Archive for July, 2007

>A poor future in the city

2007/07/31 Leave a comment

>Observations on population

by Sam Alexandroni

New Statesman (July 02 2007)

The urban population of Africa and Asia will double by 2030, according to the latest annual UN population report. This rapid growth in the world’s cities will result in a dramatic increase in the number of teenagers living in extreme poverty, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) warns, and will also lead to a surge in violent crime and HIV infection.

By 2030, eighty per cent of the world’s urban population will live in the developing world and sixty per cent will be under eighte18. The majority of these teenagers will grow up in poverty. The picture is one of chaos and misery: a vast population of young people packed into squalid slums without opportunities, law or essential services.

The consequences could be catastrophic. Poor youngsters aged fifteen to 24 are both the principal victims and the perpetrators of violent crime; about half of all new HIV infections occur in this age group. Unless something is done now, this “youth bulge” will signal a disastrous upsurge in violence and HIV infection. Significantly, the fastest-growing urban population is in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicentre of the Aids pandemic.

Africa’s urban population will increase from 294 million to 742 million, Asia’s from 1.36 billion to 2.64 billion and Latin America and the Caribbean from 394 million to 609 million. Urban populations of the developed world will show far slower growth: from 870 million to just over one billion.

The greatest growth will not be in the mega-cities (those with ten million or more people such as Calcutta and Sa~o Paulo), but in settlements of 500,000 or less where there is room for expansion.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the driving factors of this increase will be the movement of people uprooted by drought, famine, ethnic conflicts and wars.

The authors do not believe this rapid growth of shanty towns and cities need necessarily spell disaster. They remain hopeful about the world’s urban future, concluding that, if the right preparations are made now, the concentration of the world’s population in cities can be positive.

Yet the catalogue of profoundly depressing statistics offers plenty to be concerned about.

There are already growing pressures on natural resources. In East Africa, the average time spent waiting for water increased from 28 minutes each day in 1967, to 92 minutes a day in 1997, raising concerns at how a region already suffering from water shortages will supply twice as many people just two decades from now.

“We are not on schedule to meet this challenge”, says Stephen Turner, deputy director of Water Aid. “Sub-Saharan Africa is way off-track. The issue is not water scarcity, it is water equity. The hidden scandal is that governments and donors are not making this a priority.”

Cities, the UN report suggests, can be the solution to some impending environmental problems. For example, they may be the most effective way of providing people with essential services, protecting the environment by containing human settlement to a smaller area.

But cities are environmentally friendly only if well planned, argue commentators such as climate expert, George Monbiot: “In urban sprawl you get the worst of all worlds – an urban population living with few natural resources to fall back on when times are hard but spread over a large area that is very difficult to supply with essential services”.

Governments and local authorities have tended to worry about the civil unrest resulting from large populations of frustrated young people living in slum conditions, which is why current policies focus on reducing migration from rural areas and making it hard for new arrivals to settle in shanty towns.

But such policies are counter-productive, the report argues. Strategies to prevent people settling in cities merely encourage unplanned and unsafe housing. If policy-makers continue to resist the “inevitable” growth of cities, we will see more wealthy, fortress communities abutting slums that are rife with violence and disease.

The only option, the report’s authors conclude, is to try to strengthen the positive aspects of urbanisation. This means co-operating with grass-roots organisations, empowering women, investing in education and improving access to contraceptives (all ways to reduce birth rates).

It also means, say the report’s authors, accepting the inevitable and providing land for people to build new shanty towns but ensuring that they are equipped with roads, electricity, clean water, sewers and waste disposal.

“We are really at the crossroads”, says George Martine, lead author of the report. “Unless we take action then chaos is what we have in store. Many of these ideas [such as the provision of sites and services for shanty towns] have been tried and later buried under political concerns. We need to correct the misconceptions that governments in the developing world have about urbanisation – we need a new mindset.

“Our message is one of hope, but it is also a call to action.”

“State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth” is available from 27 June.

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>Despite warnings, oil usage expected to increase

2007/07/31 1 comment

>by James Kanter

International Herald Tribune (July 09 2007)

Despite four years of high prices and increasingly dire warnings about climate change, a new report Monday predicted that world oil demand would rise faster than previously expected over the next five years while production slips, threatening a supply crunch.

