Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Another Species of Denial
It is a testament to the power of money that Nicholas Stern’s report should have swung the argument for drastic action, even before anyone has finished reading it. He appears to have demonstrated what many of us suspected: that it would cost much less to prevent runaway climate change than to seek to live with it. Useful as this finding is, I hope it doesn’t mean that the debate will now concentrate on money. The principal costs of climate change will be measured in lives, not pounds. As Stern reminded us yesterday, there would be a moral imperative to seek to prevent mass death even if the economic case did not stack up.
But at least almost everyone now agrees that we must act, if not at the necessary speed. If we’re to have a high chance of preventing global temperatures from rising by 2C (3.6F) above preindustrial levels, we need, in the rich nations, a 90% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. The greater part of the cut has to be made at the beginning of this period. To see why, picture two graphs with time on the horizontal axis and the rate of emissions plotted vertically. On one graph the line falls like a ski jump: a steep drop followed by a shallow tail. On the other it falls like the trajectory of a bullet. The area under each line represents the total volume of greenhouse gases produced in that period. They fall to the same point by the same date, but far more gases have been produced in the second case, making runaway climate change more likely.
So how do we do it without bringing civilisation crashing down? Here is a plan for drastic but affordable action that the government could take. It goes much further than the proposals discussed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown yesterday, for the reason that this is what the science demands.
1. Set a target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions based on the latest science. The government is using outdated figures, aiming for a 60% reduction by 2050. Even the annual 3% cut proposed in the early day motion calling for a new climate change bill does not go far enough. Timescale: immediately.
2. Use that target to set an annual carbon cap, which falls on the ski-jump trajectory. Then use the cap to set a personal carbon ration. Every citizen is given a free annual quota of carbon dioxide. He or she spends it by buying gas and electricity, petrol and train and plane tickets. If they run out, they must buy the rest from someone who has used less than his or her quota. This accounts for about 40% of the carbon dioxide we produce. The remainder is auctioned off to companies. It’s a simpler and fairer approach than either green taxation or the EU’s emissions trading scheme, and it also provides people with a powerful incentive to demand low-carbon technologies. Timescale: a full scheme in place by January 2009.
3. Introduce a new set of building regulations, with three objectives. A. Imposing strict energy-efficiency requirements on all major refurbishments (costing £3,000 or more). Timescale: in force by June 2007. B. Obliging landlords to bring their houses up to high energy-efficiency standards before they can rent them out. Timescale: to cover all new rentals from January 2008. C. Ensuring that all new homes in the UK are built to the German Passivhaus standard (which requires no heating system). Timescale: in force by 2012.
4. Ban the sale of incandescent lightbulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights and other wasteful and unnecessary technologies. Introduce a stiff “feebate” system for all electronic goods sold in the UK, with the least efficient taxed heavily and the most efficient receiving tax discounts. Every year the standards in each category rise. Timescale: fully implemented by November 2007.
5. Redeploy money now earmarked for new nuclear missiles towards a massive investment in energy generation and distribution. Two schemes in particular require government support to make them commercially viable: very large wind farms, many miles offshore, connected to the grid with high-voltage direct-current cables; and a hydrogen pipeline network to take over from the natural gas grid as the primary means of delivering fuel for home heating. Timescale: both programmes commence at the end of 2007 and are completed by 2018.
6. Promote the development of a new national coach network. City-centre coach stations are shut down and moved to motorway junctions. Urban public transport networks are extended to meet them. The coaches travel on dedicated lanes and never leave the motorways. Journeys by public transport then become as fast as journeys by car, while saving 90% of emissions. It is self-financing, through the sale of the land now used for coach stations. Timescale: commences in 2008; completed by 2020.
7. Oblige all chains of filling stations to supply leasable electric car batteries. This provides electric cars with unlimited mileage: as the battery runs down, you pull into a forecourt; a crane lifts it out and drops in a fresh one. The batteries are charged overnight with surplus electricity from offshore wind farms. Timescale: fully operational by 2011.
8. Abandon the road-building and road-widening programme, and spend the money on tackling climate change. The government has earmarked £11.4bn for road expansion. It claims to be allocating just £545m a year to “spending policies that tackle climate change”. Timescale: immediately.
9. Freeze and then reduce UK airport capacity. While capacity remains high there will be constant upward pressure on any scheme the government introduces to limit flights. We need a freeze on all new airport construction and the introduction of a national quota for landing slots, to be reduced by 90% by 2030. Timescale: immediately.
