can’t see the forest

A Nail on the Head

Posted in economy, political opinion, U.S. News, USA by Curtis on 3/19/09

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In a CBC News article from this time last year, University of Maryland economist Pete Morici perhaps unwittingly summarized (and prophesied) America’s economic woes with great honesty and simplicity:

Living within your means would seem to be a universal wisdom. Not here.

If we do that,” says Pete Morici, an outspoken professor of economics at the University of Maryland, “if we pay off our bills, we’re going to consume much less than we produce. When that happens, the global economy will go into a severe recession.”

Nobody wants that.

Still, if Americans had more collective fiscal sense, they would look at their aggregate consumer debt — $2.5 trillion, not including mortgages — and they would hold their credit cards over candles. They would get rid of the expensive behemoths parked in the driveway and enter into a long, sober, luxury-free period of financial detox.

They would then tell their government to stop borrowing unimaginable sums from Chinese and Middle East investors. They would try to live in their houses and enjoy them for a few years, instead of treating them like financial milking machines.

But none of this is likely to happen, thank goodness. Because Americans are addicted to the opium of leverage. They love to buy, usually without much down payment or any down payment at all and then, as a market frenzy inflates the value of the thing they have bought to nosebleed levels, siphon off the artificial wealth and spend it anew.


The ‘Thirsty ’30s?’

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Speaking to the United Kingdom’s 2009 Sustainable Development conference, top government scientist John Beddington projects that by 2030 the world as a whole will face critical shortages in food, water, and energy beyond anything yet experienced on a large scale.

According to Professor Beddington, the world of 2030 will be populated by about 8.3 billion people. Demand for food and energy will have increased by 50%, and fresh water demand will have jumped up 30%.

BBC News reports:

Prof Beddington said the concern now – when prices have dropped once again – was that the issues would slip back down the domestic and international agenda.

“We can’t afford to be complacent. Just because the high prices have dropped doesn’t mean we can relax,” he said.

Improving agricultural productivity globally was one way to tackle the problem, he added.

At present, 30-40% of all crops are lost due to pest and disease before they are harvested.

Professor Beddington said: “We have to address that. We need more disease-resistant and pest-resistant plants and better practices, better harvesting procedures.

“Genetically-modified food could also be part of the solution. We need plants that are resistant to drought and salinity – a mixture of genetic modification and conventional plant breeding.

Better water storage and cleaner energy supplies are also essential, he added.

Prof Beddington is chairing a subgroup of a new Cabinet Office task force set up to tackle food security.

While unstable geopolitics, environmental issues such as climate change and pollution, and financial mayhem all clamor for the attention of today’s busy technocrat, some scientists point out that this simple, potent mixture of rising demand for resources and an aggressively booming population is perhaps the biggest problem our global society has currently to address.

If it’s THAT broke, don’t fix it

Posted in economy, human rights, money, US by Curtis on 3/17/09

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The signs of recession are everywhere. At university, there is talk of combining classes and even of laying off untenured instructors. Air conditioning in the school buildings gets cut off at night and on weekends. Tuition rates are rising faster than usual. My drive from home to school is peppered with newly built strip malls, which are mostly vacant. Some families I know that were already living on the edge are not sure how they’ll make it through the year. Job loss is up, and new home sales are down.

I think by now everyone is familiar with the theme and variations which have been presented to explain the economic ‘crisis.’ These explanations sound, to my ear, a bit more complicated than necessary. Is it the fault of starry-eyed first-time homeowners looking to begin their lives fresh out of college with the kind of spacious, effulgent lifestyle mom and dad worked 25 years to attain, or is it the fault of the beady-eyed lenders who agreed to finance them? Are the big banks to blame for using questionable mortgage securities as a profit scheme, or is the government responsible for allowing that investment paradigm to blossom unhindered?

These rhetorical questions dance around complex issues, but in and of themselves, I’m afraid their answers don’t speak to the central problems in the modern economy, which are systemic rather than specific, ideological rather than individual. There are lessons to be learned by inquiring into what went wrong where, but time marches on, and it seems to me that we ought to focus on things we can fix in the future, going forward.

For one, free market, capitalist economies require perpetual growth in order to remain stable. This means, above all, a growth in consumption; people are immersed in an environment in which products are seen as the answers to their problems, and when there are no more problems, new ones are created. This is a favorite strategy of tech gadgeteers and big pharmaceuticals. Yes, it’s funny how medical diagnoses like Restless Leg Syndrome or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder seem to enter into parlance at about the same time as the drugs which treat them. You might as well not even own a cell phone if it can’t spit out the latest baseball scores or play your favorite MP3s at the touch of a button. Advertising and marketing people are, regrettably, something like the shamans of our shiny new civilization. The way to drive the economy forward is through ever-increasing consumption, even when it outstrips expendable income. The condition of being broke, after all, is merely the stepladder to a whole new level of product promotion and consumption: the product of credit.

Economies like ours also require continual growth in the pool of available resources, and continual shrinkage in pesky overhead costs, such as labor (with the recent trend being to divert a lot of those costs to marketing). This is why we have long, explosive, bloody, multi-trillion-dollar wars in places like Iraq, why we support states like Israel and Saudi Arabia while decrying the human rights records of states like Iran, why Nike runs massive production facilities in Indonesia in which the costs of grossly underpaid labor operations are calculated down to fractions of a second, and why veritable crises in humanitarian wastelands like Darfur or Palestine aren’t very interesting to policymakers.

The new U.S. administration’s solutions to the problem have mostly entailed government spending: hundreds of billions of dollars to wealthy corporations just to keep them afloat for another quarter, mortgage relief to beleagured homeowners, and the creation or beefing-up of social programs, some of which are sorely needed. But one wonders what kind of band-aid such policies represent, and how long it can hold together. Talk of increased regulation is interesting and welcome, but what about a more fundamental discussion of what is being regulated, and why? I was taught that a state in which the government enters into a limited, supposedly need-based fiscal partnership with large-scale industry is practicing fascism. I guess that’s not the case when we do it.

Maybe it’s time that we began thinking of a healthy economy not as one which continually grows and deepens of its own accord (“It’s alive! It’s aliiiiiiive!”), but as one which maintains a healthy equilibrium with nature and promotes well-being and security across society, not just to the top-earning 1 percent or so. Let’s develop tenably altruistic concepts like microcredit and equitable distribution of resources. Perhaps accounting curricula need to be rewritten . . . maybe the numbers we’re tracking aren’t the right ones.

In any case, it’s easy to lust for quick fixes and immediate relief when we’re living with the reality of economic recession. But think of the hundreds of millions of people in the world who are hungry, thirsty, and ridden with disease. For them, there are no quick fixes and there is no way forward. How many meals or vaccines would an iPod or a Blackberry be worth to one of those individuals? The way we conduct our state and our economy are, in many senses, directly responsible for the plight of the world’s less fortunate, and they outnumber us perhaps 5 to 1, speaking optimistically. So is this economy worth fixing?

‘Endgame’ in Iraq? And what game would that be, exactly?

Posted in economy, energy, foreign policy, iraq, Iraq War, middle east, News, U.S. News, USA, World News by Curtis on 12/15/08

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U.S. Defense Secy. Robert Gates

BBC News reports that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, slated to keep his post after Obama takes office in January, has told U.S. troops on an airbase in Iraq that their mission is in its ‘endgame’:

Mr Gates said the US military presence would undergo a “significant change of mission” next June when troops are due to withdraw from Iraq’s urban areas.

Under a recently agreed deal between the two countries, US troops will completely withdraw from Iraq by 2011.

However, the US general leading US troops in Iraq has said he expects some soldiers to stay in cities beyond June.

The Iraqi parliament voted in favour of the new security deal with the Americans last month. Iraq’s government has hailed the agreement as the prelude to the return of full sovereignty to the country.

Not that this is the first time we’ve heard such talk, of course. But this time, Pentagon officials may actually be speaking from their icy black hearts.

Commanders on the ground in Iraq expect to restore native control to all 18 Iraqi provinces by June, under the terms of a new security deal with the government of Prime Minister Maliki. U.S. voters will expect incoming president Barack Obama to deliver on his promises of a deliberate but expeditious withdrawal from Iraq.

But it isn’t all campaign politics; the simple truth is that, while automakers badger the U.S. Congress for a handout of a few billion dollars, the staggering financial costs of the occupation of Iraq—in the hundreds of billions per annum—continue to create debt and leave federal and industrial resources ever more tightly stretched. The presence of 150,000 troops in Iraq is edging towards the logistically untenable, and recent developments have created an environment in which withdrawal on Washington’s terms is becoming more opportune.

In October, the Iraqi government officially opened its oil reserves—the third-largest proven reserves in the world—to dozens of foreign investors, under the terms of an ownership contract which was never made public. Crude oil prices have recently plummeted in the wake of decreased demand, but with the hands of international oil companies on the spickets in the petroleum paradise of southern Iraq, OPEC is now largely unable to effectively counter in many markets. Critics of the U.S. administration have long maintained that gaining the ability to exert this kind of pressure on oil markets, from the Middle East to Venezuela, has always been a primary goal of the occupation of Iraq.

Talili AirbaseAnother important prerequisite for withdrawal which is now a fait accompli is the establishment of a series of ‘megabases’ throughout Iraq, including some of the largest such facilities anywhere on the globe. TomDispatch reports:

By now, billions have evidently gone into single massive mega-bases like the U.S. air base at Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. It’s a “16-square-mile fortress,” housing perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops, contractors, special ops types, and Defense Department employees. As the Washington Post’s Tom Ricks, who visited Balad back in 2006, pointed out — in a rare piece on one of our mega-bases — it’s essentially “a small American town smack in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq.” Back then, air traffic at the base was already being compared to Chicago’s O’Hare International or London’s Heathrow — and keep in mind that Balad has been steadily upgraded ever since to support an “air surge” that, unlike the President’s 2007 “surge” of 30,000 ground troops, has yet to end. . .

. . .Think of this as the greatest American story of these years never told — or more accurately, since there have been a few reports on a couple of these mega-bases — never shown. After all, what an epic of construction this has been, as the Pentagon built a series of fortified American towns, each some 15 to 20 miles around, with many of the amenities of home, including big name fast-food franchises, PXes, and the like, in a hostile land in the midst of war and occupation. In terms of troops, the President may only have put his “surge” strategy into play in January 2007, but his Pentagon has been “surging” on base construction since April 2003.

Aside from providing a bottomless boon to salivating contractors, these airbases ensure that, even with the vast majority of manpower extracted from the region, the U.S. can continue to project its power into the Middle East to protect its diplomatic and economic interests. This sends a strong message to the re-emerging Russian Federation as well as to regional powers such as Iran.

So while it may be true that the official U.S. mission in Iraq is coming to a close, in the sense of realpolitik, the ‘game’ may be just beginning.

The climate changes, but not much else

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While European leaders congratulate themselves at the close of a two-day Brussels summit on climate change, their numerous critics are left shaking their heads in dismay.

An agreement was reached whereby EU nations will be required, by 2020, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% as compared to 1990 levels. Additionally, the pact calls for a 19% reduction in CO2 emissions from automobiles by 2015, and for measures to increase the use of renewable energy and to improve on overall fuel efficiency in the coming years. Also laid out was a carbon emissions trading scheme, perhaps the most comprehensive of its kind yet put into place in the world economy.

The Guardian reports that the product of the talks represents a major victory for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as he nears the end of his six-month tenure as President of the EU. The European Parliament is set to write the decisions into law next week.

“This is a major advance,” said [UK] prime minister, Gordon Brown. “Europe after these decisions remains the leader on climate change.”

coal-plantBut critics complained that the package was too little too late, that EU leaders had capitulated to fierce lobbying from European industry, that the loopholes in the system and the awarding of pollution permits free to most non-energy firms in the scheme would trigger a bonanza in windfall corporate profits.

“Industry has to do next to nothing,” said Claude Turmes, a leading Green MEP from Luxembourg, who helped to draft part of the legislation. “If they are honest, these leaders know they haven’t agreed something really ambitious.”

“This could have been one of Europe’s finest moments,” said Robin Webster, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “But huge loopholes allow big energy-users to carry on polluting.”

Barroso admitted that the terms of the deal could bring windfall profits for industry, reversing the logic of the polluter pays principle that is supposed to underpin the carbon trading scheme.

In particular, critics feel the accords go incredibly soft on certain industries, such as coal processors—which, although among the very worst emissions offenders, will be given generous discounts in the carbon trading arena—and steel refineries. Industries such as these will hardly flinch in the wake of this “major advance.”


CSMonitor: Projected Arctic melting

According to the New York Times, President-Elect Barack Obama has placed confronting climate change second only to the revitalization of the U.S. economy on his to-do list, and in its acknowledgement of the issues at hand, his administration is sure to represent a marked improvement over the Bush years. Indeed, on Tuesday Obama met privately with 2007 Nobel Prize winner Al Gore to discuss climate change and energy policy, though the Obama camp denies a potential role for Gore in the new White House. But environmentalists are skeptical as to just how far the impassioned rhetoric will carry over into reality come January; if European leaders consider the kind of agreement just reached in Brussels to be a colossal step forward, one wonders if substantiation of the change Obama has in mind is bound to prove commensurately disappointing. Obama’s plans are ambitious, but his ability to enforce them remains unproven.

Political leaders tend to shy away from forcing stringent environmental standards on industry because such measures can have significant front-end overhead and can make certain products at least initially unpalatable to consumers. This wariness is only amplified in times of economic crisis. Americans can expect the new President to be far more forthright and engaging on environmental policy than his predecessor, but should not harbor illusions. Lobbyists are still lobbyists, capitalism is still capitalism, and automobiles still run—mostly—on gasoline.

Some kind of complex

Posted in economy, Eisenhower, industry, iraq, Iraq War, military, Politics, USA by Curtis on 12/4/08

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A recent article in the New York Times by David Barstow (via truthout) describes the sleek career moves of Gen Barry McCaffrey, a former US Army general and highly decorated solider turned corporate consultant and NBC analyst—the youngest general in the Army at the time of his retirement—as he delved into the world of lobbying for high octane contractors such as Defense Solutions and Veritas Capital.

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

Particularly in a capitalist economy, wars, like everything else, are always about money. Not about lost lives, wrecked futures, or motorbike stunt jumps right over long strings of international laws. It is worth recounting the prophetic words of another ex-general who knew a little something about the arms industry, speaking at his farewell address in 1961:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience…we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Daddy, Why Are There Wars?”

Posted in economy, energy, Environment, foreign policy, middle east, oil, Politics, USA by Curtis on 12/2/07

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“Because some people are just plain evil, m’boy! Just plain evil.” Yuk, yuk; yeah, we know. That’s it. It’s Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, all the time.

Try economics.

Sometimes, nothing obviates further elucidation of the already disturbingly apparent like a good infographic. From Foreign Policy magazine, for instance, via this site, is a columnar graph illustrating the daily consumption of oil in the United States and in various other countries of the world, and another graph showing average fill-up prices in various countries:


UN Publishes ‘GEO 4’ Report

Posted in ecology, economy, Environment, Politics, sustainability, UN, World News by Curtis on 10/28/07

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The United Nations has published its Global Environmental Outlook Report, a 572-page document detailing the states of various facets of the natural world and human civilization’s relationship to it.

Far more than just a treatment of the problems of climate change, which has been the focus of recent publications of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (and for which it shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Jr.), the Geo-4 discusses issues with the Earth’s water supply, overfishing, deforestation, and a host of other subjects. The document’s overall tone is soberly propositional.

The BBC’s Richard Black writes:

There could be no clearer example of a society engaged in unsustainable development; a society that is “meeting the needs of the present”, but in doing so is very definitely “compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Humans might be living longer and richer lives now, this implies; but environmental degradation must at some point curb or even reverse the trend.

To use the jargon, the world’s store of financial capital is rising at the expense of its natural capital, the bits of nature that humans rely on to provide food and water and to re-process our waste…

…Without major changes in direction, we had better hope that the people who believe that human ingenuity, technology and economic growth will always solve our future problems turn out to be right.

Austin, TX to Require Zero-Energy Homes by 2015

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Jetson Green writes on an Austin, Texas city initiative that will ramp up energy efficiency standards through 2015. The big surprise? It may actually save money in the long run:


The City of Austin, after a year of serious research by the Zero Energy Capable Homes Task Force, announced a huge initiative towards requiring all new single-family homes to be zero-energy capably by 2015. Here’s how it works. Today, the city adopted the first in a series of code amendments and a road map of code amendments that will be implemented through 2015. Due to this first series of changes, roughly 6500 new homes built in Austin will be about 20% more efficient. Through 2015, as the code changes ratchet up the efficiency baseline, homes will end up using about 65% less energy than those built today. Then, owners will have the option of adding solar or some other clean tech to get the home to zero energy status.

Speaking of the Zero Energy Homes Initiative, Mayor Will Wynn said, “We’re taking action today that will lower the cost of utility bills, make housing more affordable, help improve air quality and take critical steps in the fight against global warming.

I’m always a bit startled by the phrase “fight against global warming.” I suppose it is more politically neutral than the “fight against industrial excess.”

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.