“Demand is growing and as people become accustomed to higher prices they are starting to return to their previous trends of high consumption”, said Lawrence Eagles, the head of oil markets analysis at the Paris-based International Energy Agency. “It’s important that we have more investment and a greater emphasis on energy efficiency”.

The pressures on fuel supplies are growing because booming Asian economies are using more fuel to power their prospering manufacturing industries and to supply growing numbers of automobiles amid a spurt in consumerism.

Rapid growth of the petrochemicals sector and low-cost airlines are other important factors lifting demand.

Supplies are being squeezed by a scarcity of modern oil refining facilities as well as sufficient staff to operate them. Supplies also are a concern because of deteriorating production of oil from countries outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the price-setting cartel operated by the world’s biggest producers.

The world “needs more than three million barrels per day of new oil each year to offset the falling production in the mature fields outside of OPEC”, Eagles said.

Analysts said that behind the overall numbers were signs that the energy habits of the planet were moving in two distinct directions.

In developed countries, and in particular in the European Union, obligations agreed to by governments to conserve energy and use renewable sources of energy – both to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to maintain energy security – are expected to ease pressure on oil supplies.

But that trend is being offset by rapidly developing nations. While they still consume far less energy per capita, they also are manufacturing goods for rich countries and increasingly are adopting heavily energy-consuming lifestyles, including air conditioners, refrigerators and cars.

“My view is that energy consciousness will figure strongly in Western countries and could contribute to demand decrease, but it’s not at all sure that we will see the same trends in China and India”, said Colette Lewiner, global leader for energy at Capgemini in Paris.

In its report, the International Energy Agency, which advises 26 industrialized countries, said that global oil demand would rise by an average 2.2 percent a year from 2007 to 2012, up from a forecast in February 2007 of two percent annually from 2006 to 2011.

Developing world and emerging industrialized economies will see their share of world oil consumption rise from 42 percent of global oil demand to 46 percent by 2012, the report said.

Eagles welcomed progress in Europe and Asia, where governments are mandating more efficient cars. He said that the “United States is very clearly coming to the point where there would be a landmark change in fuel efficiency policies”.

He also welcomed ramped up investment in refining capacity across the world, saying that could help exert some downward pressure on prices over the next three years. But those effects are likely to be short-lived, Eagles said.

Beyond 2010, Eagles warned, “tightness in OPEC’s spare capacity will reassert itself”.

And by 2012, he said, there would either have to be limits on demand or additional supplies in order to avoid price increases.

Eagles also gave a stark warning that biofuels – a renewable source of energy produced from plants – were unlikely to be a quick, silver-bullet solution.

Factories to make biofuels are becoming commonplace but agricultural products that are the basis of the fuels are – like crude oil in some parts of the world – becoming scarcer.

Prices of this feedstock including corn, sugar, soybeans, wheat and palm oil have risen sharply, making the production of biofuels increasingly expensive.

“Although we have a lot of policy statements on biofuels in many countries, the policies and mandates aren’t fully in place at this point so we are not sure that this supply is going to be there”, Eagles said.

By 2012 biofuels will still only account for only two percent of global oil supplies, the International Energy Agency said.

Yet another factor weighing on fuel supplies is periodic but severe problems in supplies of cleaner-burning natural gas, which has supplanted fuel oil in many industries over the past quarter-century.

But natural catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita in 2005, which knocked out US gas production, and political decisions such as when Russia turned off gas supplies to neighboring countries in 2006, have led to renewed demand for fuel oil – putting yet more pressure on oil supplies.

Copyright (c) 2007 The International Herald Tribune |

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>UN official: Cuba has solved its energy crisis …

2007/07/30 1 comment

>… without sacrificing its environment

The Associated Press

International Herald Tribune (July 04 2007)

Cuba has solved crippling energy shortages that plagued the island as recently as 2004 without sacrificing a long-term commitment to promoting environmentally friendly fuels, the head of the United Nations Environment Program said Wednesday.

The electric grid still relies too heavily on wasteful gas-flare reactors and heavy polluting diesel generators, but the communist government has taken important steps toward developing wind and solar power, as well as ethanol from sugar cane, said Achim Steiner, the program’s executive director.