10. Legislate for the closure of all out-of-town superstores, and their replacement with a warehouse and delivery system. Shops use a staggering amount of energy (six times as much electricity per square metre as factories, for example), and major reductions are hard to achieve: Tesco’s “state of the art” energy-saving store at Diss in Norfolk has managed to cut its energy use by only 20%. Warehouses containing the same quantity of goods use roughly 5% of the energy. Out-of-town shops are also hardwired to the car – delivery vehicles use 70% less fuel. Timescale: fully implemented by 2012.
These timescales might seem extraordinarily ambitious. They are, by contrast to the current glacial pace of change. But when the US entered the second world war it turned the economy around on a sixpence. Carmakers began producing aircraft and missiles within a year, and amphibious vehicles in 90 days, from a standing start. And that was 65 years ago. If we want this to happen, we can make it happen. It will require more economic intervention than we are used to, and some pretty brutal emergency planning policies (with little time or scope for objections). But if you believe that these are worse than mass death then there is something wrong with your value system.
Climate change is not just a moral question: it is the moral question of the 21st century. There is one position even more morally culpable than denial. That is to accept that it’s happening and that its results will be catastrophic, but to fail to take the measures needed to prevent it.
George Monbiot’s latest book is Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning.
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Monday, January 29, 2007
Missing presumed tortured
Published 20 November 2006
More than 7,000 prisoners have been captured in America's war on terror. Just 700 ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Between extraordinary rendition to foreign jails and disappearance into the CIA's "black sites", what happened to the rest?
Sana'a, Yemen. By the gates of the Old City, Muhammad Bashmilah was walking, talking, and laughing in the crowd - behaving like a man without a care in the world. Bargaining with the spice traders and joking with passers-by; at last he was free.
A 33-year-old businessman, Bashmilah has an impish sense of humour; his eyes sparkled as he chatted about his country and the khat leaves that all the young men were chewing. But when I began my interview by asking for the story of his past three years, his mood shifted. His face narrowed, his eyes calmed, and he stared beyond me - as if looking directly into the nether world from which he had so recently emerged.
For 11 months, Bashmilah was held in one of the CIA's most secret prisons - its so-called "black sites" - so secret that he had no idea in which country, or even on which continent, he was being held. He was flown there, in chains and wearing a blindfold, from another jail in Afghanistan; his guards wore masks; and he was held in a 10ft by 13ft cell with two video cameras that watched his every move. He was shackled to the floor with a chain of 110 links.
From the times of evening prayer given to him by the guards, the cold winter temperatures, and the number of hours spent flying to this secret jail, he suspected that he was held somewhere in eastern Europe - but he could not be sure.
When he arrived at the prison, said Bashmilah, he was greeted by an interrogator with the words: "Welcome to your new home." He implied that Bashmilah would never be released. "I had gone there without any reason, without any proof, without any accusation," he said. His mental state collapsed and he went on hunger strike for ten days - until he was force-fed food through his nostrils. Finally released after months in detention without being charged with any crime, Bashmilah was one of the first prisoners to provide an inside account of the most secret part of the CIA's detention system.
On 6 September, President George W Bush finally confirmed the existence of secret CIA jails such as the one that held Bashmilah. He added something chilling - a declaration that there were now "no terrorists in the CIA programme", that the many prisoners held with Bashmilah were all gone. It was a statement that hinted at something very dark - that the United States has "disappeared" hundreds of prisoners to an uncertain fate.
Let's examine the arithmetic of this systematic disappearance. In the first years after the attacks of 11 September, thousands of Taliban or suspected terrorist suspects were captured. Just in Afghanistan, the US admitted processing more than 6,000 prisoners. Pakistan has said it handed over around 500 captives to the US; Iran said it sent 1,000 across the border to Afghanistan. Of all these, some were released and just over 700 ended up in Guantanamo, Cuba. But the simple act of subtraction shows that thousands are missing. More than five years after 9/11, where are they all? We know that many were rendered to foreign jails, both by the CIA and directly by the US military. But how many precisely? The answer is still classified. No audit of the fate of all these souls has ever been published.
Bush's next big scandal
Since the publications of photographs from Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration has faced a string of scandals concerning its conduct of the war on terror: from abuses of prisoners by the US military, to the rendition of terrorist suspects to jails in places such as Egypt and Syria, where torture is routine, a process first described in the New Statesman in May 2004. International outrage, inquiries launched against CIA activities by prosecutors in Europe, as well as clear instructions from the US Supreme Court that, in its reaction to 9/11, Congress had not issued the president with a "blank cheque", have all challenged the administration's venture into what vice-president Dick Cheney called "the dark side" of warfare.
But if Bush hoped to appease his critics with his public acknowledgement of the CIA's secret programmes, and his promise to bring some of America's most important captives to an open military trial at Guantanamo, then he will be disappointed. After last week's midterm elections, the administration will face legislators more emboldened to probe its conduct. And the issue of disappearances - of the fate of the missing prisoners held by the CIA and the Pentagon - threatens to become the next big scandal.
