Category Archives: global warming

fracking is just one symptom of our diseased democracies: how do we find a cure?

Of all the many troubles we face, from the huge repercussions of giving free rein to a criminal and insolvent financial services ‘industry’, to the rapid installment of a super-Orwellian grid for mass surveillance thanks to the NSA and GCHQ (and it’s hard to draw a clear division between the two agencies since evidently they share so much of our data and metadata), there is one that fills me with a more imminent sense of foreboding. That singular issue, fracking, my personal bugbear (at least for the present), somehow encapsulating everything that is so diabolically wrong with our democracies.

A branch-line of arguably the most ruthless and disreputable of all corporate sectors – takes some doing, but the hydrocarbon industry would at the very least be nominated for such an award, and that’s to say nothing of fracking pioneers Halliburton – first puts out its totally ludicrous lie that fracking has never caused any significant damage either to the environment or to human health. Notwithstanding such scandalous denials, the spokesmen of this same industry then lie again in efforts to allay our fears, making contradictory assertions that fracking in the UK will be completely, absolutely, and categorically different to more lax fracking practices carried out in other places. Perhaps even more flabbergasting, however, is that anyone outside of the industry gives credence to any of these corporate refutations and guarantees, yet predictably, it seems, some do… which amply illustrates the efficacy of a deviously clever and exceedingly well-funded public relations campaign.

Nevertheless, as trial drilling began in Britain, protesters gathered in huge numbers – just as anti-fracking protesters have gathered in huge numbers throughout the world. They came out to remind our contemptible Con-Dem government that this is not simply an environmental issue (as vitally important as this is), but that without proper consultation with local communities, any permission granted to frack under our neighbourhoods means yet another stab into the heart of (what we laughably still call) our democracy.

So back in early July, shortly after government plans for widespread fracking in Britain had been revealed, I decided to contact local constituency Labour MP Paul Blomfield in order to express my alarm. At the time I didn’t know if Blomfield felt similarly concerned about fracking nor the Labour Party’s official position. But I dashed off a quick email as follows:

Dear Paul,

The most pressing environmental issue facing this area of the world right now is fracking. Please stand up and challenge these plans to begin destroying our beautiful countryside and poisoning the precious ground water.

Best wishes,

James Boswell

Not the best email I’ve ever written, and after a month without reply I imagined it had found its contents emptied into Paul Blomfield’s recycle bin. But no, come mid August [14th] and to my surprise, Blomfield had put together an extended reply that was waiting in my own inbox:

Dear James

Thank you for your e-mail concerning fracking.

It must be a top priority to decarbonise our power supply as a matter of urgency if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. This is why the Labour party has said this will be in our manifesto at the General Election. Indeed I challenged David Cameron on a decarbonisation target for the power sector at Prime Minister’s Questions in February and pressed the issue with the Energy Secretary Ed Davey in June. I feel strongly about these issues, am a member of Sheffield Renewables and recently, working with Green Alliance UK, organised a city-wide conference on the potential of community energy schemes.

However I would not completely rule out any role for shale gas within the UK’s energy mix, if it is accompanied by an expansion of renewable energy capacity and investment in carbon capture and storage. But it makes no sense at all for the Government to announce tax breaks and industry incentives before we know how much shale gas is actually recoverable, or before anyone even has a licence to extract it. This money should instead have been used to kick-start a major national retrofit scheme, which would reduce carbon emissions and bills and create thousands green-collar jobs. The UK has among the best renewable resources / technology in the world and we should be seizing this great opportunity, including research in to carbon capture and storage.

Finally, it is vital that we fully address the wider environmental concerns associated with fracking. It is therefore crucial that Parliament is able to properly scrutinise the Government’s proposals and to ensure that key environmental safeguards are met and that there is robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring in place.

The Labour Party has consistently called for a new regulatory regime for fracking, recognising that the current system is outdated and unworkable. We haven’t jumped on the “dash-for-gas” bandwagon and have instead set out six conditions that need to be met before fracking should be allowed:

1. Mandated disclosure of chemicals used in fracking and assessment by regulator of their potential environmental impact and only non-hazardous chemicals to be used in fracking mix.

2. Must be a full assessment of the well integrity to ensure casing and borehole not susceptible to leaking; this must meet current industry standards for other types of drilling.

3. Micro-seismic monitoring of the area prior to any drilling to determine what the potential impact would be on local area.

4. Full assessment of impact of water use on local community, including assessment of how much of the water will be reused or recycled.

5. An assessment of groundwater methane levels prior to fracking.

6. There should be at least a full year’s monitoring of all of the above before any drilling can proceed.

Labour’s Shadow Minister for energy has set out more on our position here: http://centrallobby.politicshome.com/latestnews/article-detail/newsarticle/tom-greatrex-osborne-should-listen-to-obama-on-shale/

Thank you once again for writing to me and sharing your views.