“Cuba a few years ago was facing a real energy crisis, sixteen hours of … electricity cuts and therefore a realization that the economy was going to collapse under this system”, said Steiner, in Havana for a conference on the environment and development.

“In terms of a short term response, it is quite remarkable how Cuba, under its economic conditions, managed to solve that crisis”, he said.

At a news conference, Steiner said “Cuba can look proudly at having solved a short-term crisis with a long-term commitment toward cleaner energy”. He said his organization wanted to “put a spotlight on Cuba’s efforts”.

Just three years ago, the country was hit by blackouts that wounded the economy while enraging a population suffering through the merciless summer months without air conditioning, fans or any way to refrigerate food.

The government’s response was a sweeping “energy revolution” that included an overall of the antiquated electrical grid, as well conservation drives.

Fidel Castro appeared on television nearly daily to explain improvements in excruciating detail and government workers went door to door in many neighborhoods, replacing incandescent light bulbs with more-efficient alternatives.

Steiner praised the energy revolution, but noted that things were far from ideal. A gas reactor throws a plume of dark smoke over Havana’s otherwise idyllic bay and most vehicles here use leaded gasoline and diesel that fill the air with pollutants.

Meanwhile, Cuba’s economy has recovered well after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union cost Havana billions in generous subsidies. But that recovery has largely been fueled by oil-rich Venezuela, whose socialist president, Hugo Chavez, provides the island with oil at favorable prices.

International Herald Tribune

Copyright (c) 2007 The International Herald Tribune |

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>Death of the Amazon

2007/07/30 1 comment

>by Sue Branford and Jan Rocha

New Statesman (July 02 2007)

In Brazil, environmental technocrats talk of saving the rainforest with satellite technology – but loggers, miners and farmers keep finding scams to evade the law.

Sitting in an air-conditioned office in Brasilia, Brazil’s modernist federal capital that always has an unreal feel to it, we found it difficult not to be impressed. Or maybe, after so many depressing stories about the destruction of the rainforest, we just wanted to believe what we were being told. We were both beguiled by the vision so powerfully presented to us.

“A new era is beginning for the Amazon”, said Tasso Rezende de Azevedo, the youthful head of Brazil’s National Forest Programme, running a hand through his thick, brown hair. Bringing up on his computer a bewildering array of maps and aerial photos, he went on: “Today, thanks to modern satellite technology, we have instant information. We know almost immediately when someone is illegally cutting down the forest and we can send in one of our teams to arrest those responsible. From now on, loggers and farmers will have to obey the law.”

Tasso belongs to a young Brazilian generation of environmental technocrats who have a fervent belief in the power of technology. Under the leadership of Marina Silva, the charismatic environment minister, who herself comes from the Amazon, they have developed an ambitious strategy for ending deforestation, now running at 1.3 million hectares a year, making Brazil the fifth largest global contributor to greenhouse gases. At the centre of this strategy lies a vast mosaic of conservation units, stretching across the heart of the Amazon Basin from north to south and already covering some twenty million hectares (an area the size of England and Scotland together), with more units planned.

The idea is that these reserves will act as a buffer and stop the human predators – the land-grabbers, illegal loggers, cattle ranchers and soya farmers – moving into the western Amazon, which is still largely untouched.

Some of these are old-fashioned nature parks, where no human activity is permitted. Others are so-called “extractive reserves” for the Amazon’s long-term inhabitants such as the ribeir inhos (riverside dwellers, mainly descended from 19th-century rubber tappers or from runaway slaves). Yet others, created under Brazil’s Project for Sustainable Development (PDS), are for the Amazon’s shifting population of former gold prospectors, dam workers and landless families that have invaded indigenous reserves. Key to the success of all these conservation units are Tasso’s satellite images, which will allow the government to ensure that only permitted, sustainable economic activity is undertaken.

But can it work? During thirty years of visiting the region, we have witnessed the relentless advance of the agricultural frontier ever deeper into the Amazon forest. Dared we hope that the destruction might be ending? We visited Santare’m, an old port built by the Portuguese, where the mighty Tapajo’s tributary meets the even mightier Amazon River.

