Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Impossibility of Growth Demands a New Economic System

Why collapse and salvation are hard to distinguish from each other.

Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham(1).

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems(2). It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.

To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues were miraculously to vanish, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.

Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained(3). But coal broke this cycle and enabled – for a few hundred years – the phenomenon we now call sustained growth.

It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and the pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, as the most accessible reserves have been exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.

On Friday, a few days after scientists announced that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now inevitable(4), the Ecuadorean government decided that oil drilling would go ahead in the heart of the Yasuni national park(5). It had made an offer to other governments: if they gave it half the value of the oil in that part of the park, it would leave the stuff in the ground. You could see this as blackmail or you could see it as fair trade. Ecuador is poor, its oil deposits are rich: why, the government argued, should it leave them untouched without compensation when everyone else is drilling down to the inner circle of hell? It asked for $3.6bn and received $13m. The result is that Petroamazonas, a company with a colourful record of destruction and spills(6), will now enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, in which a hectare of rainforest is said to contain more species than exist in the entire continent of North America(7).

The UK oil company Soco is now hoping to penetrate Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo(8); one of the last strongholds of the mountain gorilla and the okapi, of chimpanzees and forest elephants. In Britain, where a possible 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil has just been identified in the south-east(9), the government fantasises about turning the leafy suburbs into a new Niger delta. To this end it’s changing the trespass laws to enable drilling without consent and offering lavish bribes to local people(10,11). These new reserves solve nothing. They do not end our hunger for resources; they exacerbate it.

The trajectory of compound growth shows that the scouring of the planet has only just begun. As the volume of the global economy expands, everywhere that contains something concentrated, unusual, precious will be sought out and exploited, its resources extracted and dispersed, the world’s diverse and differentiated marvels reduced to the same grey stubble.

Some people try to solve the impossible equation with the myth of dematerialisation: the claim that as processes become more efficient and gadgets are miniaturised, we use, in aggregate, fewer materials. There is no sign that this is happening. Iron ore production has risen 180% in ten years(12). The trade body Forest Industries tell us that “global paper consumption is at a record high level and it will continue to grow.”(13) If, in the digital age, we won’t reduce even our consumption of paper, what hope is there for other commodities?

Look at the lives of the super-rich, who set the pace for global consumption. Are their yachts getting smaller? Their houses? Their artworks? Their purchase of rare woods, rare fish, rare stone? Those with the means buy ever bigger houses to store the growing stash of stuff they will not live long enough to use. By unremarked accretions, ever more of the surface of the planet is used to extract, manufacture and store things we don’t need. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that fantasies about the colonisation of space – which tell us we can export our problems instead of solving them – have resurfaced(14).

As the philosopher Michael Rowan points out, the inevitabilities of compound growth mean that if last year’s predicted global growth rate for 2014 (3.1%) is sustained, even if we were miraculously to reduce the consumption of raw materials by 90% we delay the inevitable by just 75 years(15). Efficiency solves nothing while growth continues.

The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st Century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention. More

 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Scholarships Available for Caribbean Students – Latin American Student Energy Summit

Latin American and Caribbean students are eligible for scholarships to attend the Latin American Student Energy Summit will take place at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City from June 9 to 21, 2014.

The scholarships are intended for undergraduate students to work on energy issues (graduate students are also eligible). Applications are expected by Saturday, 7 June 2014. The event is part of a series of Regional Student Energy Summits that will occur simultaneously with others in Africa, North America and Europe.

For More Information click image below

 

Caribbean seeks to take full advantage of new U.N. climate fund

“Despite our region’s well-known, high vulnerability and exposure to climate change, Caribbean countries have not accessed or mobilised international climate finance at levels commensurate with our needs,” said Dr. Warren Smith, the president of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

The CDB, which ended its annual board of governors meeting here on Thursday, May 29, had the opportunity for a first-hand dialogue on the operations on the GCF, through its executive director, Hela Cheikhrouhou, who delivered the 15th annual William Demas Memorial lecture.

But even as she addressed the topic “The Green Climate Fund; Great Expectations,” Smith reminded his audience that on a daily basis the Caribbean was becoming more aware of the severe threat posed by climate change.

“Seven Caribbean countries…are among the top 10 countries, which, relative to their GDP, suffered the highest average economic losses from climate-related disasters during the period 1993-2012.

