even amoral beauty, is never naked”, for “the aesthetic is itself a quasi-moral moral project”. Engaging with beauty enables a type of wisdom, she believed, that “cannot be duplicated by any other kind of a seriousness”. This is a conception of beauty that recalls Plato, and Sontag is clear that modern democratic relativism – the belief that aesthetic judgement is a matter of subjective preference rather than a perception of some kind of reality – undermines the very possibility of wisdom.

Here we have one of Sontag’s many departures from current liberal orthodoxy – her “elitist” insistence on the enduring importance of values that are neglected in popular culture. It is true that she had no time for the postmodern view that the cultural consumer is always right. Radical subjectivism of this sort produces a cult of fashion masquerading as irony, “the promiscuous, empty affirmations of the interesting” that places human subjectivity at the centre of the world. In contrast, she believed, beauty “reminds us of nature as such – of what lies beyond the human and the made.”

Though the fact is commonly resisted, an abiding concern with aesthetic experience does not coexist easily with strong political engagement. An urgent interest in reshaping the world is at odds with the attempt to discern the beauty it contains whatever its flaws. More than any of her critics, Sontag was aware of this tension. At times she seemed wary of the moral activism that fuelled her protests against injustice, and may have regretted not giving more of her energy to writing novels. It is striking how many of the writers she admired lacked, or even scorned, political commitment. An earnest desire to improve the human lot does not figure centrally in the work of Fernando Pessoa, E M Cioran or W G Sebald – writers Sontag fervently praised and publicised. When she promoted the work of an indefatigable activist and agitator – as she does, in a luminous essay collected here, when she praises Victor Serge’s neglected novel The Case of Comrade Tulayev {2} – it was not primarily his exposure of Soviet oppression that she celebrated. It was the subtlety with which Serge pursued fictional truth in all its labyrinthine complication. Whereas an archetypal didactic “political novel” such as Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon {3} sees the Stalinist era through the prism of one person’s experience of oppression, Serge interweaves politics and personalities in a panoramic view of history. For Sontag, fiction was the most effective way of rendering the human actuality, and it was Serge’s realistic account of the contingencies that shape human fortunes which made him the better writer.

I knew Sontag only slightly, and all too briefly, towards the end of her life. At the time she died, she was America’s best-known public intellectual. To my mind, she was also the most exemplary. Intellectually and imaginatively gifted to an extraordinary degree, she used her fearless intelligence to illuminate some of the deepest contradictions of contemporary life. Her writings on interpretation, photography and illness are part of the modern cultural canon. But Sontag was much more than a critic of culture, however accomplished. Who else would note, as she does in her essay “Regarding the Torture of Others”, collected here, the seamless connection between the images of torture coming out of Abu Ghraib and the cliche’s of the American porn industry? Or note that the photographs the soldiers posed, thumbs up, over their victims and sent to their friends illustrate a media-driven society in which everything that was once private is now shamelessly revealed? This is the moral culture that has made possible the rehabilitation of torture – a process that has taken place in a matter of a few years, but which is a defining feature of our age.

As Sontag wrote, “What formerly was segregated as pornography, as the exercise of extreme sado-masochistic longings – as in Pier Pasolini’s last, near-unwatchable film Salo (1975), depicting orgies of torture in the fascist redoubt in northern Italy at the end of the Mussolini era – is now being normalised by the apostles of the new, bellicose, imperial America”.

That this process should have been led by the world’s pre-eminent liberal regime is also symptomatic of the times in which we live. Images of naked men stacked in heaps seem to have been sufficiently shocking to be largely withdrawn from the media. Yet practices of sensory deprivation and denial of sleep, which when practised on dissidents in the former Soviet Union were condemned as a sign of totalitarianism, are now defended by the American vice-president and his neoconservative acolytes as part of a crusade for universal freedom. One of the ethical restraints that shape civilised life has been eroded, while those responsible for the slide into barbarism rant on about human rights and the perils of moral relativism.

Contemporary politics is a surreal spectacle that few writers in any country have succeeded in capturing. If Sontag did, it was because, for her, cultural criticism and literature were not separate activities. The paradox in which she seemed at times entangled was only partly real. While moral activism does not always go with devotion to beauty or concern with truth, in Sontag’s case these values served a single end. In At the Same Time we hear the voice of a unique writer, who loved the world and spent her life in an attempt to see it whole.


{1} http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780374100728-0

{2} http://www.powells.com/s?kw=The+Case+of+Comrade+Tulayev&x=45&y=13

{3} http://www.powells.com/s?kw=Darkness+at+Noon&x=55&y=11


John Gray’s next book, Black Mass: apocalyptic religion and the death of utopia, will be published by Penguin in July.


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html