This area is being ransacked for hardwoods (especially ipe^, now that mahogany, once known as green gold, has been exhaustively logged and exports banned) and planted with soya, the international wonder crop, fed to cattle all over the world. The riverfront, lined by trading and passenger boats that ply the local waters, is now overlooked by an ungainly soya terminal, built by the giant US commodities trader Cargill. If the government’s policies were starting to bite here, then a new era really would be dawning.

We hired a 4×4 to visit Renascer, one of the government’s new sustainable projects, situated about 200 kilometres south-east of Santare’m. According to figures published at the end of last year by the National Institute for Rural Settlement and Agrarian Reform (Incra), 360 families have been settled here. To reach the settlement, we travelled through dense forest, skidding and sliding along dirt roads made as slippery as soap by recent rains. High up in the jungle canopy, we caught a glimpse of a pair of arara-azuls, a species of endangered macaw almost exclusively found in Brazil. Occasionally, a tapir or an agouti ran across the track. What became clear as we travelled further into the forest and passed countless loggers’ tracks leading off either side of the road is that Renascer’s 44,000 hectares (109,000 acres) had already been plundered for hardwoods.

We saw no sign of human life as we drove deeper into the settlement. At the end of the road we found several abandoned huts, strewn with discarded clothing. On one hung a hand-painted sign that read, somewhat forlornly, “Agro-Extractive Reserve Renascer, Project for Sustainable Development”. But where were the settlers? The only people we met within the settlement area were two men and a woman who had moved in on their own initiative, planting cassava between tree stumps in an area cleared by the loggers and rearing ducks in a stream. Having plundered the area, the loggers had moved further into the forest. “We can still hear the whine of chainsaws in the distance”, one of them said.

Corrupt officials

On our return to Santare’m and after talking to government officials, researchers and settlers, it became obvious that loggers have invented a scam to continue illegal logging. Under the terms of a Project for Sustainable Development, settlers can clear one-fifth of the area they are allocated, while the remaining four-fifths goes to a collective forest reserve to be used for renewable activities, such as collecting Brazil nuts, extracting oil from andiroba trees, and sustainable logging. As the government tightens its control over logging, demanding proper forest- management projects and legal titles to the land, bandit loggers who have neither have found the weak spot in the new strategy. They have gone into partnership with corrupt officials within Incra, which authorises and administers the settlements, and have set up fake community organisations to run Project for Sustainable Developments. Some of these have become facades behind which the loggers carry on plundering the forest.

Many innocent people are caught up in the scam. We discovered that a few years ago one logger had enticed some eighty people, desperate for a plot of land, to join his fake community organisation. He had taken them by lorry to Renascer to have a look at the land and dumped them there. But Renascer, set up with the interests of the loggers in mind, is located in difficult, hilly terrain. Marooned in this remote area, the would-be settlers began to get hungry and grew frightened after a few days. They started to trudge back to Santare’m on foot. After walking 27 kilometres, they came to the nearest house, built by a soya farmer, who gave them food and water and even drove the eldest couple, in their late sixties, in his jeep back to Santare’m. All that is left of this failed experiment is abandoned huts.

None of these people wants ever again to hear talk of Renascer, but others continue to fall into the same trap. We spoke to C, too scared to give his full name. A small weather-beaten man of 47 with five children, he is hoping to get a piece of land in Renascer. Like many in Santare’m, he migrated to the Amazon from the dirt-poor state of Maranha~o, working as a gold miner, sawmill employee and book salesman – whatever turned up. When he heard about the new settlements, he thought it was at last a chance to get land. He eagerly began paying five reals (GBP 1.25) a month to the association of would-be Renascer residents set up by the timber company stooge. Two years have passed; meetings are held, but “nothing happens”, says C. “They keep telling us we’ll get our plot in two weeks’ time … I know they’re fooling us, but I daren’t complain. If I say anything, they’ll kill me.”

We showed him a photo of Renascer, his first glimpse of his promised land. If these settlers ever get their land, they will be able to survive only with support from the timber companies. But the loggers will leave once they have stripped out all the timber. The community will then collapse and Renascer will be seen as another failed attempt to bring sustainable development to the Amazon. The settlers will be blamed, because the loggers will have airbrushed themselves out of the story.