“It is estimated that annual losses could be between five and 30 percent of GDP within the next few decades,” he added.

According to a Tufts University report, published after the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study and comparing an optimistic rapid stabilisation case with a pessimistic business-as-usual case, the cost of inaction in the Caribbean will have dramatic consequences in three key categories. Namely hurricane damages, loss of tourism revenue and infrastructure damage due to sea-level rise.

The costs of inaction would amount to 22 percent of GDP for the Caribbean as a whole by 2100 and would reach an astonishing 75 percent or more of GDP by 2100 in Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Turks and Caicos.

“In the Caribbean, the concern of Small Island Developing States is all too familiar – the devastating effects of hurricanes have been witnessed by many. Although Caribbean nations have contributed little to the release of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change, they will pay a heavy price for global inaction in reducing emissions,” Cheikhrouhou warned.

Executive director of the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), Dr. Kenrick Leslie told IPS that regional countries were now putting their project proposals together to make sure they could take full advantage of the GCF.

“The CARICOM [Caribbean Community] heads of government, for instance have asked the centre to help in putting together what they consider bankable projects and we are in the process of going to each member state to ensure that we have projects that as soon as the GCF comes on line we would be among the first to be able to present these projects for consideration.”

Leslie said that in the past, Caribbean countries had been faced with various obstacles in order to access funds from the various global initiatives to deal with climate change.

“For instance if we mention the Clean Development Mechanism [CDM], the cost was prohibitive because our programmes were so small that the monies you would need upfront to do it were not attractive to the investors.”

He said the Caribbean also suffered a similar fate from the Adaptation Fund, noting “we have moved to another level where they said we will have greater access, but again the process was much more difficult than we had anticipated.”

The GCF was agreed at the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Cancun, Mexico. Its purpose is to make a significant contribution to the global efforts to limit warming to 2°C by providing financial support to developing countries to help limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. There are hopes that the fund could top 100 billion dollars per annum by 2020.

“Our vision is to devise new paradigms for climate finance, maximise the impact of public finance in a creative way, and attract new sources of public and private finance to catalyse investment in adaptation and mitigation projects in the developing world,” the Tunisian-born Cheikhrouhou told IPS.

She said that by catalysing public and private funding at the international, regional, and national levels through dedicated programming in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and as a driver of climate resilient development, the GCF is poised to play a relevant and timely role in climate action globally.

Cheikhrohou said that it would be most advisable if Caribbean countries “can think of programmatic approaches to submit proposals that are aggregating a series of projects or a project in a series of countries.”

She said that by adopting such a strategy, it would allow regional countries “to reach the scale that would simplify the transaction costs for each sub activity for the country” and that that she believes the GCF has “built on the lessons learnt from the other mechanisms and institutions in formulating our approach.

“To some extent there is embedded in the way of doing work this idea of following the lead of the countries making sure they are the ones to come forward with their strategic priorities and making sure we have the tools to accompany them through the cycle of activities, projects or programmes starting with the preparatory support for the development of projects,” she told IPS.

Selwin Hart, the climate change finance advisor with the CDB, said the GCF provides an important opportunity for regional countries to not only adapt to climate change but also to mitigate its effects. He is also convinced that it would assist the Caribbean move towards renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“The cost of energy in the Caribbean is the highest in the world. This represents a serious strike on competitiveness, economic growth and job creation and the GCF presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for countries to have a stable source to financing to address the vulnerabilities both as it relates to importing fossil fuels as well as the impacts of climate change,” he said.

 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy?

The professor who teaches Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory claims, "This course will change your life."

Picture a world where human relationships are challenging, narcissism and self-centeredness are on the rise, and there is disagreement on the best way for people to live harmoniously together.

It sounds like 21st-century America. But the society that Michael Puett, a tall, 48-year-old bespectacled professor of Chinese history at Harvard University, is describing to more than 700 rapt undergraduates is China, 2,500 years ago.

Puett's course Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory has become the third most popular course at the university. The only classes with higher enrollment are Intro to Economics and Intro to Computer Science. The second time Puett offered it, in 2007, so many students crowded into the assigned room that they were sitting on the stairs and stage and spilling out into the hallway. Harvard moved the class to Sanders Theater, the biggest venue on campus.