Best wishes,

Paul

Grateful for receiving a genuine response, I was also dismayed. Apparently the Labour Party too – our only major party not in government! – also has big plans for natural gas fracking. Picking between the lines I read “The Labour Party has consistently called for a new regulatory regime for fracking” with Blomfield’s personal position being “I would not completely rule out any role for shale gas within the UK’s energy mix”. In other words, we’ll do fracking too although we’ll be careful to avoid any of that nasty old Tory fracking. New Labour – new fracking! I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything different, but it was depressing nonetheless. I wrote back forthwith:

Dear Paul,

I am grateful to you for replying to my letter but feel that I must disagree with you on a number of important points. To keep this simple, I will try to respond with reference to the points as enumerated.

1. I fail to see how fracking can be done at all without the use of hazardous chemicals. Can you provide examples of fracking carried out anywhere else in the world that uses an environmentally benign mixture of chemicals?

When selling the scheme in Poland the industry also claimed that only non-hazardous chemicals would be used but this turned out to be an outright and deliberate lie.

2. Well casings fail time and time again, I forget the exact percentage but any claim that well casings can be made absolutely secure from leaking is simply another industry lie.

4. Fracking requires enormous quantities of fresh water which will put an immediate strain on our reserves in areas where it is carried out. Much of this water never returns to the surface, which is surely worrying enough, the rest is then polluted not only with the chemicals added but also with any heavy metals and radioactive isotopes dissolved from the shale. Since this contaminated water is costly to dispose of the industry has been caught many times simply spreading it on roads or fields or wherever else happens to be convenient.

5. An assessment of methane levels prior to fracking is better than nothing but it only serves to help in the case of claims for compensation after the damage is done and when people discover their property has become uninhabitable. This has again happened over and over again but the industry regularly uses bribes, threats and non-disclosure agreements to cover up the fact.

6. One year’s monitoring is nothing. Why the big rush? If fracking offers such a potential boon then surely any government should first convince a concerned public by having a proper public debate on the issue.

Additionally, I cannot understand how dislodging large amounts of methane from shale can in anyway help to decarbonise the country. Methane itself is a far more effective greenhouse gas than CO2 and when it is burned again it simply produces CO2.

I am a physicist by training and in truth I am dismayed by the complete lack of imagination and investment when it comes to finding and developing alternative sources of energy. At the beginning of the twenty-first century surely we must find better and cleaner solutions for securing our long term energy needs. We live on a small island surrounded by ocean, so whatever happened to plans for wave and tidal power for instance? Fracking is a short-sighted, short term solution that pollutes land and water and endangers human populations. It is being promoted by the same people who brought us Deep Water Horizon (quite literally in the case of Lord Browne who is the man behind Cuadrilla) and yet for some reason we are now being asked to trust them.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the case of Jessica Ernst who is a Canadian environmental scientist in the process of suing the energy company Encana for the damage done by fracking in Alberta. She points out that although Canada has the highest environmental standards and tightest regulations in the world, when it came to fracking the industry managed to run roughshod over all of that. Here is a link where you can access the relevant documents: http://www.ernstversusencana.ca/

Thanks again for replying to my previous letter. Hopefully, I have now more clearly outlined my objections to plans for widespread fracking of our beautiful island. I look forward to hearing from you.

James

Three months (to the day) have since passed and I am yet to receive any further reply from Paul Blomfield.

More recently I came across yet another documentary investigating environmental and health issues associated with fracking, this time focussing attention on the rush for gas in Britain and, in particular, plans for extensive drilling throughout the Mendips as well as the immediate effects of the test drilling already carried out in Lancashire.

The Truth Behind the Dash For Gas takes a detailed look at the contamination of land and drinking water, seismic effects, as well as other less immediately toxic or hazardous strains that fracking puts on local communities. It starts out, however, by simply making the more straightforward assertion that the UK government has been deeply infiltrated by industry insiders. As evidence for this, it offers a summarised breakdown of appointments to government courtesy of Lord Browne of Cuadrilla (formerly of BP), who had himself been appointed as the government’s “lead non-executive director” in 2010:

He will be the government’s “lead non-executive director”, working with cabinet ministers to appoint people to improve efficiency in each department.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said Lord Browne’s experience would be of “real benefit”.

The appointment comes as Whitehall is being asked to make spending cuts averaging 25% over five years.

Lord Browne will sit on the Cabinet Office board, chaired by Mr Maude. This will look to take on non-executive directors for all government departments.1

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

Another article published more recently in July of this year by The Independent going on to point out that:

There are more than 60 “non-executives” (Neds) who sit across Whitehall departments, largely drawn from Britain’s most impressive corporate talent. Their job is to help ministries be run in a more business-like manner, and Lord Browne is the overall lead for this group.