Near Renascer is another Project for Sustainable Development called Santa Clara. This is on a flat plateau – unusual in the Amazon – that is devoid of rivers and streams, and is unsuitable for any kind of settlement because of the risk of forest fires. Yet soya farmers from Mato Grosso have moved in, attracted by cheap (in reality, illegal) land. Cargill has agreed to purchase the soya – no questions asked about origins. Caught unawares by the tougher strategy from Brasilia, the soya farmers have been given hefty fines for clearing virgin forest, but they are determined to stay in the area, even if it means allying themselves with land sharks and corrupt local officials.

Since 2005, almost 100 conservation units of various kinds have been created in the Santare’m area. One researcher told us that nine-tenths of them were facades behind which loggers and farmers are hiding. By claiming that their timber and soya come from environmentally sustainable projects, they may even get better prices.

Over the past thirty years, the Amazon has become a byword for violence and lawlessness. As we should have remembered, listening to the head of the forest programme describe his brave new world in Brasilia, technology alone cannot change this. Many government officials have a commitment to stopping the senseless destruction of the forest but, on the ground, corruption, understaffing and inadequate resources undermine their efforts.

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>Solar Activity ‘Not The Cause of Global Warming’

2007/07/29 3 comments

>by Steve Connor

The Independent (July 11 2007)

Claims that increased solar activity is the cause of global warming – rather than man-made greenhouse gases – have been comprehensively disproved by a detailed study of the Sun.

Scientists have delivered the final blow to the theory that recent global warming can be explained by variations in the natural cycles of the Sun – a favourite refuge for climate sceptics who dismiss the influence of greenhouse-gas emissions.

An analysis of the records of all of the Sun’s activities over the past few decades – such as sunspot cycles and magnetic fields – shows that since 1985 solar activity has decreased significantly, while global warming has continued to increase.

Mike Lockwood, of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Chilton, Oxfordshire, said: “In 1985, the Sun did a U-turn in every respect. It no longer went in the right direction to contribute to global warming. We think it’s almost completely conclusive proof that the Sun does not account for the recent increases in global warming.”

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A, shows there is no doubt that solar activity over the past twenty years has run in the opposite direction to global warming, and therefore cannot explain rises in average global temperatures.

Dr Lockwood and his colleague Claus Frohlich, of the World Radiation Centre in Davos Dorf, Switzerland, have produced the most powerful counter argument to suggestions that current warming is part of the natural cycle of solar activities. “There is considerable evidence for solar influence on Earth’s pre-industrial climate, and the Sun may well have been a factor in post-industrial change in the first half of the last century”, they write.

However, since about 1940 there has been no evidence to suggest that increases in global average temperatures were caused by solar activity. “Our results show that the observed rapid rise in global mean temperatures seen after 1985 cannot be ascribed to solar variability, whichever of the mechanisms is invoked and no matter how much the solar variation is amplified”, the two scientists said.

The theory that past changes in solar activity may have explained some changes in the climate before the industrial revolution is not in dispute. In previous centuries, for instance, notably between about 1420 and 1570, when the Vikings had to abandon their Greenland settlements, solar minima corresponded with unusually cool weather, such as the “little ice age” of the 17th century.

But climate sceptics have exploited this to dispute the idea that man-made emissions are responsible for global warming. In the recent Channel 4 programme The Great Global Warming Swindle, the rise in solar activity over the latter half of the 20th century was erroneously presented as perfectly matching the rise in global average temperatures.

Dr Lockwood said he was outraged when he saw the documentary, because of the way the programme-makers used graphs of temperature rises and sunspot cycles that were cut off in the 1980s, when the two trends went in the opposite direction.

“The trouble is that the theory of solar activity and climate was being misappropriated to apply to modern-day warming. The sceptics were taking perfectly good science and bringing it into disrespect”, Dr Lockwood said.

The Royal Society said yesterday: “There is a small minority which is seeking to confuse the public on the causes of climate change. They are often misrepresenting the science, when the reality is that the evidence is getting stronger every day.”

(c) 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>A message from the melting slopes of Everest

2007/07/29 Leave a comment

>The sons of Hillary and Tenzing speak out about climate change: “Believe us, it’s a reality”

by Cahal Milmo and Sam Relph

from The Independent & The Independent on Sunday (July 06 2007)

Fifty-four years after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to scale Everest, their sons have said the mountain is now so ravaged by climate change that they would no longer recognise it.