Why are so many undergraduates spending a semester poring over abstruse Chinese philosophy by scholars who lived thousands of years ago? For one thing, the class fulfills one of Harvard's more challenging core requirements, Ethical Reasoning. It's clear, though, that students are also lured in by Puett's bold promise: “This course will change your life.”

His students tell me it is true: that Puett uses Chinese philosophy as a way to give undergraduates concrete, counter-intuitive, and even revolutionary ideas, which teach them how to live a better life. Elizabeth Malkin, a student in the course last year, says, “The class absolutely changed my perspective of myself, my peers, and of the way I view the world.” Puett puts a fresh spin on the questions that Chinese scholars grappled with centuries ago. He requires his students to closely read original texts (in translation) such as Confucius’s Analects, the Mencius, and the Daodejing and then actively put the teachings into practice in their daily lives. His lectures use Chinese thought in the context of contemporary American life to help 18- and 19-year-olds who are struggling to find their place in the world figure out how to be good human beings; how to create a good society; how to have a flourishing life.

Puett began offering his course to introduce his students not just to a completely different cultural worldview but also to a different set of tools. He told me he is seeing more students who are “feeling pushed onto a very specific path towards very concrete career goals” than he did when he began teaching nearly 20 years ago. A recent report shows a steep decline over the last decade in the number of Harvard students who are choosing to major in the humanities, a trend roughly seen across the nation’s liberal arts schools. Finance remains the most popular career for Harvard graduates. Puett sees students who orient all their courses and even their extracurricular activities towards practical, predetermined career goals and plans.

Puett tells his students that being calculating and rationally deciding on plans is precisely the wrong way to make any sort of important life decision. The Chinese philosophers they are reading would say that this strategy makes it harder to remain open to other possibilities that don’t fit into that plan. Students who do this “are not paying enough attention to the daily things that actually invigorate and inspire them, out of which could come a really fulfilling, exciting life,” he explains. If what excites a student is not the same as what he has decided is best for him, he becomes trapped on a misguided path, slated to begin an unfulfilling career. Puett aims to open his students’ eyes to a different way to approach everything from relationships to career decisions. He teaches them that:

The smallest actions have the most profound ramifications. Confucius, Mencius, and other Chinese philosophers taught that the most mundane actions can have a ripple effect, and Puett urges his students to become more self-aware, to notice how even the most quotidian acts—holding open the door for someone, smiling at the grocery clerk—change the course of the day by affecting how we feel.

That rush of good feeling that comes after a daily run, the inspiring conversation with a good friend, or the momentary flash of anger that arises when someone cuts in front of us in line—what could they have to do with big life matters? Everything, actually. From a Chinese philosophical point of view, these small daily experiences provide us endless opportunities to understand ourselves. When we notice and understand what makes us tick, react, feel joyful or angry, we develop a better sense of who we are that helps us when approaching new situations. Mencius, a late Confucian thinker (4th century B.C.E.), taught that if you cultivate your better nature in these small ways, you can become an extraordinary person with an incredible influence, altering your own life as well as that of those around you, until finally “you can turn the whole world in the palm of your hand.”

Decisions are made from the heart. Americans tend to believe that humans are rational creatures who make decisions logically, using our brains. But in Chinese, the word for “mind” and “heart” are the same. Puett teaches that the heart and the mind are inextricably linked, and that one does not exist without the other. Whenever we make decisions, from the prosaic to the profound (what to make for dinner; which courses to take next semester; what career path to follow; whom to marry), we will make better ones when we intuit how to integrate heart and mind and let our rational and emotional sides blend into one. Zhuangzi, a Daoist philosopher, taught that we should train ourselves to become “spontaneous” through daily living, rather than closing ourselves off through what we think of as rational decision-making. In the same way that one deliberately practices the piano in order to eventually play it effortlessly, through our everyday activities we train ourselves to become more open to experiences and phenomena so that eventually the right responses and decisions come spontaneously, without angst, from the heart-mind. More

 

This Ice Sheet Will Unleash a Global Superstorm Sandy That Never Ends

If you want to truly grasp the scale of Earth's polar ice sheets, you need some help from Isaac Newton. Newton taught us the universal law of gravitation, which states that all objects are attracted to one another in relation to their masses (and the distance between them).

The ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland are incredibly massive—Antarctica's ice is more than two miles thick in places and 5.4 million square miles in extent. These ice sheets are so large, in fact, that gravitational attraction pulls the surrounding ocean toward them. The sea level therefore rises upward at an angle as you approach an ice sheet, and slopes downward and away as you leave its presence.

This is not good news for humanity. As the ice sheets melt due to global warming, not only do they raise the sea level directly; they also exert a weaker gravitational pull on the surrounding ocean. So water sloshes back toward the continents, where we all live. "If Antarctica shrinks and puts that water in the ocean, the ocean raises around the world, but then Antarctica is pulling the ocean towards it less strongly," explains the celebrated Penn State University glaciologist Richard Alley on the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast. "And as that extra water around Antarctica spreads around the world, we will get a little more sea level rise in the US than the global average."

Alley, a self-described "registered Republican" and host of the PBS program Earth: The Operators' Manual, spoke on the occasion of truly dire news, of the sort that ice sheet experts like him have been dreading for some time. Last week, welearned from two separate research teams that the ice sheet of West Antarctica, which comprises just one relatively small part of Antarctic ice overall but contains enough frozen water to raise global sea levels by some 10 or 11 feet, has been irrevocably destabilized. Scientists have long feared that of all the planet's great ice sheets, West Antarctica would be the first to go, because much of it is marine-based—the front edge of the ice sheet is bathing in increasingly warm water, which is melting it from beneath. Here's a helpful visualization of how this process works:

The great ice sheet naturally wants to push outward and spread into the sea, Alley explains, much like water spreads out when poured onto a flat surface. But the advance is held up by the "grounding line"—the ice sheet's mooring at a particular point on the sea floor.

And here's where the problem arises: The latest research suggests that the ice is melting from below, and thus, losing its moorings. The oceanfront glaciers of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are experiencing "rapid grounding line retreat," in scientific parlance, and this is happening "sooner than we initially expected, scientifically," says Alley. The cause seems to be a change in winds driven by global warming, which in turn is sending more warm water toward Antarctica's glaciers. And as the glaciers lose ice from below, there is less friction with the ground, and thus faster ice flow into the sea, where it can contribute to sea level rise.

"What they found," Alley continues, "is that it's likely that the fuse has already been lit." More

 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Call to Arms: An Invitation to Demand Action on Climate Change

This is an invitation, an invitation to come to New York City. An invitation to anyone who'd like to prove to themselves, and to their children, that they give a damn about the biggest crisis our civilization has ever faced.

My guess is people will come by the tens of thousands, and it will be the largest demonstration yet of human resolve in the face of climate change. Sure, some of it will be exciting – who doesn't like the chance to march and sing and carry a clever sign through the canyons of Manhattan? But this is dead-serious business, a signal moment in the gathering fight of human beings to do something about global warming before it's too late to do anything but watch. You'll tell your grandchildren, assuming we win. So circle September 20th and 21st on your calendar, and then I'll explain.

Since Ban Ki-moon runs the United Nations, he's altogether aware that we're making no progress as a planet on slowing climate change. He presided over the collapse of global-climate talks at Copenhagen in 2009, and he knows the prospects are not much better for the "next Copenhagen" in Paris in December 2015. In order to spur those talks along, he's invited the world's leaders to New York in late September for a climate summit.

But the "world's leaders" haven't been leaders on climate change – at least not leaders enough. Like many of us, they've attended to the easy stuff, but they haven't set the world on a fundamentally new course. Barack Obama is the perfect example: Sure, he's imposed new mileage standards for cars, but he's also opened vast swaths of territory to oil drilling and coal mining, which will take us past Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world's biggest petro producer.

Like other world leaders, that is, he's tried, but not nearly hard enough. Consider what he told The New Yorker in an interview earlier this year: "At the end of the day, we're part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right." And "I think we are fortunate at the moment that we do not face a crisis of the scale and scope that Lincoln or FDR faced."

