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Archive for January, 2008

>Time to get back on track

2008/01/31 1 comment

>Observation on the destruction wrought by John Major’s privatisation of our railways

by Christian Wolmar

New Statesman (January 10 2008)

The real cost of the destruction of British Rail, initiated by John Major’s government fifteen years ago, is finally emerging. Both aspects of the double whammy suffered by passengers after Christmas – the engineering overruns and the fare rises above inflation – can be traced to that piece of mindless vandalism that Labour has done so little to repair.

A privatised railway suffers such severe engineering overruns because more work is contracted out to companies which either do not have the expertise or which cut corners, knowing any penalties will cost less than ensuring that work is completed on time.

The work at Rugby to double the track was being overseen by Bechtel, the huge US specialists in project management. Expert at building new schemes, the company proved unequal to the task of carrying out alterations to an existing railway. Network Rail insiders, privately furious at Bechtel, now admit that they have contracted out too much of their management role and need to do more in-house.

The chaos would not have happened under British Rail, for two reasons. First, BR had sufficient engineering expertise in-house to plan and carry out such schemes within the required time. None of my ex-BR contacts could remember such a serious incident in the organisation’s history.

Second, because BR was an integrated organisation, the engineering director would never have dared to mess up the railway for several days knowing he would have to face the operations director at a subsequent inquest. There would have been co-ordination throughout the process. Indeed, Network Rail staff tell me Virgin, the train operator, knew the timetable for the work at Rugby was too tight and couldn’t be achieved without overrunning. Its warnings fell on deaf ears.

Network Rail is also suffering from the low esteem in which the railway, after privatisation, is held. Its top managers are well regarded, but there is a weakness in middle management, resulting partly from low pay. BR used to run a graduate entry scheme that was greatly oversubscribed. It was abandoned by Railtrack and has been revived only recently by Network Rail.

Nor has the public benefited from privatisation through lower fares. It is true that BR had to increase the price of travel in the same way as today. The difference, though, is that at least there was a political furore and debate each time this happened. Now, fare rises that are above inflation have been built into the economics of the railways for the foreseeable future, a crazy policy, in the light of rail’s environmental advantages.

Today, rail travel is subsidised to the tune of more than GBP 5 billion a year. In a white paper issued last July, the government made clear that the priority was to push more of the costs of rail on to passengers rather than taxpayers. Fare rises that are above inflation are a deliberate strategy to reduce costs. They are also intended to “price off” demand, thus reducing the need for investment.

The debacle has shown that the organisation, structure, financing and accountability of the railways are in a complete mess, which no one had much noticed. Such issues attract far less attention than the series of accidents in the early days of privatisation.

The chaotic state of the railways demonstrates many of Labour’s shortcomings, both in terms of its obsession with the private sector and its dishonesty in refusing to admit responsibility. No minister appeared on TV to explain either what went wrong at Rugby and Liverpool Street or to justify above- inflation fare rises, relying on the pretence that privatisation passed control to the companies which now own and operate the railways.

Nothing is further from the truth. For the first time in railway history, decisions on investment, franchises and strategy are being made by ministers and civil servants, rather than by rail experts. Moreover, the loss of BR means that no one bats for the railways or thinks how rail can be adapted to 21st-century needs.

Contrast this with France, where SNCF recently celebrated its 70th birthday at the Grand Palais with an exhibition of all the arts. Its boss, Guillaume Pepy, spoke with vision of expanding the country’s high-speed rail network and running trains at night to compete with air for the huge courier business of the likes of DHL and FedEx. BR’s demise leaves no organisation capable of that sort of vision.

It would be good to believe, after the outraged editorials and calls to re-create BR, that ministers would be moved to tackle the mess on the railways. Don’t hold your breath. Yes, there is concern about a lack of accountability at Network Rail, stuck in limbo between the private and public sectors. Indeed, ministers are known to be worried about this, but since Network Rail has a GBP 20 billion debt the Chancellor does not want on his books, don’t expect any bold moves.

It is even unlikely that Network Rail’s directors will lose much of their six-figure bonuses over the Rugby chaos, as these are based on a variety of performance indicators covering the whole year.

The only way to improve the railways is to re-create BR. Labour would see that as retrograde and risky. In fact, such a brave move would be widely popular and demonstrate that Gordon Brown is different from Tony Blair.
_____

Christian Wolmar is the author of Fire and Steam: a New History of the Railways in Britain (Atlantic Books, GBP 19.99)

http://www.newstatesman.com/200801100014

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

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>Population Bombs

2008/01/31 2 comments

>It’s an important issue, but nowhere near the top of the list.

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (January 29 2008)

I cannot avoid the subject any longer. Almost every day I receive a clutch of emails about it, asking the same question. A frightening new report has just pushed it up the political agenda: for the first time the World Food Programme is struggling to find the supplies it needs for emergency famine relief {1}. So why, like most environmentalists, won’t I mention the p-word? According to its most vociferous proponents (Paul and Anne Erlich), population is “our number one environmental problem” {2}. But most greens will not discuss it.

Is this sensitivity or is it cowardice? Perhaps a bit of both. Population growth has always been politically charged, and always the fault of someone else. Seldom has the complaint been heard that “people like us are breeding too fast”. For the prosperous clergyman Thomas Malthus, writing in 1798, the problem arose from the fecklessness of the labouring classes {3}. Through the 19th and early 20th centuries, eugenicists warned that white people would be outbred. In rich nations in the 1970s the issue was overemphasised, as it is the one environmental problem for which poor nations are largely to blame. But the question still needs to be answered. Is population really our number one environmental problem?

The Optimum Population Trust cites some shocking figures, produced by the UN. They show that if the global population keeps growing at current rates, it will reach 134 trillion by 2300 {4}. This is plainly ridiculous: no one expects it to happen. In 2005, the UN estimated that the world’s population will more or less stabilise in 2200 at ten billion {5}. But a paper published in Nature last week suggests that that there is an 88% chance that global population growth will end during this century {6}.

In other words, if we accept the UN’s projection, the global population will grow by roughly fifty per cent and then stop. This means it will become fifty per cent harder to stop runaway climate change, fifty per cent harder to feed the world, fifty per cent harder to prevent the overuse of resources. But compare this rate of increase to the rate of economic growth. Many economists predict that, occasional recessions notwithstanding, the global economy will grow by about three per cent a year this century. Governments will do all they can to prove them right. A steady growth rate of three per cent means a doubling of economic activity every 23 years. By 2100, in other words, global consumption will increase by roughly 1600%. As the equations produced by Professor Roderick Smith of Imperial College have shown, this means that in the 21st Century we will have used sixteen times as many economic resources as human beings have consumed since we came down from the trees {7}.

So economic growth this century could be 32 times as big an environmental issue as population growth. And, if governments, banks and businesses have their way, it never stops. By 2115, the cumulative total rises to 3200%, by 2138 to 6400%. As resources are finite, this is of course impossible, but it is not hard to see that rising economic activity – not human numbers – is the immediate and overwhelming threat.

Those who emphasise the dangers of population growth maintain that times have changed: they are not concerned only with population growth in the poor world, but primarily with growth in the rich world, where people consume much more. The Optimum Population Trust (OPT) maintains that the “global environmental impact of an inhabitant of Bangladesh … will increase by a factor of sixteen if he or she emigrates to the USA” {8}. This is surely not quite true, as recent immigrants tend to be poorer than the native population, but the general point stands: population growth in the rich world, largely driven by immigration, is more environmentally damaging than population growth in the poor world. In the US and the UK, their ecological impact has become another stick with which immigrants can be beaten.

But growth rates in the US and UK are atypical; even the OPT concedes that by 2050, “the population of the most developed countries is expected to remain almost unchanged, at 1.2 billion” {9}. The population of the EU-25 (the first 25 nations to join the Union) is likely to decline by seven million {10}.

This, I accept, is of little consolation to people in the UK, where the government now expects numbers to rise from 61 million to 77 million by 2051 {11}. Eighty per cent of the growth here, according to the OPT, is the direct or indirect result of immigration (recent arrivals tend to produce more children) {12}. Migrationwatch UK claims that immigrants bear much of the responsibility for Britain’s housing crisis. A graph on its website suggests that without them the rate of housebuilding in England between 1997 and 2004 would have exceeded new households by 30-40,000 a year {13}.

Is this true? According to the Office of National Statistics, average net immigration to the UK between 1997 and 2004 was 153,000 {14}. Let us (generously) assume that ninety per cent of these people settled in England, and that their household size corresponded to the average for 2004, of 2.3 {15}. This would mean that new immigrants formed 60,000 households a year. The Barker Review, commissioned by the Treasury, shows that in 2002 (the nearest available year), 138,000 houses were built in England, while over the ten years to 2000, average household formation was 196,000 {16}. This rough calculation suggests that Migrationwatch is exaggerating, but that immigration is still an important contributor to housing pressure. But even total population growth in England is responsible for only about 35% of the demand for homes {17}. Most of the rest is the result of the diminishing size of households.

Surely there is one respect in which the growing human population constitutes the primary threat? The amount of food the world eats bears a direct relationship to the number of mouths. After years of glut, the storerooms are suddenly empty and grain prices are rocketing. How will another three billion be fed?

Even here, however, population growth is not the most immediate issue: another sector is expanding much faster. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation expects that global meat production will double by 2050 (growing, in other words, at two and a half times the rate of human numbers) {18}. The supply of meat has already tripled since 1980: farm animals now take up seventy per cent of all agricultural land {19} and eat one third of the world’s grain {20}. In the rich nations we consume three times as much meat and four times as much milk per capita as the people of the poor world {21}. While human population growth is one of the factors that could contribute to a global food deficit, it is not the most urgent.

None of this means that we should forget about it. Even if there were no environmental pressures caused by population growth, we should still support the measures required to tackle it: universal sex education, universal access to contraceptives, better schooling and opportunities for poor women. Stabilising or even reducing the human population would ameliorate almost all environmental impacts. But to suggest, as many of my correspondents do, that population growth is largely responsible for the ecological crisis is to blame the poor for the excesses of the rich.

http://www.monbiot.com/

References:

1. A WFP official, speaking at the World Economic Forum, cited by Gillian Tett and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, 26th January 2008. Food supplies too scarce to meet relief needs. The Financial Times.

2. Paul and Anne Ehrlich, 1990. The Population Explosion. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1990.

3. Thomas Malthus, 1798. Essay on the Principle of Population.

4. Optimum Population Trust, 2007. Too many people: Earth’s population problem
http://www.optimumpopulation.org/opt.earth.html

5. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2005. World Population Prospects. The 2004 Revision. http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/sixbillion/sixbilpart1.pdf

6. Wolfgang Lutz, Warren Sanderson and Sergei Scherbov, 20th January 2008. The coming acceleration of global population ageing. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature06516

7. Roderick A Smith, 29th May 2007. Lecture to the Royal Academy of Engineering. Carpe Diem: The dangers of risk aversion. See Appendix 1. Reprinted in Civil Engineering Surveyor, October 2007.

8. Optimum Population Trust, 30th May 2006. Mass migration damaging the planet. Press release. http://www.optimumpopulation.org/opt.release30May06.htm

9. Optimum Population Trust, 2007. Too many people: Earth’s population problem
http://www.optimumpopulation.org/opt.earth.html

10. ibid.

11. BBC Online, 23rd October 2007. Population ‘to hit 65m by 2016’. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7057765.stm

12. Optimum Population Trust, 2007. Migration: UK. http://www.optimumpopulation.org/opt.more.migration.uk.html

13. Migrationwatch UK, 13th June 2006. Briefing paper 7.7: The impact of immigration on housing demand.
http://migration-watchuk.org/Briefingpapers/housing/7_7_NoLimits.asp

14. ONS, cited by Optimum Population Trust, 2007. Migration: UK. http://www.optimumpopulation.org/opt.more.migration.uk.html

15. Kate Barker, March 2004. Final report of Delivering stability: securing our future housing needs. Chart 1.3, p16. http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/E/3/barker_review_report_494.pdf

16. Kate Barker, ibid, page 16.

17. Population trends for England can be found here: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/STATBASE/Expodata/Spreadsheets/D9537.xls
As only some years are given, I took the average growth rate over 1991-2001, divided it by 2.3 and then expressed it as a percentage of total housing demand in 2000.

18. UNFAO, 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow, page xx. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e.pdf

19. ibid, page xxi.

20. ibid, page 12.

21. ibid, Table 1.5, page 15.

Copyright (c) 2006 Monbiot.com

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/01/29/population-bombs/

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

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>Ambition, Power and the Clintons

>Return to Triangulation

by Ralph Nader

http://www.counterpunch.com (January 26 / 27 2008)

For Bill and Hillary Clinton, the ultimate American dream is eight more years. Yet how do you think they would react to having dozens of partisans at their rallies sporting large signs calling for EIGHT MORE YEARS, EIGHT MORE YEARS?

Don’t you have the feeling that they would cringe at such public displays of their fervent ambition which the New York Times described as a “truly two-for-the-price-of-one” presidential race? It might remind voters to remember or examine the real Clinton record in that peaceful decade of missed opportunities and not be swayed by the sugarcoating version that the glib former president emits at many campaign stops.

The 1990s were the first decade without the spectre of the Soviet Union. There was supposed to be a “peace dividend” that would reduce the vast, bloated military budget and redirect public funds to repair or expand our public works or infrastructure.

Inaugurated in January 1993, with a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party, Bill Clinton sent a small job-creating proposal to upgrade public facilities. He also made some motions for campaign finance reform which he promised during his campaign when running against incumbent George H W Bush and candidate Ross Perot.

A double withdrawal followed when the Congressional Republicans started roaring about big spending Democrats and after House Speaker Tom Foley and Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell, told Clinton at a White House meeting to forget about legislation to diminish the power of organized money in elections.

That set the stage for how Washington politicians sized up Clinton. He was seen as devoid of modest political courage, a blurrer of differences with the Republican opposition party and anything but the decisive transforming leader he promised to be was he to win the election.

He proceeded, instead, to take credit for developments with which he had very little to do with such as the economic growth propelled by the huge technology dot.com boom.

Bragging about millions of jobs his Administration created, he neglected to note that incomes stagnated for eighty percent of the workers in the country and ended in 2000, under the level of 1973, adjusted for inflation.

A brainy White House assistant to Mr Clinton told me in 1997 that the only real achievement his boss could take credit for was passage of legislation allowing twelve weeks family leave, without pay.

There are changes both the Clinton Administration actively championed that further entrenched corporate power over our economy and government during the decade. He pushed through Congress the NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements that represented the greatest surrender in our history of local, state and national sovereignty to an autocratic, secretive system of transnational governance. This system subordinated workers, consumers and the environment to the supremacy of globalized commerce.

That was just for starters. Between 1996 and 2000, he drove legislation through Congress that concentrated more power in the hands of giant agribusiness, large telecommunications companies and the biggest jackpot-opening the doors to gigantic mergers in the financial industry. The latter so-called “financial modernization law” sowed the permissive seeds for taking vast financial risks with other peoples’ money (that is, pensioners and investors) that is now shaking the economy to recession.

The man who pulled off this demolition of regulatory experience from the lessons of the Great Depression was Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, who went to work for Citigroup – the main pusher of this oligopolistic coup – just before the bill passed and made himself $40 million for a few months of consulting in that same year.

Bill Clinton’s presidential resume was full of favors for the rich and powerful. Corporate welfare subsidies, handouts and giveaways flourished, including subsidizing the Big Three Auto companies for a phony research partnership while indicating there would be no new fuel efficiency regulations while he was President.

His regulatory agencies were anesthetized. The veteran watchdog for Public Citizen of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr Sidney Wolfe, said that safety was the worst under Clinton in his twenty nine years of oversight.

The auto safety agency (NHTSA) abandoned its regulatory oath of office and became a consulting firm to the auto industry. Other agencies were similarly asleep – in job safety (OSHA) railroads, household product safety, antitrust, and corporate crime law enforcement.

By reappointing avid Republican Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, Mr Clinton assured no attention would be paid to the visible precursors of what is now the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Mr Greenspan, declined to use his regulatory authority and repeatedly showed that he almost never saw a risky financial instrument he couldn’t justify.

Mr Clinton was so fearful of taking on Orrin Hatch, the Republican Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that he cleared most judicial appointments with the Utah Senator. He even failed to put forth the nomination of sub-cabinet level official, Peter Edelman, whose credentials were superb to the federal appeals court.

Mr Edelman resigned on September 12th 1996. In a memo to his staff, he said, “I have devoted the last thirty-plus years to doing whatever I could to help in reducing poverty in America. I believe the recently enacted welfare bill goes in the opposite direction.”

Excoriated by the noted author and columnist, Anthony Lewis, for his dismal record on civil liberties, the man from Hope set the stage for the Bush demolition of this pillar of our democracy.

To justify his invasion of Iraq, Bush regularly referred in 2002 and 2003 to Clinton’s bombing of Iraq and making “regime change” explicit US policy.

But it was Clinton’s insistence on UN-backed economic sanctions in contrast to just military embargo, against Iraq, during his term in office. These sanctions on civilians, a task force of leading American physicians estimated, took half a million Iraqi children’s lives.

Who can forget CBS’s Sixty Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl’s tour through Baghdad’s denuded hospitals filled with crying, dying children? She then interviewed Mr Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeline Albright and asked whether these sanctions were worth it. Secretary Albright answered in the affirmative.

Bill Clinton is generally viewed as one smart politician, having been twice elected the President, helped by lackluster Robert Dole, having survived the Lewinsky sex scandal, lying under oath about sex, and impeachment. When is it all about himself, he is cunningly smart.

But during his two-term triangulating Presidency, he wasn’t smart enough to avoid losing his Party’s control over Congress, or many state legislatures and Governorships.

It has always been all about him. Now he sees another admission ticket to the White House through his wife, Hillary Clinton. EIGHT MORE YEARS without a mobilized, demanding participating citizenry is just that – EIGHT MORE YEARS.

It’s small wonder that the editors of Fortune Magazine headlined an article last June with the title, “Who Business is Betting On?” Their answer, of course, was Hillary Clinton.

_____

Ralph Nader is the author of The Seventeen Traditions (Harper, 2007)

http://www.counterpunch.com/nader01272008.html

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

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>The danse macabre of US-style democracy

>Of the presidential candidates I have interviewed,
only George C Wallace, governor of Alabama, spoke the truth

by John Pilger

New Statesman (January 24 2008)

The former president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere once asked, “Why haven’t we all got a vote in the US election? Surely everyone with a TV set has earned that right just for enduring the merciless bombardment every four years.” Having reported four presidential election campaigns, from the Kennedys to Nixon, Carter to Reagan, with their Zeppelins of platitudes, robotic followers and rictal wives, I can sympathise. But what difference would the vote make? Of the presidential candidates I have interviewed, only George C Wallace, governor of Alabama, spoke the truth. “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrats and Republicans”, he said. And he was shot.

What struck me, living and working in the United States, was that presidential campaigns were a parody, entertaining and often grotesque. They are a ritual danse macabre of flags, balloons and bullshit, designed to camouflage a venal system based on money, power, human division and a culture of permanent war.

Travelling with Robert Kennedy in 1968 was eye-opening for me. To audiences of the poor, Kennedy would present himself as a saviour. The words “change” and “hope” were used relentlessly and cynically. For audiences of fearful whites, he would use racist codes, such as “law and order”. With those opposed to the invasion of Vietnam, he would attack “putting American boys in the line of fire”, but never say when he would withdraw them. That year (after Kennedy was assassinated), Richard Nixon used a version of the same, malleable speech to win the presidency. Thereafter, it was used successfully by Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and the two Bushes. Carter promised a foreign policy based on “human rights” – and practised the very opposite. Reagan’s “freedom agenda” was a bloodbath in central America. Clinton “solemnly pledged” universal health care and tore down the last safety net of the Depression.

Nothing has changed. Barack Obama is a glossy Uncle Tom who would bomb Pakistan. Hillary Clinton, another bomber, is anti-feminist. John McCain’s one distinction is that he has personally bombed a country. They all believe the US is not subject to the rules of human behaviour, because it is “a city upon a hill”, regardless that most of humanity sees it as a monumental bully which, since 1945, has overthrown fifty governments, many of them democracies, and bombed thirty nations, destroying millions of lives.

If you wonder why this holocaust is not an “issue” in the current campaign, you might ask the BBC, or better still Justin Webb, the BBC’s North America editor. In a Radio 4 series last year, Webb displayed the kind of sycophancy that evokes the 1930s appeaser Geoffrey Dawson, then editor of the Times. Condoleezza Rice cannot be too mendacious for Webb. According to Rice, the US is “supporting the democratic aspirations of all people”. For Webb, who believes American patriotism “creates a feeling of happiness and solidity”, the crimes committed in the name of this patriotism, such as support for war and injustice in the Middle East for the past 25 years, and in Latin America, are irrelevant. Indeed, those who resist such an epic assault on democracy are guilty of “anti-Americanism”, says Webb, apparently unaware of the totalitarian origins of this term of abuse. Journalists in Nazi Berlin would damn critics of the Reich as “anti-German”.

Moreover, his treacle about the “ideals” and “core values” that make up America’s sanctified “set of ideas about human conduct” denies us a true sense of the destruction of American democracy: the dismantling of the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus and separation of powers. Here is Webb on the campaign trail: “[This] is not about mass politics. It is a celebration of the one-to-one relationship between an individual American and his or her putative commander-in-chief.” He calls this “dizzying”. And Webb on Bush: “Let us not forget that while the candidates win, lose, win again … there is a world to be run and President Bush is still running it”. The emphasis in the BBC text actually links to the White House website.

None of this drivel is journalism. It is anti-journalism, worthy of a minor courtier of a great power. Webb is not exceptional. His boss Helen Boaden, director of BBC News, sent this reply to a viewer who had protested the prevalence of propaganda as the basis of news: “It is simply a fact that Bush has tried to export democracy [to Iraq] and that this has been troublesome”.

And her source for this “fact”? Quotations from Bush and Blair saying it is a fact.

http://www.newstatesman.com/200801240023

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

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>Has global warming really stopped?

>Response to a controversial article on newstatesman.com
which argued global warming has stopped

by Mark Lynas

New Statesman (January 14 2008)

On 19 December the New Statesman website published an article {1} which, judging by the 633 comments (and counting) received so far, must go down in history as possibly the most controversial ever. Not surprising really – it covered one of the most talked-about issues of our time: climate change. Penned by science writer David Whitehouse, it was guaranteed to get a big response: the article claimed that global warming has ‘stopped’.

As the New Statesman‘s environmental correspondent, I have since been deluged with queries asking if this represents a change of heart by the magazine, which has to date published many editorials steadfastly supporting urgent action to reduce carbon emissions. Why bother doing that if global warming has ‘stopped’, and therefore might have little or nothing to do with greenhouse gas emissions, which are clearly rising?

I’ll deal with this editorial question later. First let’s ask whether Whitehouse is wholly or partially correct in his analysis. To quote:

“The fact is that the global temperature of 2007 is statistically the same as 2006 as well as every year since 2001. Global warming has, temporarily or permanently, ceased. Temperatures across the world are not increasing as they should according to the fundamental theory behind global warming – the greenhouse effect. Something else is happening and it is vital that we find out what or else we may spend hundreds of billions of pounds needlessly.”

I’ll be blunt. Whitehouse got it wrong – completely wrong. The article is based on a very elementary error: a confusion between year-on-year variability and the long-term average. Although carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are increasing each year, no-one ever argued that temperatures would do likewise. Why? Because the planet’s atmosphere is a chaotic system, which expresses a great deal of interannual variability due to the interplay of many complex and interconnected variables. Some years are warmer and cooler than others. 1998, for example, was a very warm year because an El Nino event in the Pacific released a lot of heat from the ocean. 2001, by contrast, was somewhat cooler, though still a long way above the long-term average. 1992 was particularly cool, because of the eruption of a large volcano in the Philippines called Mount Pinatubo.

‘Climate’ is defined by averaging out all this variability over a longer term period. So you won’t, by definition, see climate change from one year to the next – or even necessarily from one decade to the next. But look at the change in the average over the long term, and the trend is undeniable: the planet is getting hotter.

Look at the graph below {2}, showing global temperatures over the last 25 years. These are NASA figures, using a global-mean temperature dataset known as GISSTEMP. (Other datasets are available, for example from the UK Met Office. These fluctuate slightly due to varying assumptions and methodology, but show nearly identical trends.) Now imagine you were setting out to write Whitehouse’s article at some point in the past. You could plausibly have written that global warming had ‘stopped’ between 1983 and 1985, between 1990 and 1995, and, if you take the anomalously warm 1998 as the base year, between 1998 and 2004. Note, however, the general direction of the red line over this quarter-century period. Average it out and the trend is clear: up.

Note also the blue lines, scattered like matchsticks across the graph. These, helpfully added by the scientists at RealClimate.org (from where this graph is copied), partly in response to the Whitehouse article, show eight-year trend lines – what the temperature trend is for every eight-year period covered in the graph.

You’ll notice that some of the lines, particularly in the earlier part of the period, point downwards. These are the periods when global warming ‘stopped’ for a whole eight years (on average), in the flawed Whitehouse definition – although, as astute readers will have quickly spotted, the crucial thing is what year you start with. Start with a relatively warm year, and the average of the succeeding eight might trend downwards. In scientific parlance, this is called ‘cherry picking’, and explains how Whitehouse can assert that “since [1998] the global temperature has been flat” – although he is even wrong on this point of fact, because as the graph above shows, 2005 was warmer.

Note also how none of the eight-year trend lines point downwards in the last decade or so. This illustrates clearly how, far from having ‘stopped’, global warming has actually accelerated in more recent times. Hence the announcement by the World Meteorological Organisation on 13 December, as the Bali climate change meeting was underway, that the decade of 1998-2007 was the “warmest on record”. Whitehouse, and his fellow contrarians, are going to have to do a lot better than this if they want to disprove (or even dispute) the accepted theory of greenhouse warming.

The New Statesman’s position on climate change

Every qualified scientific body in the world, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science to the Royal Society, agrees unequivocally that global warming is both a reality, and caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. But this doesn’t make them right, of course. Science, in the best Popperian definition, is only tentatively correct, until someone comes along who can disprove the prevailing theory. This leads to a frequent source of confusion, one which is repeated in the Whitehouse article – that because we don’t know everything, therefore we know nothing, and therefore we should do nothing. Using that logic we would close down every hospital in the land. Yes, every scientific fact is falsifiable – but that doesn’t make it wrong. On the contrary, the fact that it can be challenged (and hasn’t been successfully) is what makes it right.

Bearing all this in mind, what should a magazine like the New Statesman do in its coverage of the climate change issue? Newspapers and magazines have a difficult job of trying, often with limited time and information, to sort out truth from fiction on a daily basis, and communicating this to the public – quite an awesome responsibility when you think about it. Sometimes even a viewpoint which is highly likely to be wrong gets published anyway, because it sparks a lively debate and is therefore interesting. A publication that kept to a monotonous party line on all of the day’s most controversial issues would be very boring indeed.

However, readers of my column will know that I give contrarians, or sceptics, or deniers (call them what you will) short shrift, and as a close follower of the scientific debate on this subject I can state without doubt that there is no dispute whatsoever within the expert community as to the reality or causes of manmade global warming. But even then, just because all the experts agree doesn’t make them right – it just makes them extremely unlikely to be wrong. That in turn means that if someone begs to disagree, they need to have some very strong grounds for doing so – not misreading a basic graph or advancing silly conspiracy theories about IPCC scientists receiving paycheques from the New World Order, as some of Whitehouse’s respondents do.

So, a mistaken article reached a flawed conclusion. Intentionally or not, readers were misled, and the good name of the New Statesman has been used all over the internet by climate contrarians seeking to support their entrenched positions. This is regrettable. Good journalism should never exclude legitimate voices from a debate of public interest, but it also needs to distinguish between carefully-checked fact and distorted misrepresentations in complex and divisive areas like this. The magazine’s editorial policy is unchanged: we want to see aggressive action to reduce carbon emissions, and support global calls for planetary temperatures to be stabilised at under two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Yes, scientific uncertainties remain in every area of the debate. But consider how high the stakes are here. If the 99% of experts who support the mainstream position are right, then we have to take urgent action to reduce emissions or face some pretty catastrophic consequences. If the 99% are wrong, and the one percent right, we will be making some unnecessary efforts to shift away from fossil fuels, which in any case have lots of other drawbacks and will soon run out. I’d hate to offend anyone here, but that’s what I’d call a no-brainer.

Links

{1} http://www.newstatesman.com/200712190004
{2} http://www.newstatesman.com/200801140011
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Mark Lynas is a climate change writer and activist, author of the acclaimed book High Tide (Picador, 2004) and fortnightly columnist for the New Statesman. He was selected by National Geographic as an ‘Emerging Explorer’ for 2006, and blogs on http://www.marklynas.orghttp://

http://www.newstatesman.com/200801140011

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

Categories: Uncategorized

>Eating As If the Climate Mattered

2008/01/29 2 comments

>by Bruce Friedrich

AlterNet (January 23 2008)

Last week in our nation’s capital, the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) held a climate change conference focused on solutions to the problem of human-induced climate change. And in Paris the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is sharing the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, held a press conference to discuss to discuss “the importance of lifestyle choices” in combating global warming.

Notably, all food at the NCSE conference was vegan, and there were table-top brochures with quotes from the UN report on the meat industry, discussed more below. And the IPCC head, Dr Rajendra Pachauri declared, as the AFP sums it up, “Don’t eat meat, ride a bike, and be a frugal shopper”.

The New York Times, also, seems to be jumping on the anti-consumption bandwagon. First they ran an editorial on New Year’s Day stating that global warming is “the overriding environmental issue of these times” and that Americans are “going to have to change [our] lifestyles …” The next day, they ran a superb opinion piece by Professor Jared Diamond about the fact that those of us in the developed world consume 32 times as many resources as people in the developing world and eleven times as much as China.

Diamond ends optimistically, stating that “whether we get there willingly or not, we shall soon have lower consumption rates, because our present rates are unsustainable”.

It is reasonable for all of us to review our lives and to ask where we can cut down on our consumption – because it’s necessary, and because living according to our values is what people of integrity do.

Last November, United Nations environmental researchers released a report that everyone who cares about the environment should review. Called “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, this 408-page thoroughly researched scientific report indicts the consumption of chickens, pigs, and other meats, concluding that the meat industry is “one of the … most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global” and that eating meat contributes to “problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity”.

The environmental problems of meat fill books, but the intuitive argument can be put more succinctly into two points:

* A 135-pound woman will burn off at least 1,200 calories a day even if she never gets out of bed. She uses most of what she consumes simply to power her body. Similarly, it requires exponentially more resources to eat chickens, pigs, and other animals, because most of what we feed to them is required to keep them alive, and much of the rest is turned into bones and other bits we don’t eat; only a fraction of those crops is turned into meat. So you have to grow all the crops required to raise the animals to eat the animals, which is vastly wasteful relative to eating the crops directly.

* It also requires many extra stages of polluting and energy-intensive production to get chicken, pork, and other meats to the table, including feed mills, factory farms, and slaughterhouses, all of which are not used in the production of vegetarian foods. And then there are the additional stages of gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing transportation of moving crops, feed, animals, and meat-relative to simply growing the crops and processing them into vegetarian foods.

So when the UN added it all up, what they found is that eating chickens, pigs, and other animals contributes to “problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity”, and that meat-eating is “one of the … most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”.

And on the issue of global warming, the issue the New York Times deems critical enough to demand that we “change [our] lifestyles” and for which Al Gore and the IPCC received the Nobel peace prize, the United Nations’ scientists conclude that eating animals causes forty percent more global warming than all planes, cars, trucks, and other forms of transport combined, which is why the Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook (Rodale, 2007) says that “refusing meat” is “the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint” [emphasis in original].

There is a lot of important attention paid to population, and that’s a critical issue too, but if we’re consuming eleven times as much as people in China and 32 times as much as people in the third world, then it’s not just about population; it’s also about consumption.

NCSE, IPPC, and the UN deserve accolades for calling on people to stop supporting the inefficient, fossil fuel intensive, and polluting meat industry. The head of the IPCC, who received the Nobel Prize with Mr Gore and who held last week’s press conference in Paris, puts his money where his mouth is: He’s a vegetarian.

The NCSE’s all-vegan 3,000-person conference last week also sends positive signal that other environmentalists would be wise to listen to. Thus far, among the large environmental organizations only Greenpeace ensures that all official functions are vegetarian. Other environmental groups should follow suit.

It’s empowering really, when you think about it: By choosing vegetarian foods, we’re making compassionate choices that are good for our bodies, and we’re living our environmental values at every meal.

Find out more at http://www.GoVeg.com/eco, and find recipe tips, meal plans, and more at http://www.VegCooking.com.

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Bruce Friedrich is vice president for campaigns at PETA. He has been a progressive activist for more than twenty years.

Copyright (c) 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

http://www.alternet.org/story/74605/

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

Categories: Uncategorized

>Will the food run out?

>Observations on aid

by Tom Marchbanks

New Statesman (January 17 2008)

The weekly shop and the morning loaf of bread are becoming more expensive, but while most of us may barely have noticed, rising food prices are hitting the world’s developing nations hard.

Global reserves of cereals are at an all-time low, mounting food costs have sparked riots in Mexico and there are hunger warnings across sub-Saharan Africa. A seldom-mentioned casualty of the price surge, though, has been the aid agencies, which are struggling to buy in food aid. With prices predicted to remain high, they are increasingly seeking new ways to feed the world’s hungry.

The boom in global food prices, in part driven by demand for biofuels, is stretching resources at the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). Over the past five years, the agency’s food procurement bill has rocketed by fifty per cent, according to Robin Lodge, spokesman for the organisation.

“There has been a cost increase across the board in major grains and pulses, such as maize, wheat and rice”, he says. The escalating price of grains, described as agri-inflation among economists, has been rapid. The price of wheat, for example, doubled in 2007.

Paul Horsnell, head of commodities research at Barclays Capital, blames increased use of land for biofuels, reduced supply and an insatiable demand for food and animal feed from the world’s emerging markets. “Biofuels, China and some poor harvests have been a recipe for a very sharp rise in grain prices”, he says.

The WFP’s finances are further hit by record oil prices. This impacts on grain prices by pushing up the cost of fertiliser and also adding to the agency’s food-aid distribution expenses.

“Transport costs have soared over the past few years, adding enormously to our costs; also the rates shipping companies charge have increased. We are being hit all round”, says Lodge.

The WFP’s problems are unlikely to diminish since, in the long term, global warming will push up food prices, predicts John Ingram of Global Environmental Change and Food Systems, an organisation which monitors environmental change and food security. “Climate change is going to make things more difficult”, he says.

The influences of climate change are already evident; as the US and Europe search for alternative carbon-neutral energy sources, land is diverted from food to fuel crops. “It’s not rocket science to say that if you take land out of food production, the price of food will go up”, says Ingram.

Another impact of global warming on the cost of food is the projected increase in extreme weather events, such as Australia’s continuing drought and the serious floods of 2007 across Africa. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that by 2100 we will experience heavier rainstorms, causing soil erosion and crop damage; droughts producing lower crop yields; and widespread soil salination from rising sea levels.

Responding to the growing crisis, Jacques Diouf, director general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, is demanding urgent steps to boost crop production. The UN agency is also seeking to address the problem from the other direction – by seeking means to prevent shortages, rather than simply managing them. “We look at ways of mitigation”, says Lodge. “We are trying to increase farmers’ yields by providing a ready market”.

Handing out vouchers or small amounts of cash to stimulate local trade, rather than shipping in and distributing food aid, is one method increasingly used by the WFP. It has also started to buy directly from farmers, creating a stable market price that encourages production.

“World commodity prices are high, but this is not reflected at the farm gates. By being on the spot, we can guarantee a price”, explains Lodge.

Nonetheless, the WFP is warning governments that if official development assistance doesn’t keep up with rising food prices, the agency will be unable to maintain current levels.

“The bottom line is that if the donations remain static, we cannot feed all the people we are feeding at the moment. And unless donations go up, we may have to cut programmes”, says Lodge.

http://www.newstatesman.com/200801170016

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

Categories: Uncategorized