On the eve of the Live Earth concerts this weekend, Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing yesterday issued a timely warning that global warming is rapidly changing the face of the world’s highest mountain and threatening the survival of billions of people who rely on its glaciers for drinking water.

The base camp where Sir Edmund and Norgay began their ascent is forty metres lower than it was in 1953. The glacier on which it stands, and those around it, are melting at such a rate that scientists believe the mountain, whose Nepalese name, Qomolangma, means Mother of the World, could be barren rock by 2050.

Up to 40,000 Sherpas who live at the base of the Himalayas face devastation if vast new lakes formed by the melted ice burst and send a torrent of millions of tons of water down the slopes.

Mr Hillary, who has himself twice reached Everest’s summit, said: “Climate change is happening. This is a fact. Base camp used to sit at 5,320 metres. This year it was at 5,280 metres because the ice is melting from the top and side. Base camp is sinking each year. For Sherpas living on Mount Everest this is something they can see every day but they can’t do anything about it on their own.”

The warning came as a survey revealed that most Britons remain unconvinced about the extent of climate change and that terrorism, crime, graffiti and even dog mess are more pressing issues for the UK. The Ipsos-Mori poll found that 56 per cent of people believe scientists are still debating whether human activity is contributing to climate change. In reality, there is virtual consensus that it is.

Just over half of people, 51 per cent, believe climate change will have little or no effect and more than one-third admitted they were taking no action to reduce their carbon emissions.

Speaking before the seven Live Earth concerts, which organisers hope will be a catalyst for action on global warming, Jamling Tenzing, who has also climbed Everest, said the mountain was serving as an early warning of the extent to which it is already changing the planet.

The glacier where Sir Edmund and Norgay pitched their base camp before eventually reaching the summit at 29,000 feet on 29 May 1953 has retreated three miles in the past twenty years. Scientists believe that all glaciers in the Himalayas, which are between half a mile and more than three miles in length, will be reduced to small patches of ice within fifty years if trends continue.

Mr Tenzing said: “The glaciers have receded a great deal since my father’s time. There are many things he wouldn’t recognise today. The glacier on which base camp sits has melted to such a degree that it is now at a lower altitude. I think the whole face of the mountains is changing.”

The glacial retreat presents a double peril for those who live in the Himalayas and the populations of India and China, where the water flowing from the mountains accounts for forty per cent of the world’s fresh water.

The rapid increase in the rate of glaciers melting – from 42 metres a year in the forty years to 2001 to 74 metres a year in 2006 – has resulted in the formation of huge lakes in the space of a few years.

A United Nations study of the 9,000 glacial lakes in the Himalayas found that more than 200 are at risk of “outburst floods”, unleashing thousands of cubic metres of water per second into an area where 40,000 people live. In 1985, Lake Dig Tsho in the Everest region released ten million cubic metres of water in three hours. It caused a ten-metre-high wall of water which swept away a power station, bridges, farmland, houses, livestock and people up to 55 miles downstream. Scientists estimate that the most dangerous lakes today are up to twenty times bigger. One of those, Imja Tsho, did not exist fifty years ago and lies directly above the homes of 10,000 people.

The worst-case scenario according to Nepalese scientists is a cascade effect whereby one overflowing lake empties into another, starting a chain reaction which would kill thousands and wipe out agriculture for generations.

Peter Hillary said: “I’ve seen the result of glacial lakes bursting their banks and it’s just catastrophic. It’s like an atomic bomb has gone off. Everywhere is rubble. The floods of the past are unfortunately nothing compared with the size of what we are currently threatened with.”

In the longer term, scientists believe the depletion of the glaciers will drastically reduce the flow of water into the nine major rivers fed by the Himalayan glaciers.

Defra recruits critic of Bush

An outspoken critic of President George Bush’s approach to combating global warming has been appointed to advise the British Government on climate change.

Bob Watson was voted out of his job chairing the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) five years ago after incurring the wrath of the Bush administration. He will take over as chief scientific adviser at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in September. The appointment was approved by Gordon Brown.