We do, though; we face a crisis as great as any president has ever encountered. Here's how his paragraph looks so far: Since he took office, summer sea ice in the Arctic has mostly disappeared, and at the South Pole, scientists in May made clear that the process of massive melt is now fully under way, with 10 feet of sea-level rise in the offing. Scientists have discovered the depth of changes in ocean chemistry: that seawater is 30 percent more acidic than just four decades ago, and it's already causing trouble for creatures at the bottom of the marine food chain. America has weathered the hottest year in its history, 2012, which saw a drought so deep that the corn harvest largely failed. At the moment, one of the biggest states in Obama's union, California, is caught in a drought deeper than any time since Europeans arrived. Hell, a few blocks south of the U.N. buildings, Hurricane Sandy turned the Lower East Side of New York into a branch of the East River. And that's just the United States. The world's scientists earlier this spring issued a 32-volume report explaining exactly how much worse it's going to get, which is, to summarize, a lot worse even than they'd thought before. It's not that the scientists are alarmists – it's that the science is alarming. Here's how one Princeton scientist summarized the situation for reporters: "We're all sitting ducks."

The gap between "We're all sitting ducks" and "We do not face a crisis" is the gap between halfhearted action and the all-out effort that might make a difference. It's the gap between changing light bulbs and changing the system that's powering our destruction.

In a rational world, no one would need to march. In a rational world, policymakers would have heeded scientists when they first sounded the alarm 25 years ago. But in this world, reason, having won the argument, has so far lost the fight. The fossil-fuel industry, by virtue of being perhaps the richest enterprise in human history, has been able to delay effective action, almost to the point where it's too late.

So in this case taking to the streets is very much necessary. It's not all that's necessary – a sprawling fossil-fuel resistance works on a hundred fronts around the world, from putting up solar panels to forcing colleges to divest their oil stocks to electioneering for truly green candidates. And it's true that marching doesn't always work: At the onset of the war in Iraq, millions marched, to no immediate avail. But there are moments when it's been essential. This is how the Vietnam War was ended, and segregation too – or consider the nuclear-freeze campaign of the early 1980s, when half a million people gathered in New York's Central Park. The rally, and all the campaigning that led to it, set the mood for a planet – even, amazingly, in the Reagan era. By mid-decade, the conservative icon was proposing to Mikhail Gorbachev that they abolish nuclear weapons altogether.

The point is, sometimes you can grab the zeitgeist by the scruff of the neck and shake it a little. At the moment, the overwhelming sense around the world is nothing will happen in time. That's on the verge of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy – indeed, as I've written in these pages, it's very clear that the fossil-fuel industry has five times as much carbon in its reserves as it would take to break the planet. On current trajectories, the industry will burn it, and governments will make only small whimpering noises about changing the speed at which it happens. A loud movement – one that gives our "leaders" permission to actually lead, and then scares them into doing so – is the only hope of upending that prophecy.

A loud movement is, of necessity, a big movement – and this fossil-fuel resistance draws from every corner of our society. It finds powerful leadership from the environmental-justice community, the poor people, often in communities of color, who have suffered most directly under the reign of fossil fuel. In this country they're survivors of Sandy and Katrina and the BP spill; they're the people whose kids troop off to kindergarten clutching asthma inhalers because they live next to oil refineries, and the people whose reservations become resource colonies. Overseas, they're the ones whose countries are simply disappearing.

Sometimes in the past, trade unionists have fought against environmentalists – but unions in health care, mass transit, higher education, domestic work and building services are all beginning to organize for September, fully aware that there are no jobs on a dead planet. Energy-sector unions see the jobs potential in massive solar installation and a "just transition" off fossil fuels. Here's a banner I know you'll see in the streets of New York: CLIMATE/JOBS. TWO CRISES, ONE SOLUTION.

There will be clergy and laypeople from synagogues and churches and mosques, now rising in record numbers to say, "If the Bible means anything, it means that we need to care for the world God gave us." And there will, of course, be scientists, saying, "What exactly don't you understand about what we've been telling you for a quarter-century?"

And students will arrive from around the country, because who knows better how to cope with long bus rides and sleeping on floors – and who knows better that their very futures are at stake? They're near the front of this battle right now, getting arrested at Harvard and at Washington University as they fight for fossil-fuel divestment, and shaking up the establishment enough that Stanford, with its $18.7 billion endowment, just agreed to get rid of its coal stocks. Don't worry about "kids today." Kids today know how to organize at least as well as kids in the Sixties.

And then there will be those of us plain old middle-class Americans who may still benefit from our lives of cheap fossil fuel, but who just can't stand to watch the world drift into chaos. We look around and see that the price of solar panels has fallen 90 percent in a few decades; we understand that it won't be easy to shift our economy off coal and gas and oil, but we know that it will be easier than coping with temperatures that no human has ever seen. We may have different proposed solutions – carbon taxes! tidal power! – but we know that none of them will happen unless we open up some space. That's our job: opening up space for change on the scale that physics requires. No more fine words, no more nifty websites. Hard deeds. Now. More

 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas (and the Cayman Islands?)

The National Security Agency is secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government. Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month.

SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which The Intercepthas learned is being used to secretly monitor the telecommunications systems of the Bahamas and several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. But while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called “metadata” – information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls – SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country.

All told, the NSA is using MYSTIC to gather personal data on mobile calls placed in countries with a combined population of more than 250 million people. And according to classified documents, the agency is seeking funding to export the sweeping surveillance capability elsewhere.

The program raises profound questions about the nature and extent of American surveillance abroad. The U.S. intelligence community routinely justifies its massive spying efforts by citing the threats to national security posed by global terrorism and unpredictable rival nations like Russia and Iran. But the NSA documents indicate that SOMALGET has been deployed in the Bahamas to locate “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers” – traditional law-enforcement concerns, but a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction.

“The Bahamas is a stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and rule of law with the United States,” the State Department concluded in a crime and safety report published last year. “There is little to no threat facing Americans from domestic (Bahamian) terrorism, war, or civil unrest.”

By targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network, the NSA is intentionally collecting and retaining intelligence on millions of people who have not been accused of any crime or terrorist activity. Nearly five million Americans visit the country each year, and many prominent U.S. citizens keep homes there, including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

In addition, the program is a serious – and perhaps illegal – abuse of the access to international phone networks that other countries willingly grant the United States for legitimate law-enforcement surveillance. If the NSA is using the Drug Enforcement Administration’s relationship to the Bahamas as a cover for secretly recording the entire country’s mobile phone calls, it could imperil the longstanding tradition of international law enforcement cooperation that the United States enjoys with its allies.

“It’s surprising, the short-sightedness of the government,” says Michael German, a fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice who spent 16 years as an FBI agent conducting undercover investigations. “That they couldn’t see how exploiting a lawful mechanism to such a degree that you might lose that justifiable access – that’s where the intelligence community is acting in a way that harms its long-term interests, and clearly the long-term national security interests of the United States.”

The NSA refused to comment on the program, but said in a statement that “the implication that NSA’s foreign intelligence collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false.” The agency also insisted that it follows procedures to “protect the privacy of U.S. persons” whose communications are “incidentally collected.”

Informed about the NSA’s spying, neither the Bahamian prime minister’s office nor the country’s national security minister had any comment. The embassies of Mexico, Kenya, and the Philippines did not respond to phone messages and emails.

In March, The Washington Post revealed that the NSA had developed the capability to record and store an entire nation’s phone traffic for 30 days. The Post reported that the capacity was a feature of MYSTIC, which it described as a “voice interception program” that is fully operational in one country and proposed for activation in six others. (The Post also referred to NSA documents suggesting that MYSTIC was pulling metadata in some of those countries.) Citing government requests, the paper declined to name any of those countries.

The Intercept has confirmed that as of 2013, the NSA was actively using MYSTIC to gather cell-phone metadata in five countries, and was intercepting voice data in two of them. Documents show that the NSA has been generating intelligence reports from MYSTIC surveillance in the Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and one other country, which The Intercept is not naming in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence. The more expansive full-take recording capability has been deployed in both the Bahamas and the unnamed country.

MYSTIC was established in 2009 by the NSA’s Special Source Operations division, which works with corporate partners to conduct surveillance. Documents in the Snowden archive describe it as a “program for embedded collection systems overtly installed on target networks, predominantly for the collection and processing of wireless/mobile communications networks.” More

 

Friday, May 16, 2014

New York Moves to Revolutionize Power Grid with System That Boosts Solar and Wind Energy Read more: New York Moves to Revolutionize Power Grid With Distributed Electricity Generation | Inhabitat New York City

New York State is proposing a revolutionary change to how utilities operate that would move away from the 20th century business model of centralized power stations to a 21st century market-based distributed energy system that would givesolar and wind a big boost.

Last week, the Public Service Commission (PSC) released a report entitled Reforming the Energy Vision calling for sweeping changes in the regulatory structure of electricity utilities to make it easier for smaller renewable energy producers such as rooftop solar owners to feed into the grid.

“The 21st century grid is going to have a lot more distributed resources,” Audrey Zibelman, chairman of the PSC, told Bloomberg News. “The scope is comprehensive: solar, energy efficiency, storage. Let’s make it the core to the redesign, not ancillary.”

Making the grid cleaner and more efficient via the distributed generation model dubbed “Utilities 2.0″ will help the Empire State meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and Renewable Portfolio Standard. With rising sea levels and more extreme weather from man-made global warming, independent transmitters and microgrids could prevent large-scale power outages such as the ones we saw in lower Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn and other areas during Superstorm Sandy.

The PSC is also calling for a restructuring of rate incentives to encourage renewable energy and energy efficiency. The agency is proposing regulations that extend the length of utility rate plans to as much as eight years and connect utility profits with the pursuit of long-term customer value.

“For more than 100 years, the generation and distribution of electricity in New York has been largely unchanged, but today we’re taking a giant step from the status quo and leading the way on energy modernization,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. More

Reforming the Energy Vision - Report and Proposal

 

Coral Reefs Protect Shorelines By Reducing Wave Energy By 97 Percent, Study Finds

Coral reefs provide substantial protection against wave energy, lessening the impact of sea level rise and intense storm surges for 7 million people in the U.S. alone, according to a new report.

The report, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, reviewed 255 studies on the protective nature of coral reefs and found that reefs reduce wave energy by 97 percent on average, causing the waves that reach the shoreline to be significantly calmer than they would have been without the reefs. Michael Beck, one of the authors of the report and senior scientist for the Nature Conservancy, said he was surprised at the 97 percent average for reef wave reduction. He said he knew it would be a large number — other studies have shown that reefs are effective at reducing wave energy, but none yet had quantified it ocean-wide — but he didn’t know just how big.

The report also found that worldwide, 197 million people are protected by reefs, and that maintaining the health of coral reefs is far less expensive than installing artificial defenses — according to the report, the median cost of building artificial wave defenses is $19,791 per meter, while the median cost of coral restoration projects is $1,290 per meter. Beck said the Nature Conservancy is working in a coral reef in Grenville, Grenada to build back the reef’s crest, the highest part of the reef that’s the most important for wave-breaking. He said degredation of the reef crest, which has been caused over the last 50 years by climate change, pollution, and sand mining, can explain a “huge amount” of the erosion and sedimentation that’s been occurring in the bay.

“A variety of causes has led to a little bit of degradation in height in the reef, and when you’ve lost that height in the reef, you can suddenly explain a huge amount of problems that have been happening,” he said.

Beck’s team has been been building back the reef in Grenada by using old coral rubble and concrete blocks, then trying to regrow the living coral on those structures. Projects like that, he said, are important to coral reefs’ survival — though coral is threatened gravely by climate change and ocean acidification, he said reefs “can be resilient” and recover from stresses like bleaching. He pointed to a mass bleaching event that occurred in 1998, after El NiƱo drove up water temperatures worldwide, as evidence. Though many were worried the reefs wouldn’t bounce back from this event, which was the most extensive and severe in history, certain reefs did recover, despite significant losses worldwide.

“Those reefs that were managed well, where you reduce the other stressors like pollution and overfishing, recovered,” he said. “Living coral came back and came back in quite good abundances in places were coral reefs were managed well.”

That event points to the need for better reef management, Beck said, especially now, as reefs around the world continue to suffer the effects of warming oceans, pollution, fishing practices and other impacts. Elkhorn coral, which play an integral role in the reef ecosystem of the Florida Keys, are being killed off by White Pox disease, which one researcher says is likely caused by untreated human sewage that enters the ocean through leaky septic systems in Florida. And outside of the 1998 event, scientists have found other significant evidence of coral bleaching, an effect that’s due to warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures and is likely to get worse as the ocean warms.

Other coastal and marine ecosystems provide protection from storm surge, sea level rise and erosion, but they too are struggling with human-induced impacts — in fact, Beck said coral reefs are in better shape worldwide than oyster reefs and mangrove forests. These coastal ecosystems have also been found to be a cost-effective way of providing protection — an April report noted restoring ecosystems like oyster reefs can create more jobs than offshore oil development and provide $15 in net economic benefits for every $1 invested. More

 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Architecture for the 21st Century with Michael Reynolds

What do beer cans, car tires and water bottles have in common?

Not much unless you're renegade architect Michael Reynolds, in which case they are tools of choice for producing thermal mass and energy-independent housing. For 30 years New Mexico-based Reynolds and his green disciples have devoted their time to advancing the art of "Earthship Biotecture" by building self-sufficient, off-the-grid communities where design and function converge in eco-harmony.

However, these experimental structures that defy state standards create conflict between Reynolds and the authorities, who are backed by big business. Frustrated by antiquated legislation, Reynolds lobbies for the right to create a sustainable living test site. While politicians hum and ha, Mother Nature strikes, leaving communities devastated by tsunamis and hurricanes. Reynolds and his crew seize the opportunity to lend their pioneering skills to those who need it most.


Shot over three years and in four countries, Garbage Warrior is a timely portrait of a determined visionary, a hero of the 21st century...

 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Noam Chomsky: The Anthropocene Period and its Challenges

 

(2014) "Noam Chomsky": The Anthropocene Period and its Challenges

Uploaded on 29 Apr 2014©2014 Leigha Cohen Video Production http://www.leighacohenvideo.com/

For Noam Chomsky the edge is literal and deadly as he looks into the present and predicted future consequences of how humans in industrial society "Anthropocene Period" are impacting our environment and ecosystems which is increasingly having more extensive and rapid effects to our world. We as always have a choice, as a commons to let this continue or we can we can be the forces of change.

Noam Chomsky who was on of several speakers who spoke at the 10th. Annual Pen World of Voices Festival held April 28, 2014 http://worldvoices.pen.org/event/2014/03/11/opening-night-edge.
Filmed in The Great Hall, The Cooper Union 7 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003 on April 28, 2014 at the 2014 PEN World Voices Festival. Some of the globe's most prominent thinkers each, in turn, brought their enthusiasm for societal improvement to the stage for a short oration http://worldvoices.pen.org/event/2014/03/11/opening-night-edge

Unless otherwise indicated, all materials on in this video are copyrighted to Leigha Cohen Video, All rights reserved. No part of this video may be used for any purpose other than educational use and any monetary gain from this video is prohibited without prior permission from me. Therefore, reproduction, modification, storage in a retrieval system is prohibited. Standard linking of this video is allowed and encouraged.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Global Environment Facility’s Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management

A slate of recently developed Caribbean Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) knowledge products, which focus on tools geared toward building climate resilience in the Caribbean water sector, as well as, resources for the wastewater sector professionals, were launched at a two-day (April 29-30) Regional Meeting of Partners in the Water and Wastewater Sector in the Caribbean this week.

The products include those developed under the Caribbean Climate Online Risk and Adaptation Tool (CCORAL)-Water initiative, a joint collaboration between GWP-C and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), funded by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. The Session will also showcase wastewater videos and materials from the GEF CReW, an effluent discharge database and other resources.

The Global Water Partnership (GWP) technical focus paper on IWRM in the Caribbean: The challenges facing SIDS.

Over the course of the two-day Regional Meeting of Partners in the Water and Wastewater Sector in the Caribbean, the Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C), the United Nations Environment Programme, Caribbean Regional Coordinating Unit (UNEP-CAR/RCU) and the Global Environment Facility’s Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (GEF CReW) hosted a Knowledge Sharing Session on New Tools and Resources for IWRM in the Caribbean.

IWRM is an holistic approach to managing water that takes into consideration that different uses of water are interdependent. IWRM means that water allocations and management decisions consider the effects of each use on the other. The approach is grounded in the understanding that water resources are an integral component of the ecosystem, a natural resource, and a social and economic good.

Representatives from more than fifty (50) regional and national agencies in water and wastewater management are scheduled to attend the Session. Download Press Release here. More

Credit: Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C)

www.caymaninstitute.org.ky/pdf/04_Caribbean_TFP_2014.pdf