It was in early 2002, when the camp at Guantanamo Bay was opening up, that I heard from a source close to the CIA that most of the media were missing the point. As cameras showed images of chained prisoners being wheeled across the base on trolleys, there was predictable outrage. But the source described these images as "the press release".
This was what Washington wanted the world to see. Beyond Cuba was a concealed network of prisons around the globe that were becoming home to thousands more prisoners. The CIA had its own secret facilities, but many more were held in jails run by foreign allies. There are some good operational reasons for keeping the arrest of suspected terrorists secret. Sometimes, in the short term, deception makes good tactical sense; staying quiet about an arrest may keep the enemy guessing. Sometimes it can be for diplomatic reasons: secrecy may help to persuade countries such as Egypt to accept a prisoner.
But why is it so sensitive to confirm what happened to these prisoners, to detail how many were transferred where and when? Why should a country receiving prisoners be so embarrassed? And why - when countries such as Egypt have come clean and said "yes, we received 70 to 80 prisoners rendered by the United States" - will the United States itself not confirm what it did? Despite admitting, in general, that the CIA carries out renditions, the US has yet to own up to a single specific case of transferring a prisoner to foreign custody.
The explanation for the secrecy is one that most of the CIA officers involved in rendition will quite freely admit - a transfer to places such as Egypt or Uzbekistan (a country known for boiling prisoners alive) will inevitably involve torture. And knowingly sending a prisoner to face torture is, under both US and international law, an illegal act. Revealing the fate of the missing prisoners may be just too politically embarrassing.
Justifying war with torture
One of those "disappeared", for example, is the former al- Qaeda camp commander Ibn-al Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured in late 2001. Al-Libi was first interrogated by the FBI but, according to those involved, he was then snatched by the CIA and rendered to Cairo. It was while he was under Egyptian interrogation that al-Libi provided an important piece of "testimony": that Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship with al-Qaeda. It was an erroneous claim, since formally withdrawn by the CIA, but was used as part of the justification for the war in Iraq. Al-Libi's anonymous testimony was cited by Colin Powell before the United Nations. But no one mentioned where the intelligence came from.
After his interrogation in Egypt, al-Libi was sent back to US custody in Afghanistan. But now he has disappeared. Perhaps he has been sent to Libya? He is certainly a more important prisoner than the vast majority at Guantanamo. Yet sending al-Libi to the Cuban camp, put ting him on public trial and allowing him to tell his story would be a political disaster. So he remains hidden.
Other key prisoners are missing too - others whose stories would shock the public conscience. The US, for example, has never acknowledged what it did with German citizen Mohammed Haydar Zammar. He was captured in December 2001, one of the first in custody who was connected to the Hamburg cell that carried out the 9/11 attacks. And, again, instead of being held in US hands, he was rendered in secret to Damascus. He has never been brought to a public trial or had any chance to reveal how he was treated.
The cases of al-Libi and Zammar, who according to fellow prisoners in Syria was brutally tortured, illustrate the corrosive effect of the policy of disappearance. While the secrecy may protect the US from legal jeopardy and from political embarrassment, it also makes the threat of torture self-fulfilling. If you send a prisoner to Damascus, Tripoli or Tashkent, how can you hope to protect that prisoner - to ensure a fair trial or see that he stays alive - if you keep that rendition quiet? Secrecy protects the torturer; and it denies those innocent, those wrongly accused of crimes of terrorism and caught up in these renditions, any chance of justice.
Last month, Bush signed into law his new Military Commissions Act, which provides for the trial at Guantanamo of top al-Qaeda leaders. The act grants fewer rights to defendants than the Nazis got at Nuremberg. And yet, in this strange world, the rights now granted to men such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who devised the 9/11 attack and who will now be brought to trial, still rank far higher than the rights of the small fry, those much less significant players behind bars in foreign jails. In this new justice, the big terrorists are granted privileges, and the other missing prisoners, subtracted from the public record, are disappeared off the face of the earth. That's the mathematics of torture.
Stephen Grey is the author of "Ghost Plane: the inside story of the CIA's secret rendition programme" published by C Hurst Co (£16.95)
14 European countries admit allowing the CIA to run secret prisons or carry out renditions on their territory
7,000+ prisoners have been captured in America's war on terror
450 prisoners are thought to be held at Guantanamo
10 prisoners at Guantanamo have been convicted
40 countries have citizens held in Guantanamo
$18,000 was spent by two alleged CIA agents at the Milan-Savoy hotel during an illegal rendition operation in Italy
Research by Maria Stella
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An Impartial Interrogation of George W. Bush
/>Senator George McGovern delivered these remarks at the National Press Club January 12. They are published here as part of Moral Compass, a series focusing on the spoken word.
I'm glad to be back at the National Press Club. Indeed, at the age of eighty-four, I'm glad to be anywhere. In my younger years when the subject of aging came up, trying to sound worldly wise, I would say, "It doesn't matter so much the number of years you have, but what you do with those years." I don't say that anymore. I now want to reach a hundred. Why? Because I thoroughly enjoy life and there are so many things I must still do before entering the mystery beyond. The most urgent of these is to get American soldiers out of the Iraqi hellhole Bush-Cheney and their neoconservative theorists have created in what was once called the cradle of civilization. It is believed to be the location of the Garden of Eden. I mention the neoconservative theorists to recall Walter Lippman's observance, "There is nothing so dangerous as a belligerent professor."
One of the things I miss about my eighteen years in the US Senate are the stories of the old Southern Democrats. I didn't always vote with them, but I loved their technique of responding to an opponent's questions with a humorous story. Once when Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina had to handle a tough question from Mike Mansfield, he said, "You know, Mr. Leader, that question reminds me of the old Baptist preacher who was telling a class of Sunday school boys the creation story. 'God created Adam and Eve and from this union came two sons, Cain and Abel and thus the human race developed.' A boy in the class then asked, 'Reverend, where did Cain and Abel get their wives?' After frowning for a moment, the preacher replied, 'Young man--it's impertinent questions like that that's hurtin' religion.'"
Well, Mr. Bush, Jr. I have some impertinent questions for you.
Mr. President, Sir, when reporter Bob Woodward asked you if you had consulted with your father before ordering our army into Iraq you said, "No, he's not the father you call on a decision like this. I talked to my heavenly Father above." My question, Mr. President: If God asked you to bombard, invade and occupy Iraq for four years, why did he send an opposite message to the Pope? Did you not know that your father, George Bush, Sr., his Secretary of State James Baker and his National Security Advisor General Scowcroft were all opposed to your invasion? Wouldn't you, our troops, the American people and the Iraqis all be much better off if you had listened to your more experienced elders including your earthly father? Instead of blaming God for the awful catastrophe you have unleashed in Iraq, wouldn't it have been less self-righteous if you had fallen back on the oft-quoted explanation of wrongdoing, "The devil made me do it?"
And Mr. President, after the 9/11 hit against the Twin Towers in New York, which gained us the sympathy and support of the entire world, why did you then order the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11? Are you aware that your actions destroyed the international reservoir of good will towards the United States? What is the cost to America of shattering the standing and influence of our country in the eyes of the world?
Why, Mr. President did you pressure the CIA to report falsely that Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons? And when you ordered your Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to go to New York and present to the UN the Administration's "evidence" that Iraq was an imminent nuclear threat to the United States, were you aware that after reading this deceitful statement to the UN, Mr. Powell told an aid that the so-called evidence was "bullshit"?
Is it reasonable to you, President Bush, that Colin Powell told you near the end of your first term that he would not be in your Administration if you were to receive a second term? What decent person could survive two full terms of forced lying and deceit?
And Mr. President, how do you enjoy your leisure time, and how can you sleep at night knowing that 3,014 young Americans have died in a war you mistakenly ordered? What do you say to the 48,000 young Americans who have been crippled for life in mind or body? What is your reaction to the conclusion of the leading British medical journal (Lancet) that since you ordered the bombardment and occupation of Iraq four years ago, 600,000 Iraqi men, women and children have been killed? What do you think of the destruction of the Iraqi's homes, their electrical and water systems, their public buildings?
And Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, while neither of you has ever been in combat (Mr. Cheney asking and receiving five deferments from the Vietnam War), have you not at least read or been briefed on the terrible costs of that ill-advised and seemingly endless American war in tiny Vietnam? Do you realize that another Texas President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, declined to seek a second term in part because he had lost his credibility over the disastrous war in Vietnam? Are you aware that one of the chief architects of that war, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, resigned his office and years later published a book declaring that the war was all a tragic mistake? Do you know this recent history in which 58,000 young Americans died in the process of killing 2 million Vietnamese men, women and children? If you do not know about this terrible blunder in Vietnam, are you not ignoring the conclusion of one of our great philosophers: "Those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it." And, Mr. President, in your ignorance of the lessons of Vietnam, are you not condemning our troops and our people to repeat the same tragedy in Iraq?
During the long years between 1963 and 1975 when I fought to end the American war in Vietnam, first as a US Senator from South Dakota and then as my party's nominee for President, my four daughters ganged up on my one night. "Dad, why don't you give up this battle? You've been speaking out against this crazy war since we were little kids. When you won the Democratic presidential nomination, you got snowed under by President Nixon." In reply I said, "Just remember that sometimes in history even a tragic mistake produces something good. The good about Vietnam is that it is such a terrible blunder, we'll never go down that road again." Mr. President, we're going down that road again. So, what do I tell my daughters? And what do you tell your daughters?
Mr. President, I do not speak either as a pacifist or a draft dodger. I speak as one who after the attack on Pearl Harbor, volunteered at the age of nineteen for the Army Air Corps and flew thirty-five missions as a B-24 bomber. I believed in that war then and I still do sixty-five years later. And so did the rest of America. Mr. President, are you missing the intellectual and moral capacity to know the difference between a justified war and a war of folly in Vietnam or Iraq?
Public opinion polls indicate that two-thirds of the American people think that the war in Iraq has been a mistake on your part. It is widely believed that this war was the central reason Democrats captured control of both houses of Congress. Polls among the people of Iraq indicate that nearly all Iraqis want our military presence in their country for the last four years to end now. Why do you persist in defying public opinion in both the United States and Iraq and throughout the other countries around the globe? Do you see yourself as omniscient? What is your view of the doctrine of self-determination, which we Americans hold dear?
And wonder of wonders, Mr. President, after such needless death and destruction, first in the Vietnamese jungle and now in the Arabian desert, how can you order 21,500 more American troops to Iraq? Are you aware that as the war in Vietnam went from bad to worse, our leaders sent in more troops and wasted more billions of dollars until we had 550,000 US troops in that little country? It makes me shudder as an aging bomber pilot to remember that we dropped more bombs on the Vietnamese and their country than the total of all the bombs dropped by all the air forces around the world in World War II. Do you, Mr. President, honestly believe that we need tens of thousands of additional troops plus a supplemental military appropriation of $200 billion before we can bring our troops home from this nightmare in ancient Baghdad?
In your initial campaign for the Presidency, Mr. Bush, you described yourself as a "compassionate conservative". What is compassionate about consigning America's youth to a needless and seemingly endless war that has now lasted longer than World War II? And what is conservative about reducing the taxes needed to finance this war and instead running our national debt to nine trillion dollars with money borrowed from China, Japan, Germany and Britain? Is this wild deficit financing your idea of conservatism? Mr. President, how can a true conservative be indifferent to the steadily rising cost of a war that claims over $7 billion a month, $237 million every day? Are you troubled to know as a conservative that just the interest on our skyrocketing national debt is $760,000 every day. Mr. President, our Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, estimates that if the war were to continue until 2010 as you have indicated it might, the cost would be over a trillion dollars.
Perhaps, Mr. President, you should ponder the words of a genuine conservative - England's nineteenth-century member of Parliament, Edmund Burke: "A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood".
And, Mr. President at a time when your most respected generals have concluded that the chaos and conflict in Iraq cannot be resolved by more American dollars and more American young bodies, do you ever consider the needs here at home of our own anxious and troubled society? What about the words of another true conservative, General and President Dwight Eisenhower who said that, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed."
And, Mr. President, would not you and all the rest of us do well to ponder the farewell words of President Eisenhower: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of the unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
Finally, Mr. President, I ask have you kept your oath of office to uphold the Constitution when you use what you call the war on terrorism to undermine the Bill of Rights? On what constitutional theory do you seize and imprison suspects without charge, sometimes torturing them in foreign jails? On what constitutional or legal basis have you tapped the phones of Americans without approval of the courts as required by law? Are you above the Constitution, above the law, and above the Geneva accords? If we are fighting for freedom in Iraq as you say, why are you so indifferent to protecting liberty here in America?
Many Americans are now saying in effect, "The American war in Iraq has created a horrible mess but how can we now walk away from it?" William Polk, a former Harvard and University of Chicago professor of Middle East Studies and a former State Department expert on the Middle East, has teamed up with me on a recent book requested by Simon and Schuster. It is entitled, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now. I feel awkward praising it, so I give you the respected journalist of the New York Times, and now of Newsweek, Anna Quindlen who told Charlie Rose on his excellent TV program: "There is a wonderful book I am recommending to everyone. It's a very small, readable book by George McGovern and William Polk called Out of Iraq. And it just very quickly runs you through the history of the country, the makeup of the country, how we got in, the arguments for getting in--many of which don't withstand scrutiny--and how we can get out. It's like a little primer. I think the entire nation should read it and then we will be united."
If you need a second for the judgment of Anna Quindlen, I give you the esteemed Library Journal: "In this crisp and cogently argued book, former Senator McGovern and scholar Polk offer a trenchant and straightforward critique of the war in Iraq. What makes their highly readable book unique is that it not only argues why the United States needs to disengage militarily from Iraq now...but also clearly delineates practical steps for troop withdrawal...Essential reading for anybody who wants to cut through the maze of confusion that surrounds current US policy in Iraq, this book is highly recommended for public and academic libraries."
Professor Polk is a descendant of President Polk and the brother of the noted George Polk, is here today from his home in southern France and he will join me at the podium as I conclude this impartial interrogation of President Bush. And now, members of the National Press Club and your guests, it's your turn to cross-examine Bill Polk and me in, of course, an equally impartial manner.
George McGovern, senator from South Dakota from 1962 to 1980 and Democratic candidate for President in 1972, is the author of The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time.
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Global Warming: the Final Verdict
by Robin McKie
Global warming is destined to have a far more destructive and earlier impact than previously estimated, the most authoritative report yet produced on climate change will warn next week.
A draft copy of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained by The Observer, shows the frequency of devastating storms - like the ones that battered Britain last week - will increase dramatically. Sea levels will rise over the century by around half a metre; snow will disappear from all but the highest mountains; deserts will spread; oceans become acidic, leading to the destruction of coral reefs and atolls; and deadly heatwaves will become more prevalent.
The impact will be catastrophic, forcing hundreds of millions of people to flee their devastated homelands, particularly in tropical, low-lying areas, while creating waves of immigrants whose movements will strain the economies of even the most affluent countries.
'The really chilling thing about the IPCC report is that it is the work of several thousand climate experts who have widely differing views about how greenhouse gases will have their effect. Some think they will have a major impact, others a lesser role. Each paragraph of this report was therefore argued over and scrutinised intensely. Only points that were considered indisputable survived this process. This is a very conservative document - that's what makes it so scary,' said one senior UK climate expert.
Climate concerns are likely to dominate international politics next month. President Bush is to make the issue a part of his state of the union address on Wednesday while the IPCC report's final version is set for release on 2 February in a set of global news conferences.
Although the final wording of the report is still being worked on, the draft indicates that scientists now have their clearest idea so far about future climate changes, as well as about recent events. It points out that:
· 12 of the past 13 years were the warmest since records began;
· ocean temperatures have risen at least three kilometres beneath the surface;
· glaciers, snow cover and permafrost have decreased in both hemispheres;
· sea levels are rising at the rate of almost 2mm a year;
· cold days, nights and frost have become rarer while hot days, hot nights and heatwaves have become more frequent.
And the cause is clear, say the authors: 'It is very likely that [man-made] greenhouse gas increases caused most of the average temperature increases since the mid-20th century,' says the report.
To date, these changes have caused global temperatures to rise by 0.6C. The most likely outcome of continuing rises in greenhouses gases will be to make the planet a further 3C hotter by 2100, although the report acknowledges that rises of 4.5C to 5C could be experienced. Ice-cap melting, rises in sea levels, flooding, cyclones and storms will be an inevitable consequence.
Past assessments by the IPCC have suggested such scenarios are 'likely' to occur this century. Its latest report, based on sophisticated computer models and more detailed observations of snow cover loss, sea level rises and the spread of deserts, is far more robust and confident. Now the panel writes of changes as 'extremely likely' and 'almost certain'.
And in a specific rebuff to sceptics who still argue natural variation in the Sun's output is the real cause of climate change, the panel says mankind's industrial emissions have had five times more effect on the climate than any fluctuations in solar radiation. We are the masters of our own destruction, in short.
There is some comfort, however. The panel believes the Gulf Stream will go on bathing Britain with its warm waters for the next 100 years. Some researchers have said it could be disrupted by cold waters pouring off Greenland's melting ice sheets, plunging western Europe into a mini Ice Age, as depicted in the disaster film The Day After Tomorrow.
The report reflects climate scientists' growing fears that Earth is nearing the stage when carbon dioxide rises will bring irreversible change to the planet. 'We are seeing vast sections of Antarctic ice disappearing at an alarming rate,' said climate expert Chris Rapley, in a phone call to The Observer from the Antarctic Peninsula last week. 'That means we can expect to see sea levels rise at about a metre a century from now on - and that will have devastating consequences.'
However, there is still hope, said Peter Cox of Exeter University. 'We are like alcoholics who have got as far as admitting there is a problem. It is a start. Now we have got to start drying out - which means reducing our carbon output.'
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007
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Saving The Planet: Empty Gestures
by Nigel Pollitt
At Christmas I was given a copy of the book of the film An Inconvenient Truth, by the American politician Al Gore. It was from two people. One of them drives an SUV and both are frequent fliers. I was given the present at a gathering under recessed halogen spotlights, a popular system that, typically, doubles the electricity consumed by a room's lighting and greatly increases ceiling heat-loss. Few in the room were wearing anything that, by the standards of earlier ages, could have been considered winter clothing. Some of the food on the table - figs and blueberries - originated several thousand miles away. And, while tap-water in the area is quaffable, bottled mineral water from France accompanied our celebration.
The six adults and two children present were people who, if cornered, would probably say that Something Should Be Done about rising carbon emissions. As well as this, all the adults were cooks, and cooks are the people most likely to understand that doubling a very small but potent ingredient can have a very big effect on a result. Carbon dioxide is less than 1 per cent of the atmosphere. Yet doubling it, which is what we're heading towards, is sending the planet to the emergency room.
This month, the EU's environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, called the struggle to halt climate change a "world war". The Tories are pitching for an 80 per cent cut in UK carbon emissions by 2050. Even the Confederation of British Industry has a task force on it.
But we, in our homes and on holiday, go on as before. The friend who raved about the Al Gore film whacks up the heat and wears a T-shirt indoors. I bang on about halogen downlights but do nothing about the picturesque but colossally leaky wooden sash windows in my picturesque but colossally leaky Victorian house. If my 1880s stained glass was under threat, I'd get a handgun. What's going on?
"People see it as such a big, difficult problem. They ask how on Earth can they influence it in their day-to-day behaviour," says Nick Pidgeon, a professor of applied psychology at Cardiff University, and the co-author of several studies on attitudes to climate change. "They say overwhelmingly that the Government or international community should be responsible for action, but are not changing their own behaviour because it all seems too much."
It's also about connecting, he says. "We understand the consequences of climate change, but there's a disconnect with our actions. People don't think about climate change when they get in the car. And when taking a risk [of damaging the climate] has personal benefits, there's much less pressure to change behaviour. Getting in the car has an immediate benefit."
And although Commissioner Dimas talks of world war, Hitler hasn't invaded Poland yet. There has been Katrina and some extra drought, but the Gulf Stream still pumps Caribbean warmth to Europe. We haven't seen crop failure in Hampshire. Bread still comes from the supermarket.
There's also that tic that psychologists call cognitive dissonance. If reality has square edges, you file them down. You buy a diesel car. Then you read about the dangers of unburnt nanoparticles, but brighten up when a friend says that diesel cars have lower CO2 emissions.
Last year I was invited to India by a friend. I felt awful about burning, in a few hours, the equivalent of a couple of years of my normal carbon output and, for this among other reasons, did not go. But I could have filed down those square edges, couldn't I? Reduced the dissonance. After all, as one friend said, we only produce 2 per cent of global carbon in Britain. China and India are the problem. The friend who invited me commented: "I think the plane is going to fly that day whether you are on it or not."
My own response was to say, if there were rationing of long-haul flights to a globally sustainable level, I would go. There isn't, and I didn't.
The point is that, bizarrely, dealing with climate change is, so far, presented to us as a lifestyle choice. The current ads from the Energy Saving Trust urging us to switch off are the equivalent of wartime posters saying how it would be really helpful if you could black out your windows during air-raids. Accordingly, our response to the threat of climate change is lost in complex and contradictory individual responses. There's the sense too, of the futility of boycott. Why should I stop flying if no one else does?
As Mike Childs, a climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, points out: "At the moment the economic signals [to the individual] are that climate change doesn't really matter. The economic signals don't suggest you should do the right thing. So there may have to be punitive taxes on flying to India or Prague, so you say, 'that's a ridiculous amount of money, I can't afford to fly there'."
Should there be rationing? Coupons for carbon? "The idea of a trading scheme, with tradeable quotas, say in aviation, has its attractions," says Childs. "Then it's not all down to the individual." He accepts, however, that there may have to be "catastrophe that creates a groundswell of public pressure" for drastic action.
In the past, wars were won using the brutality of conscription. Cities were defended and populations fed through regulations and rationing. If human populations are to survive against a far bigger threat than Hitler or al-Qa'ida or avian flu, won't governments have to be brutal? Turn off the power, perhaps? It's been done before, so surely it's do-able. We won't fly for our holidays and we won't drink Evian and maybe we'll even enjoy the spirit of the carbon blitz. If we're lucky, the Gulf Stream won't turn off and we won't end up with the climate of Newfoundland.
But according to Professor Pidgeon, we're just not going to change our behaviour enough voluntarily. "We could all end up with low-energy lightbulbs but still flying to the Alps for the weekend. Under those circumstances, a government is going to have to take some pretty tough action."
We are challenged, morally, to change our behavior, as individuals, but the bigger challenge is for our leaders to come up with a proper coordinated survival plan. They'll need our backing.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
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It is not being a spoilsport to point out that oranges are not a protein source
by Gar Lipow
David Roberts strongly objected to a critique of offsets and especially of credits for tree planting. The critique was originally made in the comments section of a post on a "carbon neutral" Super Bowl.
Bruce Sterling chimed in, noting that nobody can compete for purity with the dead. This is first rate irony, but unless the intention is that no one should ever criticize false solutions, no matter how wrongheaded, it only has bite if the solutions critiqued actually work. Tree planting may do all sorts of good things, but outside the tropics, it is not a significant way to fight global warming.
Let's start by looking at the Livermore study (PDF) showing that tree planting outside of tropical zones does not result in net cooling. The key here is albedo -- reflectivity of light. Trees are darker than the grass they replace. (If soil is wet and fertile enough for trees but does not have them, odds are there will be grass or other ground cover.)
So, more sunlight is converted into the long-wave radiation that greenhouse gases trap. A number of commentators on the Super Bowl post sneered at the idea that albedo can significantly affect global warming. But it is a known feedback, and one of the ways the melting of the icecaps speeds climate chaos. At the low level of potential sequestration we are talking about it is significant.
In the tropics, conditions are different. In the intense sun of that environment, tree photosynthesis is far superior to grass photosynthesis; also, trees transpire more than grass. (Transpiration is a process whereby plants emit water vapor -- as part of the circulation of nutrients, but also for cooling purposes.)
There are still problems with the tree plantations that are the most common form of tree planting in the tropics. In terms of global warming, these problems include the fact that the trees are often replacing other trees, and they are often harvested. In terms of other ecological effects, these plantations are usually monocultures, reducing biodiversity. In terms of human effects, local inhabitants are often thrown off their land to make way for these plantations. However, not all tropical tree planting is in such plantations; tree planting can make real contributions to tropical life. (Even then, carbon credits are not the right way to encourage tree planting: more on this later.)
Now is this rock solid consensus science? No; though I will note it was peer reviewed before publication, and a year after publication has stood up to all criticism so far. But I would compare critiques made of the net energy of corn ethanol. Even if corn ethanol produces a tiny amount of net energy, the difference between net input and output is so small that you would be much better off investing the money in other things. (Cellulosic ethanol is an entirely different story.) At the moment, the argument that planting trees outside the tropics results in net warming has not been refuted. But even if it is, I suspect the refutation won't show any large net sequestration. I predict that any successful rebuttal will show such a small net sequestration per tree that you can gain much greater reductions by investing money in expensive PV electricity generation. In fact, I will bet a Super Bowl t-shirt on that, if anyone is interested in a wager.
Note, by the way, that this is not an argument for cutting down existing trees, which contain decades or centuries of stored carbon. It is not even an argument against planting trees outside the tropics. (Net heating is very small and can easily be compensated for by other types of savings.) It is an argument against planting new trees outside the tropics with fighting global warming as the main goal. It is simple realism not to do what doesn't work, or attribute some virtue to a process that it does not possess.
Offsets in general are a really poor idea, but even where trees do sequester carbon, offset credits from trees are an especially bad idea. First, most tree offsets (including those purchased for the Super Bowl) are planted after purchase. That means you emit, now, and the offset occurs over the decades that follow. Even if the sequestration is calculated correctly, feedback from carbon emissions ensures that this results in a net loss. That is, you emit X amount of carbon. This results in Y additional feedback. But you only offset X.
Worse, the offset numbers can't be right. The problem is that carbon fixation in plant matter varies a lot -- between species, between the same species in differing micro-climates and soil, between the same trees at differing times. You really can't predict how much carbon a tree sequesters. If you can't put a number on it, it still might be a good idea to encourage it. But if you can't put a number on it, it is a really bad idea to use like a medieval indulgence, an excuse for emitting carbon elsewhere.
This is a problem with offsets in general. With offsets, even production of renewable energy, you can't know how much would have been done in any case. This is known as the "additionality" problem, because no one knows how much additional reduction you are gaining. Further, since we don't have the ability to visit alternate worlds and see what would have happened, we will never know. So when you grant someone credit for a quarter ton of emission reductions, and someone buys that and uses it to emit a quarter ton of CO2, you never know whether you have really broken even or whether you have actually increased net emissions. Both buyer and seller have a strong incentive to assume that the result is a wash; we have no certain way to detect whether their guess is correct or not. So emission credits are the ultimate contradiction -- a market mechanism trying to work without feedback; price signaling that does not convey information.
I have problems with emission trading in general. But when someone has a target they must comply with, and can generate credits only by exceeding that target, at least you're selling something measurable. In comparison, project-based offsets are a nightmare; there is really no feedback beyond the market collapsing from too much counterfeit currency.
Tree planting and encouraging renewables are both good things. But they don't offset carbon emissions, and should not be hyped as doing so by an environmental magazine. Oranges are healthy and good tasting. But they are not a significant protein source. Your local nutritionist can expect criticism if they say otherwise.
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