His recruitment, a week after Mr Brown took over as Prime Minister, will be seen as further evidence the Government is trying to distance itself from Mr Bush. Last week, he caused consternation at the White House when he appointed Sir Mark Malloch Brown, a strong critic of US foreign policy, as minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations.

Dr Watson, a British-born expert on atmospheric pollution, advised former US President Bill Clinton on the environment and worked at the World Bank before becoming the IPCC’s chairman. The US began manoeuvring to remove him shortly after President Bush’s inauguration in 2001. A year later, he was replaced by Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian scientist.

Environmental groups uncovered a memo from the US oil corporation ExxonMobil, a major contributor to Mr Bush’s election campaign, asking the White House to unseat Dr Watson because he had an “aggressive agenda”. At the time, Dr Watson acknowledged the US government’s intervention was an “important factor” in the campaign to oust him.

A Defra spokeswoman said: “He was the unanimous choice out of all the candidates”.

(c) 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>Rain Dance

2007/07/28 Leave a comment

>Clusterfuck Nation

by Jim Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of The Long Emergency (July 09 2007)

Live Earth is a 24-hour, seven-continent concert series taking place on 7/7/07 that will bring together more than 100 music artists and two billion people to trigger a global movement to solve the climate crisis. — The Live Earth Web site

Am I the only one who wonders whether rock and roll extravaganzas in the service of Great Causes might be exercises in grandiosity and futility? What I wonder especially: is this the only way we know how to respond to the difficulties that life on earth presents – to engage a corps of professional narcissists to strut and pose in stadiums, affecting to wave their magic wands (or Fender Stratocasters) and make everybody feel better about a given problem (distress on the farm, disease in Africa, global warming …)? Can’t we think of other, more meaningful things to do? Or are we stuck in a perpetually delusional rut of Woodstock-style symbolism, out doing a global rain dance instead of really changing our behavior?

I’m not convinced that these big public service rock shows do much harm – other than perhaps inflating our expectations and using too much electricity – but this particular one galled me a little.

For one thing, even though global warming is by definition a global problem, the notion of a global community as a permanent fixture of human history is, I think, a mirage. If there is any salient macro implication to the problems I term the long emergency, it is that the world will soon become a bigger place again; the great nations will soon retreat to their own corners of the world as they powerdown by necessity; and all the trade relations, cultural exchanges, and geopolitical conceits that have lately made the Earth seem like a big international hotel give way to much more local issues of sheer survival.

There was so much about the Live Earth show that actually expressed what is worst about the current state of American culture: the obscene posturing of zillionaire celebrities, awarding themselves brownie points for the largeness of their concern – even while, like Mr Sting of the band called the Police, they buy-and-sell $20 million Manhattan condos, and burn god-knows-how many tons of Wyoming coal amplifying the bass runs to “Roxanne”. And the flip-side of these celebrity pretensions, of course, is the disturbing fealty paid to them by the fans, as members of the public caught up in celebrity-worship are called. Obviously, the whole thing is a kind of self-reinforcing feedback loop spiraling up to ever worse grandiosity on the part of the celebs and ever more pathetic groveling worship of these fake gods by the fans – until it becomes little more than an object lesson in the tragic limitations of the human condition.

Looming behind the spectacle like some Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon, is the puffy figure of Al Gore, who has managed to turn his journalistic accomplishment into something uncomfortably like a Nuremberg rally. I say this perhaps incautiously, not because I believe that Al Gore is a bad person, but because it could get to the point here in America, not far down the line, when a desperate public will beg some political leader to push them around, to tell them what to do, to direct their behavior in some purposeful way to save their asses. And these prancing, preening rock and roll celebrities may be paving the way, so to speak, for some corn pone American fascist to strut his stuff for an American audience worried about the growing darkness, and the falling needle on their car’s gas gauge.

The last thing we need now is the carefully packaged postures of concern from “stars”. Al Gore could do a lot more good militating to get regular hourly passenger train service running between Nashville and Atlanta, or stomping his state, from Memphis to Chattanooga for swapping sales tax on regular merchandise for a higher tax on gasoline. Or, he could just put aside his pretensions for being a kind of global Wizard of Oz and just cut the shit and run for president of the US, where he might actually make a difference.

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized