can’t see the forest

Dear World . . . Sincerely, Palestine

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The Heathlander recently posted links to annual reports by various human rights organizations to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review concerning the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The article which includes the links represents the views of Richard Falk, a UN human rights investigator recently relieved of his position because of his “hostile views” toward Israel. The findings of a few of these reports are summarized below.

The State of Israel was founded in 1948, carved chiefly out of what had been colonial possessions of the United Kingdom. While many support the existence of a Jewish homeland, particularly in the wake of the events of the Second World War, fewer agree that these particular lands should have been ceded to the control of relatively new Zionist immigrants rather than to the Palestinian ethnic groups which had resided there for centuries. The Zionist settlers believed that they enjoyed a religious “right of return” to the area according to scripture, a controversial notion which, even where accepted, is not generally held to entail such brutal disregard for the sovereignty and basic human dignity of Palestinians.

Since 1967, Israel has occupied lands which were ceded to the Palestinians under a U.N. agreement, pursuing what many feel are policies of expansion, oppression, and apartheid against Palestinians. Additionally, Israel, which possesses without acknowledgment the sole known nuclear arsenal in the region, continues to threaten other surrounding powers—particularly Iran—which have criticized its occupation of Palestinian lands and cruel treatment of Palestinians. At one point or another, it has occupied lands belonging to all of its Arab neighbors; yet the Israeli government continually represents itself as an innocent victim of anti-Semitic violence, refusing to acknowledge that such violence, while unfortunate and deplorable, represents desperate guerrilla-type self-defense on the part of the disenfranchised Palestinians.

west-bank-wallIn 2006, Hamas, frequently described as an “Islamic militant” or “terrorist” organization due to its sponsorship of guerrilla activities against the Israeli military and some civilians, won free elections in Gaza. Since then Israel has aggressively boycotted the government in Gaza using blockades, military incursions, and other harmful and violent means which amount to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million citizens. The West Bank, in contrast, is now presided over by a U.S.-backed government.

The United Nations has, on too many occasions to count, reprimanded Israel and called for an end to these atrocities. Such proceedings are routinely boycotted by Israel, the United States, and sometimes a few other member states, while being overwhelmingly supported by the majority of the international community. The United States provides billions of dollars in financial and military aid to Israel annually, and is characteristically quick to defend Israeli hegemony and expansionism in the region in the name of self-defense.

The following are direct or paraphrased excerpts of just a few of the many 2008 reports to the UNHRC concerning conditions in Palestine. For the full set of reports, visit this page. These documents represent merely the latest additions to a huge book detailing many of the atrocities visited against the Palestinian people according to a pattern of U.S.-sanctioned abuse which stretches back for decades.



U.S. refuses to sign U.N. declaration in favor of decriminalizing homosexuality

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Standing alone among the major Western powers, the delegation from the United States refused to sign on Thursday a non-binding United Nations resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality.

The measure, co-sponsored by France and the Netherlands, was signed by 66 countries. In at least 80 nations, homosexuality is a criminal offense; in some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is punishable by execution.

BBC News reports:

The countries signed a declaration sponsored by France and the Netherlands demanding an end to legal punishment based on sexual orientation.

Sixty other countries of the UN’s 192 member states, including a number of Arab and African states, rejected the non-binding declaration.

They said laws on homosexuality should be left to individual countries.

Gay men, lesbians and transsexuals worldwide face daily violations of their human rights.

France and the Netherlands drafted the declaration in part to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories included all 27 members of the European Union, Japan, Mexico, and Australia, as well as three dozen other member states.

France’s human rights minister, Rama Yade, called the lack of U.S. support “disappointing,” especially for a country which so vocally prides itself on its defense of human rights abroad.

Why did the United States refuse to sign? An MSNBC article explains:

According to some of the declaration’s backers, U.S. officials expressed concern in private talks that some parts of the declaration might be problematic in committing the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In numerous states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military.

Carolyn Vadino, a spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., stressed that the United States — despite its unwillingness to sign — condemned any human rights violations related to sexual orientation.

Gay rights activists nonetheless were angered by the U.S. position.

“It’s an appalling stance — to not join with other countries that are standing up and calling for decriminalization of homosexuality,” said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

She expressed hope that the U.S. position might change after President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.

The federal government of the United States has never concretely expressed that Equal Protection—the Fourteenth Amendment provision which is supposed to force states to guarantee the extension of rights to all citizens—applies to matters of sexual orientation. It has left the legislation of sexuality open to the various states, such as California, where voters last month passed Proposition 8, a measure defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Consequently, many gays in the U.S. feel merely tolerated and frequently openly discriminated against by U.S. law. They say the federal government should take a stand against anti-gay laws and use Equal Protection to ensure compliance at the state level.

Syria represented a group of 60 countries which refused to sign the declaration. The Vatican City also abstained, stating that, while it supports an end to anti-gay laws and persecution, its view is that such a declaration “gives rise to uncertainty in the laws and challenges existing human norms.”

And that, French and Dutch delegates might argue, is exactly what the declaration was intended to do.


The Press Responds to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Decision

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To illustrate the width of the fault which separates political attitudes toward the issue of climate change, I collected several articles from various news sources demonstrating different receptions of the decision to award the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and to former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, Jr.


From National Geographic, a glowing commendation:

Gore has been a leading voice among environmental campaigners who warn that Earth is under severe threat from climate change caused by rising levels of greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity.

Since leaving office in 2001, the former vice president has lectured around the world about the perils of global warming. Last year he also presented an Oscar-winning documentary on the subject, An Inconvenient Truth.

Gore “is probably the single individual who has done the most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted” to tackle global warming, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

The IPCC, based in Geneva, Switzerland, pools the research of 2,500 scientists in more than 130 countries who study the causes and impacts of climate change.

Earlier this year, the IPCC concluded that global warming is “unequivocal” and that human activity is almost certainly the cause.

The U.N. panel also warned that global warming could claim hundreds of millions of human lives due to increased risk of disease, starvation, and conflict triggered by drought, floods, storms, and other severe climate effects.

Al-Jazeera, while noting the accomplishments of Gore and the UN’s top panel of climate scientists, called into question the Nobel committee’s decision to award the Peace Prize in response to an issue that might seem to have little to do with human conflict and suffering:

However, Dr Alan Hunter, a lecturer in peace studies in the UK, said he felt “the link between climate change and peace is really very tenuously made”.

“I don’t think anyone has carefully demonstrated the link between climate change and war,” he said.

“There are long term predictions that it will lead to resource scarcity and resource scarcity could lead to conflict, such as fighting over water in parts of Africa, but I think that’s accepted as being a few decades away.”

He told Al Jazeera awarding Gore the peace prize was a “surprising decision”.

Jan Oberg, a former secretary-general of the Danish Peace Foundation, also questioned Gore’s suitability for receiving the award.

Oberg described giving the prize to the former vice president as “a great misjudgment”.

In an article on the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research website, Oberg pointed to Gore’s roles as vice-president to Bill Clinton, the US leader between 1993 and 2001.

In that role, Gore was part of an administration that bombed Kosovo, in what was then Yugoslavia.

Later the same administration bombed Afghanistan and Sudan, in response to an attack on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998.

This line of questioning seems to me to be fairly reasonable, although I doubt that the association of Gore with the bombings in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Sudan holds much water in the context of his work to educate the public about climate change. Moreover, there was no space in this article allotted for an answer by a representative of the Nobel committee.

An article from the New York Times gives a bit of insight into the committee’s decision-making:

The Nobel prizes are meant to be apolitical, and are awarded independently of one another. (The peace prize is awarded in Oslo, while the others are awarded by various academies in Sweden.) But a number of recent winners have expressed their opposition to Bush administration policies. . .

. . . In its citation on Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said the United Nations panel and Mr. Gore had focused “on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby reduce the future threat to the security of mankind.”

It concluded, “Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control.”

According to the committee citation, then, there are real threats to human security other than guerrilla warfare, nuclear weapons, and the international arms trade. In recent years, it has broadened its interpretation of Alfred Nobel’s original criteria to include socioeconomic and environmental issues.

Constructive criticism aside, the most fiery debate comes from within the U.S. press. MSNBC’s coverage of the award was fairly circumspect. Note the sharp differences between perspectives from the right and left:

“He’s like the proverbial nut that grew into a giant oak by standing his ground,” Patrick Michaels, a scholar with the free market Cato Institute, said in a statement. “We can only hope that he can parlay his prize into a run for the U. S. presidency, where he will be unable to hide from debate on his extreme and one-sided view of global warming.” . . .

. . columnist Steve Milloy alleged that Gore “plays fast and loose with the facts to advance his personal agenda.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Gore ” inspirational in focusing attention across the globe on this key issue.”

Julia Marton-Lefèvre, head of the World Conservation Union, said that, “as Mr. Gore and the IPCC have clearly demonstrated, we can solve the grave dangers posed by climate change if we have the will. Let the Nobel Peace Prize become the embodiment of that will.” . . .

. . .

Jan Egeland, a Norwegian peace mediator and former U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, called climate change more than an environmental issue.

“It is a question of war and peace,” said Egeland, now director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs in Oslo. “We’re already seeing the first climate wars, in the Sahel belt of Africa.” He said nomads and herders are in conflict with farmers because the changing climate has brought drought and a shortage of fertile lands.

Far-right polemic‘s Dennis Byrne seemed intent on putting his eggs in one basket:

Clearly, the prize falls outside the standards set in the 1895 will of the engineer Dr. Alfred Bernhard Nobel, which ordered that his “remaining realizable estate” shall be awarded in five equal parts to people who have “conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” The standard for the Peace Prize portion requires that the recipient “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Oh, yeah? Gore’s nominating papers supposedly should do the impossible: show how he campaigned against standing armies, global fraternalism or peace congresses. But those details are closed to public inspection for 50 years, according to Nobel rules.

Such fudging didn’t bother Bryan Walsh, Time Magazine’s chief global warming propagandist, who linked global warming to all sorts of global conflicts by making a global-sized stretch in logic:

Gore’s win was widely expected, but there may still be those who wonder how an environmentalist could be, as the Peace Prize’s description goes, the person who has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations.” They shouldn’t. Climate change is already a key instigator of conflict in areas like Darfur, where drought likely worsened by global warming helped trigger a civil war that has claimed over 200,000 lives.
As the IPCC’s [U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] own reports this year show, unabated global warming will likely lead to competition for increasingly scarce resources and create waves of climate refugees in the hottest and poorest nations. A warmer world will almost certainly be a more violent one, so it’s fitting that those who’ve done the most on climate change should be celebrated as warriors for peace.

How appropriate that such “progressive” (i.e., flexible) reasoning is used to justify a clear violation of the rules. Rules are meant to be broken; the end justifies the means. The end here, of course, is to shove a sharp stick in the eye of America and President George W. Bush.

To get its licks in at America, the committee reportedly bypassed real peace activists and nominees such as Irene Sendler of Poland, who saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Holocaust.

There’s also Thich Quang Do. In case you never heard of him, here’s a glimpse:

Thich Quang Do is an intellectual leader and a unifying force in his home country [Vietnam]. A monk, researcher and author, he has devoted his life to the advancement of justice and the Buddhist tradition of non-violence, tolerance and compassion. Through political petitions Thich Quang Do has challenged the authorities to engage in dialogue on democratic reforms, pluralism, freedom of religion, human rights and national reconciliation. This has provided force and direction to the democracy movement. But he has paid a high price for his activism. Thich Quang Do has spent a total of 25 years in prison and today, at 77, he is still under house arrest. From here, he continues the struggle. As deputy leader of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Thich Quang Do is strongly supported by Vietnam’s numerous Buddhists. He also receives broad support from other religious communities as well as from veterans of the Communist Party. Thich Quang Do plays a key role in the work of reconciling dissidents from North and South Vietnam.

In comparison, Gore is a merely a huckster with a Power Point presentation. When you see who the politically inspired Nobel committee by-passed, it makes you want to cry. It’s just a shame that an internationally respected honor has been dirtied by the parochial and small minds in Norway for such ugly political reasons.

Regardless of his disjointed rhetorical examples, one distinctly gets the feeling the “parochial and small minds in Norway” could only have truly gained Mr. Byrne’s favor by awarding the Peace Prize to a back-to-the-Bible Republican. Any other decision would have meant the Nobel Committee was aiming to “get its licks in at America.”

Greg Gutfield of Fox News also felt the need to resort to ad hominem criticism and witticism:

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday morning and I’d like to congratulate Irena Sendler.

Sendler was a former history teacher who rescued 2,500 children during the Holocaust and was a top contender for the wondrous prize. It was in the early 1940s that Sendler, a Catholic social worker, had gone into the Warsaw ghetto to rescue Jewish kids destined either to starve there or die in death camps.

She would sneak the kids past Nazi guards, sometimes hiding them in body bags or would provide them with false documents. She’d get them to Polish families for adoption or hide them in convents or orphanages. She made a list of the children’s real names, put them in a jar and buried them, so that some day she could dig them up, then find the kids to tell them their true names.

The Nazis captured her and beat the crap out of her, but she later escaped. She’s now in her late 90s, living in a nursing home in Poland.

I want to congratulate her, because she didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize. Instead it went to Al Gore, the guy who invented the Internet.

And, from, an organization dedicated to combating “liberal bias” in the media, comes this veritable elegy for all that is integrity and accountability in the Nobel name:

While supporters of Al Gore and his stance on global warming celebrated the former vice president’s win of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, skeptics of man-made climate change dismissed the award as another example of the Nobel committee naming someone “Liberal of the Year.”
“Al Gore should probably get a prize for most travel in a private jet, but not the Peace Prize,” said Myron Ebell, director of global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). He also called the award, which was shared with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “a sad day for the Nobel legacy.”

Giving Gore the annual prize was “an unfortunate and misguided move by the Nobel committee,” Ebell said, because “the energy-rationing policies he espouses would perpetuate the poverty and human misery associated with political instability and conflict.”

Timothy Ball, a retired climatologist who leads the National Resources Stewardship Project, told Cybercast News Service that Friday’s award “just makes a travesty of the whole concept of Nobel Prizes.”

“This tells me everything I need to know about Nobel Prize winners,” he said. “I notice they just gave one to the guy who discovered holes in the ozone layer – but there are no holes in the ozone.”

The titular quotation, you might have noticed, is from a representative of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a thinktank notorious for its support of big business and its categorical opposition to environmental causes.

The recent controversy over the UK government’s decision to provide copies of Gore’s documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, to English and Welsh public schools has figured prominently in the U.S. media discussion of the Nobel Prize. Most conservative news sources focus on the ‘nine errors’ found by the London judge of the High Court, mentioning only in passing (or not at all) his ruling that the film is “broadly accurate” and mostly reflective of scientific consensus. The end result of the case was a green light for the government’s plan, with the addition of measures to ensure that students are aware that the issue of climate change is subject to political debate.

polblogs2004smThat the issue of climate change is broken more-or-less cleanly along political lines in the U.S. press is easy to understand when one realizes that presentation of the issue here is, almost without exception, entirely political. Exacerbating this problem is the fact that, for many right wing-friendly Americans, the association of Al Gore with the issue of climate change means automatically that progressive environmental policy can have no place in their political realities, whatever it might mean to the rest of the world.

But most of the polarity lies in the tenets of competing political ideologies themselves. Conservatism is very much an appeal to the status quo or the status quo ante, based upon the premise that reason should be subordinate to tradition in determining matters of policy. At least in the United States, conservatives tend to favor the legislation of morality to reflect “time-honored tradition,” but oppose the regulation of economy to make it more responsive to change; they cling to the perennially discredited notion of “trickle-down economics,” favoring business-friendly policy at the expense of common welfare. Because the problem of climate change demands real concessions from businesses and from consumers, conservatives and many libertarians vilify it as a violation of liberty in much the same way that many liberals have attacked the Patriot Act.

Likewise, because American liberalism is oriented towards a certain degree of socialization to the ends of empowering the working class, and because it holds in one fashion or the other that economic regulation is key to economic equality, it finds affinity with environmental issues both as causes in themselves and as means to achieving other political and economic ends.

Polling usually indicates that, with regards to many specific issues, the American public is seldom as cleanly divided as one might guess from channel surfing across the major news programs. Most Americans are political moderates when the going gets tough. But the extreme politicization of the climate change issue seems to force a schoolyard-style choosing of sides, eliminating the possibilities for more subtle and meaningful debate.

So it is that we should not forget that Mr. Gore shares this prize with more than two thousand UN-sponsored researchers—hardly the “small cabal of politically motivated quacks” it is made out to be throughout much of the conservative press. Nor should we dismiss the fact that Gore is a politician with an image to sell, as is evident in some of the more sentimental scenes of his otherwise compelling film.

Beneath all the marketing there is an issue which will test the ability of common people to sort fact from fiction and hype from hypothesis. Unfortunately, one unpleasant effect of the convenience of mass-media culture has been to dull just this type of skill, since a great many media consumers appear to blindly trust that such determinations are made at the supply end.

In my personal experience, self-education on environmental issues and the history of economics and industry has shown me that there is ample cause to be proactively concerned about the human tendency towards self-destruction through thoughtless consumption as a measure of economic vitality, especially given a scientific foundation for assessing the long-term consequences of such behavior. My education has taught me that people are ecologically-bound organisms first and economic entities second. This is a lesson that numerous civilizations failed to learn. Will ours be added to the list?

Several members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee have come forward to make it clear that the decision to award Gore and the IPCC with the 2007 prize was not politically motivated, was not some sort of mean-spirited stab at the current occupants of the White House. What the decision does represent, according to some of these officials, is the hope that it will inspire more reasonable discourse on the issue of climate change, and the need for the arena of debate to move from a haphazard assault on science to a discussion of real solutions. Until this happens, many citizens in the developed world are likely to keep their claws drawn.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

The Nobel Peace Prize is often bestowed for a job well done but unfinished. It heartens the winner against the odds. Al Gore is such a recipient. His holy war against global warming needs help, especially to nudge a US Congress still immune to the Nobel Committee’s big hint.

Mr. Gore’s well-rewarded insight is in knowing that leaders will not force costly changes in lifestyle unless people are first convinced of the need to curb carbon use. Even he, in a well-organized crusade, has been low-key about the exact level of taxes and other burdens to impose on industry and consumers. It’s easier to sound the alarm about a disaster than to show how to prevent it . . .

. . .People want dollar signs assigned to the causes they’re asked to support. To set both the goal of carbon reduction and the price for it, Gore needs to provide even more leadership by joining the battle in Congress. Should Detroit automakers, for instance, be required to produce cars, pickups, and sport utility vehicles with an average 35 miles per gallon by 2020? Or by 2030?

This peace prize comes with a price. The winner must help make peace between competing interests in a nation that’s the world’s biggest carbon polluter in history.

Gore, UN-IPCC Win Nobel Peace Prize

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Former U.S. Vice President and 2000 Presidential Candidate Albert Gore, Jr. has been awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work to bring the attention of policymakers and the public to the problems posed by anthropogenic (manmade) climate change. He shares this prize with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN-IPCC), a consortium of hundreds of climate scientists and other natural scientists from around the world which works to review the literature on climate change and to make sound policy recommendations to the UN and to governments.

At a press conference following the Nobel awards ceremony, Mr. Gore told reporters that climate change is the “most dangerous challenge we’ve ever faced,” according to The Guardian.

“It truly is a planetary emergency,” said Gore. “We have to respond quickly. I’m going back to work right now. This is just the beginning.”

On his sentiments at being the recipient of such a prestigious honor, Mr. Gore reflected, “I am deeply honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This award is even more meaningful because I have the honor of sharing it with the IPCC – the world’s pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis.”

inconvenient truth Gore’s interest in environmental safeguards reaches back to his days as a U.S. senator, but it was not until after his defeat by George W. Bush in the Presidential elections of 2000 that he became widely known as a strong advocate for sweeping reforms in governmental and corporate policy to ameliorate the clear and irreversible environmental damages caused by human industry. His 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth has served as a centerpiece for this campaign. The film won an Academy Award for best documentary feature, and another for best original song (by Melissa Etheridge).

An Inconvenient Truth has been greeted favorably by a large majority of scientists and political progressives who are well-aware of the immense potential dangers of climate change, and has received scorn from hardliner conservatives and a majority of the governmental representatives of large-scale industry and commerce. It was recently the subject of debate in the British High Court after the UK Government announced that it would provide a copy of the DVD to every secondary school in England and Wales. A London magistrate of the Court ruled on October 10 that the film is “broadly accurate” and only occasionally deviant from consensus, and that its hypotheses are well-supported in the literature. The governments of Spain and Belgium, among others, have widely circulated the film. Gore’s Nobel citation praises him as the individual who has done the most to bring public awareness to climate change over the past several years.

U.S. President George W. Bush famously said “Doubt it” when once asked if he planned to see Gore’s film. Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch Bush ally, quipped “I don’t take policy advice from film” when refusing to meet with Gore during an unofficial visit to Australia. Industrial protectionism and the profit-centric animus of global capitalism continue to pose major obstacles to meaningful environmental policymaking.

The UN-IPCC has continually ramped up its predictions and recommendations in accordance with a growing preponderance of scientific evidence for the seriousness of anthropogenic climate change. It periodically publishes analyses and recommendations to world governments, recommendations which frequently fall upon deaf ears.

Diplomats Describe Bush Climate Meeting as Foil to UN Summit

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Bush Today in Washington, US President George W. Bush addressed attendees of an international climate conference independent of UN auspices. He performed as expected, urging the establishment of goals for the reduction of emissions, but refusing to adhere to mandatory statutes as recommended by the United Nations.


President Bush on Friday urged nations to set a goal for curbing emissions tied to global warming, but stopped short of accepting mandatory curbs laid out in an existing U.N. accord . . .

He said each nation should establish for itself what methods it will use to rein in emissions without stunting economic growth.

He also proposed the creation of an international fund to finance research into clean-energy technology, announcing that the U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson would coordinate the effort . . .

Europeans say technology is crucial but not a substitute for binding targets on emissions.

“One of the striking features of this meeting is how isolated this administration has become. There is absolutely no support that I can see in the international community that we can drive this effort on the basis of voluntary efforts,” John Ashton, a special representative on climate change for the British foreign secretary, said in an interview. “I don’t think that this meeting by itself moves the ball very much at all. The much more significant meeting this week was at the U.N., where there was a sense of urgency.”

According to The Guardian, Ashton told the U.N. Foundation on Tuesday that “the question on the mind of everybody heading into those meetings will be: Is this talking about talking, or deciding about doing?” His concerns echo those of many European diplomats who say the U.S. needs to take a much more proactive approach to curbing greenhouse emissions, not least since other major industrialized nations such as China and India are unlikely to move absent a strong example from Washington. More from that article:

President George Bush was yesterday criticised by diplomats for attempting to derail a UN initiative on climate change by pressing ahead with his own conference, which starts in Washington today.

One European diplomat described the US meeting as a spoiler for a UN conference planned for Bali in December. Another, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, claimed that the US conference was merely a way of deflecting pressure from other world leaders who had asked at the G8 summit this year for the US to make concessions on global warming.

They predicted that Mr Bush, who is to address the meeting tomorrow, will stress the need to make technological advances that can help combat climate change but will reject mandatory caps on emissions.

The British government shares the frustration of other European governments with the lack of urgency on the part of the Bush administration. The British assessment of Mr Bush’s conference is reflected in the level of representation – Phil Woolas, a junior environment minister.

Mr Bush invited 15 countries, plus all EU members.

The highest-ranking representative from outside the US is the German environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel. He said yesterday he did not expect the US or other nations attending the conference to budge. “One cannot expect concrete results.”

One of those attending said the conference reflected “political hardball” on the part of the Bush administration, aimed at undermining the UN, for which it holds long-term suspicion. Another said the conference was aimed at domestic politics, with Mr Bush seeking headlines and television coverage implying that he was doing something about climate change while, in fact, doing almost nothing.

Within the U.S., there has been speculation that a secondary motivation for the White House and the Republican Party may be to preemptively curtail suggestions from Democratic Presidential contenders that the Republican Party has been too passive on the issue of climate change. If the feeling of international diplomats is any reliable gauge, Bush showed hospitality but no Texas-sized gumption during the course of the events of yesterday and today.

Environmentalists have long been aware that any meaningful solution to the problem of climate change will not come without an uncomfortable economic price tag, the majority of which will be shouldered by major corporations, but which will also affect employees and consumers.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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Here, for your perusal (and courtesy primarily of this page, among other resources), is a list of the UN Security Council vetoes by the U.S. from 1972 – 2002 which have involved Israeli/Palestinian/other Middle-Eastern issues. While the Soviet Union was the primary user of the veto before its collapse, the U.S. has since come to the fore as naysayer-in-chief, and a preponderance of its vetoes have been concerned with Middle Eastern issues.

Year Resolution Vetoed by US
1972 Condemnation of the killing of civilians by Israel in Syria and Lebanon
1973 Affirming Palestinian rights and calling for Israeli withdrawal
1976 Condemnation of Israel for attacks on Lebanese citizens
1976 Condemnation of Israel for building settlements in Palestinian lands
1976 Call for Palestinian self-determination
1976 Affirming Palestinian rights
1978 Criticism of Palestinian living conditions
1978 Condemnation of Israel’s human rights abuses in occupied territories
1979 Calls for the return of all inhabitants expelled by Israel
1979 Demand that Israel desist its human rights abuses
1979 Request for report on Palestinian living conditions in occupied lands
1979 Offer of aid to Palestinian people
1979 Discussion of sovereignty over natural resources in occupied lands
1979 Inclusion of Palestinian Women in the UN Conference on Women
1980 Request for Israel to return displaced persons
1980 Condemnation of Israeli policy regarding Palestinian living conditions
1980 (3x) Condemnation of Israeli human rights abuses in occupied lands
1980 Affirming Palestinian rights
1981 (18x) Condemnation of Israeli human rights abuses and Iraq raids
1982 (6x) Condemnation of Israeli invasion of Lebanon
1982 Condemnation of the Israeli massacre of 11 Muslims at a holy shrine
1982 Call for Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights
1984 Condemnation of Israel for occupying/attacking southern Lebanon
1985 Condemnation of Israel for occupying/attacking southern Lebanon
1985 Condemnation of excessive Israeli force in occupied territories
1986 Call for all governments to observe international law ( ! )
1986 Condemnation of Israel for its actions against Lebanese civilians
1986 Call for Israel to respect Muslim holy places
1986 Condemnation of Israeli skyjacking of a Libyan airliner
1987 Call for Israel to abide by the Geneva Conventions
1987 Call for Israel to cease the deportation of Palestinians
1987 (2x) Condemnation of Israeli military operations in Lebanon
1987 Call for Israel to withdraw forces from Lebanon
1987 Cooperation between the United Nations and the Arab League
1987 Measures to investigate causes of international terrorism
1988 (5x) Condemnation of Israeli human rights abuses of Palestinians
1989 Opposing the acquisition of territory by force
1989 Call for a resolution to Arab-Israeli conflicts
1990 Request to allow three UN observers into the occupied territories
1995 Affirmation that East Jerusalem is occupied territory
1997 (2x) Call for Israel to cease settling in occupied territories
2001 Request to place unarmed monitors in Gaza, West Bank

Nowhere in the mainstream media will you find even the slightest suggestion that this track record might possibly correlate with a less-than-sterling opinion of U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world and elsewhere.

Anglosphere to World: Indi-ge-who??

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The United Nations General Assembly adopted on 13 September a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This non-binding document (are they ever binding?) is described by the UN as “an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet’s 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalization.”

Various UN agencies have been chewing on this proposal since its inception over twenty years ago. Having finally reached the vote in the General Assembly, the declaration found itself approved by an overwhelming majority of 143 nations, with 11 abstaining and 4 voting against. The naysayers, in this instance, were (perhaps not that surprisingly) the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Wikipedia has a nice summary of the complaints of these nations, which, in the humble opinion of yours truly, come off as just a wee bit on the paranoid schizophrenic side.

While I daresay most would recognize that the opportunity window for optimal efficacy of such a declaration was x’d out at least two hundred years ago, still it is critical that international law provide for the rights of the world’s relatively few remaining indigenous communities. Nowhere is the need for redress more apparent, for instance, than in Latin America, where ancient tribes have recently been engaged in the fight to preserve their ancestral lands from oil conglomerates. Indeed, a preponderance of the countries involved in drafting the proposal are situated in Central and South America.

Global Warming for the Skeptical, or the Merely Inquisitive

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Last month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (that’s an international group of peer-reviewed scientists—not cabinet ministers, congressmen, or oil lobbyists, n.b.) released the summary of its fourth assessment report on the topic of global climate change. The analysis is both quantitative and qualitative, discussing how much is changing, what is changing, and why it is changing.

The latest report takes advantage of both more precise physical observations and data collection as well as a better understanding of the data provided by computer models. It is the most sophisticated and circumspect collection of analyses and projections available to humanity.

You can view the summary here (PDF). Below I’ve extracted some of the information that I found most interesting and revelatory.

What does all of this data mean? I’m not in a position to pontificate, although I have wildly gesticulated in the past.

I will merely say that it seems to me that common sense dictates:

  • Global warming is a matter which is of concern to our generation not only because of the immediate manifestations of its effects—which are felt most harshly in the less-developed world, not in air-conditioned suburbia—but because of future manifestations. This is because the industrial activity of today generates the climatic fallout of tomorrow. It is precisely because of this slow-motion reaction that the danger is so easy to ignore. In this respect, response to global warming can be viewed as an extremely important test of the ability of humanity to organize and act on behalf of future generations. This is a skill which is altogether foreign to the capitalist/imperialist ideal, and a skill which has never before been of such urgent importance to the well-being of life on Earth.
  • It is important for citizens to petition their governments to act decisively in enforcing regulations on industries which contribute to global warming and pollution. Will these regulations restrict economic activity in certain sectors? Will jobs be lost? Absolutely. Is that too high a price to pay for the continuation of an environment which is conducive to complex life? Hardly. We are faced with a situation in which we must bear unpleasant responsibility for a cultural dysfunction for which we are not personally responsible in the generative sense. It’s strange that this sort of altruism is the basis for much proud flag-waving and militarism when it is perverted to the uses of nationalist profiteering pursuits such as warfare, wherein it is lauded as “proud sacrifice” or something similar, and yet is viewed by many as hardly worthwhile when it needs to be applied to the future health of the entire planet.
  • Even more important is individual responsibility and accountability in developing sustainable lifestyles. Clearly the automobile-driven lifestyle is a primary culprit in hydrocarbon emissions, so the elimination of unnecessary fuel consumption and participation in biopowered transportation and public transit are helpful. Likewise, opting for low-energy devices in the home and the pursuit of local, unprocessed foodstuffs and other goods are positive contributions that the average person can make. Furthermore, raising the issue as widely and as intelligently as possible is one of the most productive enterprises in which one can engage. Don’t look to the government for solutions. Create your own, and be proud of them. Make some noise; then the government will react and take credit for the initiative.

Let’s have a look at some of this data.

The most reliable data on atmospheric conditions before the period when such data began to be measured in real time comes from Antarctic ice cores. Just as geologists can tell much about conditions on Earth in a given geologic period by examining the differences in strata of rock, climatologists can also discern, with a surprisingly high degree of precision, the climate conditions from a given period by examining strata of unexposed ice which are known to have been deposited at a given rate. Through this type of analysis, climatologists have been able to reconstruct temperature and atmospheric composition data for the past several hundreds of thousands of years.

The graph below is a composite of changes in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels as recorded in the ice cores over the past ten thousand years, and as recorded by active human measurement of atmospheric levels over the past several years. The red lines show the contemporary data collected from real time atmospheric sampling; the other colors represent various interpretations of the ice core data and so naturally extend back much further in time. Note that, while the ice core-derived values from the different studies vary slightly, they coincide with one another remarkably as to the general trend of increase. Pictured are carbon dioxide levels (parts per million) and methane and nitrous oxide levels (parts per billion):

Greenhouse Gas Levels - Ice Core/Active Measurement Composite

Since the graphs cover a large expanse of time, the last several centuries of activity are presented in exploded views. You can see that carbon dioxide levels, for instance, have risen from roughly 300 to about 375 parts per million in the last century, compared to a net increase of about thirty parts per million over the previous ten thousand years.

The following graph shows changes in average temperature, sea level, and snow cover in the northern hemisphere from various periods ending in 2000. The changes are relative to averages from the period of 1961-1990.

Temperature, Sea Level, and Snow Cover Changes, 1961-1990, Northern Hemisphere

The solid black lines represent decadal averages of values; the circles indicate plotted annual values and the blue shaded regions represent reasonable uncertainty resulting from these discrepancies. This data was obtained entirely from real time human measurement.

Next, a depiction of changes in regional average temperature changes from 1900 to 2000 is presented. The black lines represent decadal averages of actual observations of temperatures. Here is the important twist: the pink shaded areas represent ranges of values derived from computer models which included anthropogenic forcing of climate shift (models which accounted for industrial activity.) The blue shaded areas represent ranges of values derived from computer models which did not include human industrial activity. You can see that, particularly from about 1950 forward, the actual observations follow models which included human industrial activity much more closely than those which did not. This means that, according to an array of a total of 33 simulations, it is virtually certain that the rises in temperature experienced throughout the past half-century to century are explicitly associated with human industrial activity. Put another way, absent of human emissions of greenhouse gases, we could expect to have seen temperature changes within the blue shaded areas. Unfortunately this has not been the case, as the trajectories of the black lines clearly denote.

Regional Temperature Changes

Now, let’s talk about the future. This last graph represents a variety of predictions of changes in surface temperature from the present up through the year 2100, based on computer simulations of several different scenarios, each scenario reflecting a different projection of rates of increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases based on projections of increasing economic/industrial activity, population increases, and other variables. The orange line represents values from an experiment at which greenhouse gas concentrations were frozen at the levels observed in the year 2000.

Multi-model Averages for Temperature Change through 2100

Please review the assessment report summary (link at top) for a description of each of these projected scenarios (page 18/18). Based on these values, it is reasonable to project an increase in average global surface temperature of 4-6º C by the year 2200 or of 6-8º C by the year 2300 if human emissions are not drastically and permanently reduced in the immediate future. Such temperature increases and the associated climatic changes, if not prevented, will very likely result in massive depopulation and extinction of thousands of species of plant and animal life. This prediction is based on climate change alone, without consideration of environmental compositional degradation (pollution, urban sprawl) associated with human industrial activities and population increase.

Here are some various observations/predictions based on the IPCC’s fourth assessment:

  • Eleven of the past twelve years (1995 – 2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850.) … Urban heat island effects are real but local, and have a negligible influence (less than 0.006º C per decade) on these values.
  • The average atmospheric water vapour content has increased since at least the 1980s over land and ocean as well as in the upper troposhere. The increase is broadly consistent with the extra water vapour that warmer air can hold.
  • Observations since 1961 show that the average temperature of the global ocean has increased to depths of at least 3000 m and that the ocean has been absorbing more than 80% of the heat added to the climate system. Such warming causes seawater to expand, contributing to sea level rise.
  • Average Arctic temperatures increased at almost twice the global average rate in the past 100 years.
  • It is virtually certain that the 21st Century will be marked by warmer and fewer cold days and nights over most land areas.
  • It is virtually certain that the 21st Century will be marked by warmer and more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas.
  • It is very likely that the 21st Century will be marked by an increasing frequency in heat waves over most land areas.
  • It is very likely that the 21st Century will be marked by an increasing frequency in heavy precipitation events over most land areas [such as the extreme snow accumulations experienced in the eastern U.S. this winter -ed].
  • It is likely that in the 21st Century the geographical areas affected by drought will increase in size.
  • It is likely that in the 21st Century there will be an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity.
  • It is likely that in the 21st Century there will be an increased incidence of extreme high sea levels, excluding those which can be accounted for by tsunamis.
  • Average northern hemisphere temperatures during the second half of the 20th Century were very likely higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years and very likely the highest in at least the past 1300 years.
  • It is likely that increases in greenhouse gas concentrations alone would have caused more warming than observed because volcanic and anthropogenic aerosols have offset some warming that would otherwise have taken place.
  • The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that the global climate change of the past fifty years can be explained without external forcing and very likely that it is not due to known natural causes alone.
  • Warming tends to reduce land and ocean uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide, increasing the fraction of anthropogenic emissions that remains in the atmosphere.
  • Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations leads to increasing acidification of the oceans.
  • Snow cover is projected to contract.
  • Sea ice is projected to shrink in both the Arctic and Antarctic under all SRES scenarios. In some projections, Arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st Century.
  • Climate carbon cycle coupling is expected to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as the climate system warms, but the magnitude of this feedback is uncertain … Based on current understanding of climate carbon cycle feedback, model studies suggest that to stabilize at 450 ppm CO2, could require cumulative emissions over the 21st Century to be reduced from an average of approximately 670 GtC to approximately 490 GtC.
  • Contraction of the Greenland Ice Sheet is projected to continue to contribute to sea level rise after 2100.
  • Both past and future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will continue to contribute to warming and sea level rise for more than a millennium, due to the timescale required for removal of this gas from the atmosphere.

The Working Group of the IPCC which prepared this report is composed of more than fifty independent authors. [correction—in addition to the authors referenced on the summary frontispiece, the working group contains hundreds of additional researchers and representatives of industry and government bodies.]

Through the Ice


After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say
“I want to see the manager.”

William S. Burroughs


When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.

– Benjamin Franklin

Peter Norvig’s Experiment on the Climate Change Consensus

Global Warming Facts: Top 50 Things to Do to Stop Global Warming

Union of Concerned Scientists – ExxonMobil’s Disinformation Campaign on Global Warming Science

Sierra Club of Canada – 10 Popular Myths About Global Warming

National Arbor Day Foundation – Differences in US Hardiness Zones as Evidence for Global Warming (animation)

UNEP – World Environment Day 2007

The Ecologist Online – How Mankind Is Sleepwalking to the End of the Earth

An Inconvenient Truth –

The Guardian – Arctic Ocean May Lose All Its Ice by 2040, Disrupting Global Weather

The Los Angeles Times – Why We’re More Scared of Gay Marriage and Terrorism Than a Much Deadlier Threat

The Boston Review – Phaeton’s Reins – The human hand in climate change

BBC: The Stern Review at a Glance

Environmental Defense – Shifting Gears: Cars and Global Warming

Center for Biological Diversity – Bush Administration Issues Polar Bear Gag Order

EcoBridge – Causes of Global Warming – Interview with David Suzuki

Foreign Policy in Focus – Going Green

State of the Cryosphere

Wired News – New Carbon Dioxide Tracking Developed

Wikipedia – Martin Durkin (producer, The Great Global Warming Swindle)

Greenpeace – The Energy Revolution

Yahoo! News – Canadian Activist Given Hearing on Global Warming/Human Rights

Bill McKibben – The Gospel vs. Global Warming

Carbon Footprint – Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Project Earth – Tour the Wounded Earth

EMagazine – Australia to Phase Out Incandescent Lightbulbs

Carbon Neutral Journal

Pew Center – Climate Change 101

UN: ‘Abject Denial’ of Iraqi Refugee Problems

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The BBC reports:

The UN faces an enormous task in helping countries such as Jordan and Syria cope with the huge influx of Iraqi refugees, a spokesman said.

He said the international community had to step in to help address their food, health and education needs.

Syria says it is home to 1.2m Iraqi refugees with up to 800,000 in Jordan.

Damascus has repeatedly called for help to deal with the problem.

“There has been an abject denial of the impact, the humanitarian impact, of the war, the huge displacement within Iraq of up to 1.9 million people who are homeless because of the war, and those people who are homeless and never got back to the homes after Saddam Hussein was overthrown,” UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler said.

Many of the refugees need considerable support, and about a quarter of them are children who need education.

Many need food and healthcare, some need counselling because of the violence they have experienced or witnessed, while others need jobs.

“There’s a need for governments to come in and address the health, the education, all the needs,” Mr Kessler said.

“Food aid needs as well are becoming vital because the population is becoming further and further impoverished since they cannot work.

“So clearly in every area, there’s a need to support what the main host governments are doing and then to gird ourselves for what could be, if the war is prolonged, an increasing movement further west-wards.”

While U.S. and multinational oil conglomerates and defense contractors are reaping vast rewards from the occupation of Iraq, it is the United Nations and the ‘international community’ who are expected to sweep in and clean up the mess.

But this isn’t just “a mess;” these are real people, with real needs. Mention of the millions of Iraqi homeless was, unsurprisingly, missing from President Bush’s typically evasive address on the fourth anniversary of the occupation.

UN: Deforestation Out of Control

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The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has released a report indicating that improvements in forestation stability and recovery among developed nations are being negated by “out of control” slash-and-burn agriculture in less-developed countries, primarily in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

The Independent reports:

Forests in the developing world still suffer from widespread deforestation primarily caused by unregulated slash and burn farming practices and uncontrolled forest fires.

“Deforestation continues at an unacceptable rate,” said Wulf Killmann, a forestry expert at the FAO who helped compile the report, adding that the world currently loses approximately 32 million acres of forest cover a year.

Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are currently the regions with the highest losses.

Africa, which accounts for about 16 per cent of the world’s forests, lost more than 9 per cent of its trees between 1990 and 2005, the FAO said. In Latin America and the Caribbean, home to nearly half of the world’s forests, 0.5 per cent of the forests were lost every year between 2000 and 2005 – up from an annual net rate of 0.46 per cent in the 1990s.

Of particular concern is the future of the Amazon rain forest of Brazil. The Amazon has been shrinking for quite some time, but Brazil’s aggressive ethanol production may claim the rain forest at an increasing rate, particularly if Brazil becomes a major supplier to hungry economies like that of the United States. President Bush recently met with Brazilian President da Silva to discuss ethanol policy. While hefty U.S. tariffs currently make the import of Brazilian ‘clean’ fuel unfeasible—the U.S. favors its own corn-based ethanol, which requires large amounts of fossil fuels during its production process, over Brazil’s much neater cane-based product—a shift in this policy could spell doom for huge tracts of Amazonia and the many thousands of species that call it home.

Deforestation negatively impacts the biosphere as a whole because forests are key in regulating atmospheric CO2 and in producing fresh oxygen. Furthermore, the burning of forests releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

It seems clear that the primary solution is not alternative energy. It’s less energy.