Lord Browne sits within the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude’s constituency includes Balcombe in West Sussex, another area where Cuadrilla is drilling. On his website, Mr Maude acknowledges that fracking “understandably rang alarm bells” after the tremors in Lancashire, but argues that “shale gas could help significantly by contributing both to improving our security and independence and to keeping prices down”.

Mr Laidlaw has been the lead non-executive at the Department for Transport. Centrica, which owns British Gas, recently bought a one-quarter stake in Cuadrilla’s most promising licence, which is the one in Lancashire.

Baroness Hogg sits in the Treasury, but she is also a non-executive director at BG Group, which has extensive shale gas interests in the US.2

Incidentally, you can find a list of these non-executive directors in Whitehall departments here.

So if it wasn’t bad enough that our politicians are quite openly bought off by lobbyists, the appointments of non-executive directors means that corporations are now also granted an unelected but direct foothold throughout government. As the bloated corporatocracy becomes ever more bloated, our remaining elected representatives presumably wondering who they more profitably serve. They say they work for us, but aside from the website theyworkforyou.com where’s the evidence? Returning to the issue at hand, are the electorate jumping up and down and demanding to be fracked? I certainly don’t hear them. The corporate ‘Neds’ on the other hand…!

George Monbiot expounds the same point in his latest Guardian article entitled “It’s business that really rules us now” and captioned “Lobbying is the least of it: corporate interests have captured the entire democratic process.” His article begins:

It’s the reason for the collapse of democratic choice. It’s the source of our growing disillusionment with politics. It’s the great unmentionable. Corporate power. The media will scarcely whisper its name. It is howlingly absent from parliamentary debates. Until we name it and confront it, politics is a waste of time.

The political role of business corporations is generally interpreted as that of lobbyists, seeking to influence government policy. In reality they belong on the inside. They are part of the nexus of power that creates policy. They face no significant resistance, from either government or opposition, as their interests have now been woven into the fabric of all three main political parties in Britain.

After supplying a range of pertinent examples, Monbiot continues:

The role of the self-hating state is to deliver itself to big business. In doing so it creates a tollbooth economy: a system of corporate turnpikes, operated by companies with effective monopolies.

It’s hardly surprising that the lobbying bill – now stalled by the House of Lords – offered almost no checks on the power of corporate lobbyists, while hog-tying the charities who criticise them. But it’s not just that ministers are not discouraged from hobnobbing with corporate executives: they are now obliged to do so.

Thanks to an initiative by Lord Green, large companies have ministerial “buddies”, who have to meet them when the companies request it. There were 698 of these meetings during the first 18 months of the scheme, called by corporations these ministers are supposed be regulating. Lord Green, by the way, is currently a government trade minister. Before that he was chairman of HSBC, presiding over the bank while it laundered vast amounts of money stashed by Mexican drugs barons. Ministers, lobbyists – can you tell them apart?3

Click here to read the complete article published in the Guardian.

But unfortunately, it’s even worse than that. The corporatocracy already transcending national boundaries and thanks to behind closed-doors “free trade agreements”, quickly reaching a point where corporations will not merely be embedded with governments but enjoying equal status with nation states:

The United States and European Union (EU) are in closed-door negotiations to establish a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) that would elevate individual corporations to equal status with nation states. Seriously.

The pact is slated to include a foreign investor privileges scheme that would empower foreign corporations to bypass domestic laws and courts and demand taxpayer compensation for government actions or policies to safeguard clean air, safe food and stable banks.

This “investor-state” enforcement system would grant foreign firms the power to drag the U.S. and EU governments before extrajudicial tribunals — comprised of three private attorneys — that would be authorized to order unlimited taxpayer compensation for domestic health, financial, environmental and other public interest policies the corporations claim undermine their “expected future profits.” And, there would be no outside appeal.4

So writes Lori Wallach , someone who has testified on NAFTA, WTO, and other globalisation issues before thirty U.S. congressional committees and is currently Director of Public Citizen‘s Global Trade Watch.

Click here to read Lori Wallach’s complete article on Huffington Post.

Around the time that negotiations started on this US-EU free trade deal back in July, claims that it would lead to “an economic bonanza” also came under close scrutiny in the Guardian. Dean Baker, who is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (not to be confused with the unrelated Centre for Economic Policy Research in the UK) , pointing out that:

As growth policy, this trade deal doesn’t pass the laugh test, but that doesn’t mean that it may not be very important to a number of special interests and, for this reason, bad news for most of the public. Since conventional barriers to trade between the US and EU are already very low, the focus of the deal will be on non-conventional barriers, meaning various regulatory practices.

Each industry group has a list of regulations that it finds troublesome, which it has been unable to eliminate or weaken at the national or sub-national level. An EU-US trade agreement provides these industry groups with an opportunity to do an end-run around such regulation.

For example, several countries in Europe and many state and county governments in the United States impose restrictions that make fracking difficult or impossible. In their dream agreement, the oil and gas industries will have a set of minimal restrictions on fracking. The deal will then define anything more stringent as a restraint on trade subject to penalties.

Yes, it’s a deal that once again helps to open the way to that old devil called fracking, but not just fracking… it will loosen regulations for big agra, big pharma, and the financial services ‘industry’. It may even permit tightening of controls that limit the freedom of the internet and without any need for bills like PIPA and SOPA to be passed into law:

There are likely to be similar effects on food regulation. Europe has far more restrictions on genetically modified foods and crops than the United States. Since it is not possible, given current European politics, for the industry to get these restrictions eliminated, it will be looking to include provisions in a trade deal that define limits on genetically modified foods and crops as trade barriers.

Millions of people took part in the efforts last year to defeat Sopa and Pipa, two bills that would require individuals and internet intermediaries to proactively work to stop the transmission of unauthorized reproductions of copyrighted material. The entertainment industry would very much like to include comparable provisions in a trade agreement, so that it can avoid having to have another fight over this issue in Congress.

The financial industry will also be at the table trying to include language that limits the ability of governments to impose regulations. It is likely that it will try to include wording that would make it impossible to enforce a financial transactions tax like the one now being considered by the European Union. Although the industry may not be able to sway enough votes in European parliaments to prevent them from supporting a tax, they can use an EU-US trade deal to make that fact irrelevant.5

Click here to read Dean Baker’s complete Guardian article

Monbiot says “I don’t blame people for giving up on politics” by which he means, I suppose, giving up on our current party political system. However, there are myriad alternative ways in which people remain very actively engaged in politics, and arguably, there have been few times in history when more people have been politically engaged (or perhaps I better mean enraged!) than during recent years.

With our governments already captured by special interests, it is just two years since many hundreds of thousands took to the streets to camp out in protest. Los Indignados leading the way, followed by Occupy Wall Street and then the wider Occupy movement. Those millions failed, but since their dissent was representative of even greater numbers who stayed at home, their valiant stand remains as a political marker. And since Occupy packed up their tents and retreated, the numbers of disaffected have only continued to rise, even if our cries of distress and anger are that much harder to hear. Irrefutably there is indeed a burgeoning interest in politics and a growing desire for a new political direction.

In the long run, protests will only get any movement so far, in any case, and so serious engagement with the democratic remnants of the extant political system is actually the only practical and realistic way forward. Credible and detailed programmes for real change, a basic requirement. Our new policies in turn requiring electable representatives to carry them forward. To take our democracies back we simply have to make use of the ballot box.

In the shorter term, however, protests do indeed help to bring about important, if generally, more local victories. And for once, the documentary I have featured above actually ends on a positive note. Since in spite of the Australian government’s keenness to give fracking the go-ahead, public hostility and the resulting anti-fracking campaign known as Lock the Gate has quickly gathered momentum to become an immense obstacle to further drilling. The campaigners driving the industry away from region after region, and real grassroots democracy for once beating back corporate greed.

The lesson, if we needed it, is that direct action really works – so (and certainly when it comes to fracking) why not follow Australia’s fine example? Meanwhile, letters to your MP cost nothing, and at the very least may help to sow a few seeds of doubt in the minds of our supposed representatives. To reap fuller rewards, however, we need first to retake ownership of territory other than the immediate landscape outside our doors, as vital as that is. We must aim instead to recapture the political heartland itself. Occupying not the streets outside Whitehall, but the corridors of power within. Following this, we may finally be able to start the lengthy treatment needed to cure the main disease, which is corporatocracy – the worst of its symptoms, such as fracking, will then, in turn, abate.

*

Update:

Yesterday [Nov 13th] wikileaks released a 95-page draft of a chapter relating to a different behind closed doors ‘free trade’ agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The agreement, which is being negotiated between the United States and twelve Pacific Rim nations, could also have wide-reaching implications for internet freedom, civil liberties, publishing rights and medicine accessibility with changes to laws on intellectual property rights, product safety and environmental regulations. Today’s Democracy Now! hosted a debate between Bill Watson, who is an analyst at the Cato Institute, and Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch:

 

Here is a brief overview of the debate:

LORI WALLACH: Well, free trade is a pretty theory, but as yesterday’s WikiLeaks showed, the TPP has very little to do with free trade. So, only five of the 29 chapters of the agreement even have to do with trade at all. What’s in that intellectual property chapter? What the Cato Institute would call rent seeking—governments being lobbied by special interests to set up special rules that give them monopolies to charge higher prices. What does that mean for you and me? In that agreement, we now can see the United States is pushing for longer monopoly patents for medicines that would increase the prices here. They’re looking for patenting things like surgical procedures, making even higher medical costs. They’re looking to patent life forms and seeds. And with respect to copyright, the U.S. positions are actually even undermining U.S. law. So, for Internet freedom, if you didn’t like SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, the domestic law that Congress and amazing citizen activism killed last year when it was attempted to be pushed here domestically, huge chunks of SOPA are pushed through the backdoor of this intellectual property chapter.

Now, what the heck is that doing in a free trade agreement? I would imagine the Cato Institute is also wondering: Are Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the free trade philosophers, rolling in their graves? Because that is protectionism. This is patent monopolies. This is copyright extensions. This is actually exactly what Bill just talked about, which is powerful special interests—Big Pharma, Disney and the other big-content guys—undermining us as consumers—our access to the Internet, our access to affordable medicine—and they’re using their power to put that into an agreement that they’ve got misbranded as “free trade.”

BILL WATSON: This is a rare occasion where I do agree with Lori Wallach. I agree that what’s going on in the IP chapter is a special-interest free-for-all, a grab bag, that U.S. companies are pushing to get what they want in these agreements. And the problem, really, with that is that intellectual property is not a trade issue, and it shouldn’t be in the agreement. Originally, adding intellectual property into the agreement was a way to bring on more political support, to be able to bring in U.S. companies to counter other U.S. companies that would oppose the agreement. At this point, I think we’ve gotten to where the intellectual property chapters are so expansive that what you’re seeing is a domestic constituency, people concerned about copyright and patent reform, who are opposing the TPP, not because of anything having to do with trade, but just because it’s going to reform U.S. copyright and patent laws. […]

You know, I’m certainly glad that WikiLeaks published this report. Personally, I like to be able to read it. It’s very interesting. I wish that they would publish the rest of it, to show us the rest of the draft text. I don’t think that it would be, at this point, particularly harmful to the agreement to let us know something about the countries’ negotiating positions.

But I really—I really disagree that the TPP negotiations are especially secret. There’s a lot that goes on in Congress that the public doesn’t know about. When Congress writes a law, we don’t know in advance what it’s going to be before it gets proposed. So, they’re still trying to figure out what the contents of the agreement will be. They don’t know yet; they’re working on it.

LORI WALLACH: Well, first of all, this is extraordinarily secret. I’ve followed these negotiations since 1991 with NAFTA. And during NAFTA, any member of Congress could see any text. In fact, the whole agreement between negotiating rounds was put in the Capitol, accessible for them to look at. In 2001, the Bush administration published the entire Free Trade Area of the Americas text, when it was even in an earlier stage than TPP is right now, on government websites. They’ve even excluded members of Congress from observing the negotiations. I mean, this is extraordinary. […]

I mean, these agreements, once they’re implemented, you can’t change a comma unless all the other countries agree. It locks into place, super-glues, cements into place one vision of law that, as we’ve seen, has very little to do with trade. It’s about domestic food safety. Do we have to import food that doesn’t meet U.S. safety standards? It’s about setting up international tribunals—can’t imagine the Cato Institute likes that, global governance and all—where U.S. government could be sued and our Treasury raided by foreign corporations, who are rent seeking, compensation for not having to meet our own laws that our domestic companies have to meet. […]

The bottom line of all of this is we need a new procedure to replace fast track that gives the public the role and Congress the role to make sure what will be binding, permanent, global laws do not undermine either our democratic process of making policies at home—that we need—or that lock us into retrograde policies that the current 600 corporate trade advisers are writing to impose on us. So, we need a new way to make trade agreements to get different kinds of agreements. And the bottom line with TPP, as this WikiLeak just showed, it’s very dangerous. It’s not about trade. You’ve got to find out about it. And you’ve got to make sure your member of Congress maintains their constitutional authority. Democracy is messy. But I, myself, more trust the American public, the press and this Congress rather than 600 corporate advisers. We need to make sure what’s in that trade agreement suits us, and you all are going to be the difference in doing that.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the debate on the Democracy Now! website.

*

1 From an article entitled “Ex-BP boss Lord Browne to lead Whitehall reform” published by BBC news on June 30, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10467532

2 From an article entitled “Revealed: Fracking industry bosses at heart of coalition” published by The Independent on July 14, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/revealed-fracking-industry-bosses-at-heart-of-coalition-8707589.html

3 From an article entitled “It’s business that really rules us now” written by George Monbiot, published in the Guardian on November 11, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/11/business-rules-lobbying-corporate-interests

4 From an article entitled “’Trade’ Deal Would elevate Corporations to Equal Status With Nation States” written by Lori Wallach (Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch) published by Huffington Post on October 22, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lori-wallach/trade-deal-would-elevate_b_4143626.html

5 From an article entitled “The US-EU trade deal: don’t buy the hype” written by Dean Baker, published in the Guardian on July 15, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/15/us-trade-deal-with-europe-hype

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Australia, Britain, Europe, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), global warming, GMO, USA

James Lovelock should be applauded

James Lovelock, the scientist most famous for the Gaia hypothesis*, once wrote an article published by The Independent and entitled “The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years”. He wrote:

My Gaia theory sees the Earth behaving as if it were alive, and clearly anything alive can enjoy good health, or suffer disease. Gaia has made me a planetary physician and I take my profession seriously, and now I, too, have to bring bad news.

The climate centres around the world, which are the equivalent of the pathology lab of a hospital, have reported the Earth’s physical condition, and the climate specialists see it as seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years. I have to tell you, as members of the Earth’s family and an intimate part of it, that you and especially civilisation are in grave danger.1

These stark warnings were issued more than twelve years ago, with Lovelock going on in the same article to predict that “as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics”, the consequences being of such severity that “before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”

So it comes as comfort, at least to some of us, to hear that Lovelock now views our immediate prospects as somewhat less catastrophic. Especially so, as the reasons he gives for changing his mind are entirely sound and scientifically objective ones. Here is what Lovelock said to Ian Johnston of msnbc in a recent telephone interview:

“The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened.”

“The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now.”

“The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time… it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising – carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that,” he added.

Does this mean Lovelock has become the latest ‘climate denier’? Johnston put the question to him, and Lovelock replied:

“It depends what you mean by a skeptic. I’m not a denier.”2

Click here to read the full msnbc article.

Which is precisely right, and the correct position for any responsible scientist to take when presented with a disparity between their theoretical predictions and the available data. The average global temperature has indeed been more or less stable since over a decade, and this is in flat contradiction to the projections of the climate modellers, as well as to Lovelock’s own previously (in his own words) alarmist forecasts. It is right too, that Lovelock points the finger of blame for much of the hysteria to Al Gore’s staggeringly overrated and misleading documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”.

Unfortunately, the line between what is science and what is speculation can often become blurred in the public mind; a situation made far worse thanks to so much junk reported by scientifically illiterate journalists. So when the public are told that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and that combined with this, the human population is putting more and more ‘carbon’ into the atmosphere, then two and two makes four, right? Well, no actually – the real question being the more subtle one of “climate sensitivity”.

It is acknowledged by all scientists on both sides of the global warming debate that our human emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere couldn’t possibly produce the kinds of apocalypse which Lovelock and others have been predicting, unless, that is, its initial warming effect is then significantly amplified by, most significantly, the more powerful greenhouse gas, water vapour, driven up into the atmosphere thanks to already increased surface temperatures. An increase in water vapour being one of a number of positive feedback loops that acting together might force global temperatures to dangerous levels. So Lovelock then, isn’t suddenly saying that carbon dioxide doesn’t warm the atmosphere, since no-one denies this fact, but that other mechanisms, as yet not fully understood, must be ameliorating its effect up to now. And this is demonstrably the case.

To begin to grasp the real complexities involved in this whole debate about global warming, you need to understand some physics; however, and more importantly, to more simply comprehend why there still is any debate at all, you must understand more deeply what it means to be a scientist.

Science, that great bastion of hard truth, rests precariously upon the unlikely underpinning of skepticism and doubt. These seemingly unsteady foundations are precisely what give it strength. Even established scientific theories, ones that have been tested over and over almost to destruction, nevertheless remain under threat of being uprooted and superceded by some novel alternative, if any turns up that fits the available facts more completely, and, hopefully, more elegantly too.

A few weeks ago there were reports that physicists had measured neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light, which is in direct violation of Einstein’s wonderful Theory of Relativity. These reports weren’t immediately dismissed as impossible. Quite the contrary. Physicists held their breath and waited for confirmation, though it turned out that the announcement had been premature. The measurements were incorrect, not Einstein.

The layman is inclined to think that all physicists must have breathed a long, satisfied sigh of relief. Not at all. Winkling out discrepancies and uncovering strange anomalies is actually what gets physicists and other scientists most excited. Why? Because if it had turned out instead that Einstein was wrong, then his error would automatically open up fresh possibilities. In the ensuing search for a deeper truth, there would have been tremendous prizes waiting for any aspiring physicists to be first to detect, and then account for, whatever it was that Einstein didn’t know and had never imagined. Rewards not merely glittering like Nobel Prizes, but the satisfaction of having sudden understanding that no human being ever had before, not to mention a slim chance of gaining instant immortality; your place in posterity secured next to Einstein himself, Newton, Galileo and the other giants. These are the kinds of dreams all scientists have.

Science became, and remains, the intellectual powerhouse chugging away in the background and quietly driving the progress of our civilisation – without science, there simply would be no world we could call modern. Yet this extraordinary achievement is due to science’s inherently self-correcting and entirely open-ended inquiry into the true nature of our universe. Unlike earlier systems of thought, systems that set artificial limits on what might be discovered, science alone freed itself from the shackles of infallible orthodoxy. Instead, scientists put their faith in scrupulous measurements and observations, unbiased experimentation and reasoned argument based wholly upon empirical facts. If this approach is stifled, then science itself withers away.

In making his latest statements, James Lovelock has redrawn the proper line between where the science ends and the speculation begins, putting theory back in its rightful place, behind, and not ahead, of the empirical data, and it is for this reason that I say he should be applauded. Lovelock has also shown that he is courageous enough to change his mind, and that he has the necessary integrity to sacrifice a little of his own reputation for the sake of truth. One might hope that following Lovelock, the debate about global warming could move on and regain its focus on the scientific facts. However, in contrast to a decade ago, Lovelock’s reappraisal has so far received little attention. This is in part because the debate, and especially the public debate, has been steadily steered in another way too.

You may indeed be wondering why I am still talking about global warming and never use the updated term of “climate change”. The reason is precision. Global temperature is something that is measured, and then directly compared against earlier records. Records go back about a century and a half, but we can also use proxies such as tree-rings and ice-cores to extrapolate the data backwards to much earlier periods. So if the science is done carefully we can make an accurate determination of whether or not the earth is warming, and if so, whether the rate of that warming is exceptional.

“Climate change” on the other hand is not something that is meaningfully quantifiable. It is a vague ad hoc notion that lumps together storms, droughts, floods and every other kind of change in weather patterns you might imagine. For instance, and sticking with the issue of surface temperature, globally that temperature may either rise or fall, and both results are indicative of “climate change”. So only if global temperature were to remain perfectly static – something entirely contrary to what we already know about climate from past measurements – might we begin to talk of “climate stability”. Now read this:

“Scientists believe it’s all a question of balance. As the Earth struggles for climate stability, the weather begins to get extreme and weird.”

This is my own transcription of part of the narrative linking sections in a recent episode of BBC flagship science programme Horizon.3 It was a programme that introduced the public to the latest ‘theory’: not of global warming but “global weirding”.

Now quite aside from the emptiness of meaning in the quoted narrative, it is interesting to note that the language employed here actually owes much to Lovelock and his original Gaia hypothesis. “A question of balance.” “As Earth struggles for climate stability.” The Earth conceived as a single living organism. Lovelock himself doesn’t appear on the programme, and it would be nice to think that he will be keener to avoid any association with concepts as flaky as “global weirding”. After all, he hardly wants to start apologising all over again ten years down the line.

*

* One of the early tests Lovelock ran on his Gaia hypothesis, a computer simulation he called “Daisyworld”, demonstrated how biological feedback mechanisms might actually help to regulate the surface temperature of a planet. Working with Andrew Watson, he and Lovelock together constructed a model for an initially grey world planted with the seeds of just two species, black and white daisies. A world in orbit around an ever brightening sun. They then ran the model to see what would happen. As the sun got hotter, it triggered first the growth of the black daisies, since these are the better absorbers of radiant heat, and which therefore amplified the warming effect, until soon the temperature on the planet was hot enough for white daisies too, and the growth of the more reflective white daisies, had the effect of gradually cancelling out the warming of their black competitors. All of this was expected, but what Lovelock and Watson also discovered is that in this Daisyworld, the surface temperature stabilises once it reaches a level that is comfortable for both species. This was obviously an extremely simplistic model, and so Lovelock later tried simulations with greater numbers of species, such as foxes and rabbits. He then found that his addition of more species had markedly improved the temperature regulation of his virtual world. These results strengthened his conviction that the Earth’s life support system may be similarly regulated by biological feedback mechanisms.

1 From an article entitled “The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years”, written by James Lovelock, published in The Independent on January 16, 2006. http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/james-lovelock-the-earth-is-about-to-catch-a-morbid-fever-that-may-last-as-long-as-100000-years-523161.html

2 From an article entitled “’Gaia’ scientist James Lovelock: I was ‘alarmist’ about climate change”, written by Ian Johnston published by msnbc.com on April 23, 2012. http://worldnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/23/11144098-gaia-scientist-james-lovelock-i-was-alarmist-about-climate-change

3 Horizon: Global Weirding was first broadcast on BBC2 on March 27, 2012 at 9:00pm. It is scheduled to be repeated on BBC1 on Wednesday May 16, 2012 at 2:15am.

The programme was somewhat of a mish-mash of information and speculation, interesting in parts but incoherent overall, and managing to somehow even incorporate archive footage of the D-Day landing. With dramatic editing together of storms, lightning strikes, and Dutch sewerage systems, the sense of menace was also heightened by use of an unnecessarily distracting and overly portentous soundtrack. As Tom Sutcliffe’s review in the Independent says: “To ease your mind, the producers accompanied the film with an almost unbroken soundtrack of the kind of apocalyptic techno music that science fiction films use to tell you Something Really Bad Is Coming.” http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/last-nights-viewing–the-syndicate-bbc1-horizon-global-weirding-bbc2-7593387.html

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from Monsanto with love… lessons on how to rule the world

The trouble with Bond villains is they are all lousy megalomaniacs. They hide out in volcanoes protected only by freakish goons and second-rate ninjas, and there fritter away all hopes of world domination on totally hare-brained schemes. Before attempting to irradiate all the gold in the vaults at Fort Knox or constructing the ultimate death ray or whatever it is, they ought to just take a few steps back and concentrate on what really matters. Just how might they maximise control with the least amount of effort or force? Well they might like to try a more viable and, as it happens, visible approach.

Indeed, they might very well look to some of our leading corporate players as role models. For instance, it has long seemed to me that Monsanto ought to have been cast as a Bond villain, except, of course, that Monsanto is far too villainous even for Bond to take on. But I have ofttimes imagined Monsanto, incarnate, back turned in a leather-upholstered chair, stroking his obligatory cat, and drooling over thoughts of the culmination of his latest and most fiendish scheme. Nothing less than a plan to take control of all of the food production on Earth:

“Have you ever heard of Gurt, Mr Bond? Genetic use restriction technology. Terminator technology. Suicide seeds. Artificial lifeforms that crave for their own extinction. We have broken the circle of life itself, Mr Bond. Want food…? Come to Papa. Beautiful, wouldn’t you agree, Mr Bond? Just a few regulations in our way. But that will change. When the people are ready, and they will be, we shall be ready too – with Terminator 2.1 ‘I’ll be back’, Mr Bond!”

Bond remains impassive. Surreptitiously, he wriggles his hands a little to loosen the shackles, as Monsanto continues to prowl his penthouse suite HQ (since he hardly needs to hide out in a bunker).

“Do you remember Agent Orange, Mr Bond? Half a million deaths and another half a million birth defeats. Vast tracts of Vietnam are still contaminated thanks to Agent Orange. One of mine, Mr Bond, one of mine… Oh yes, Mr Bond, so much already laid waste and yet so much that remains to be contaminated. Inside the borders of that miserable little green speck you are so proud to call home, you can even find my own inimical calling-card. Thousands of tons of the most deadly toxins but just a taste of what will soon come.2 For this game is now drawing to its inevitable conclusion, Mr Bond. Soon I will have the whole world dependent on my patented GMOs and the pesticides required to keep them healthy. Welcome to the vanguard of this gangrene revolution, Mr Bond. Just a pity you won’t be here to see the reign of darkness that is to come when we have complete control your beautiful planet.”

I could be mistaken, of course, casting Monsanto purely in the light of its wretched and deplorable environmental record, whilst judging longer term intent solely on the basis of its stealth monopolisation of worldwide seed production. Indeed, there are others who see Monsanto as a manufacturer of the means to banish famine, and of thus opening the way for a much fairer, less impoverished world. This is certainly what well-known mega-billionaire and nice guy philanthropist Bill Gates thinks, although he tends not to advertise the fact:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is sponsoring the Guardian’s Global development site is being heavily criticised in Africa and the US for getting into bed not just with notorious GM company Monsanto, but also with agribusiness commodity giant Cargill.

Trouble began when a US financial website published the foundation’s annual investment portfolio, which showed it had bought 500,000 Monsanto shares worth around $23m. This was a substantial increase in the last six months and while it is just small change for Bill and Melinda, it has been enough to let loose their fiercest critics.3

The article written by John Vidal, and entitled “Why is the Gates foundation investing in GM giant Monsanto”, was posted more than a year ago on the Guardian‘s “povertymatters” blog, which is itself sponsored by none other than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation!

“The Foundation’s direct investment in Monsanto is problematic on two primary levels,” said Dr. Phil Bereano, University of Washington Professor Emeritus and recognized expert on genetic engineering. “First, Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well-being of small farmers around the world, as well as an appalling environmental track record. The strong connections to Monsanto cast serious doubt on the Foundation’s heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa and purported goal of alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers. Second, this investment represents an enormous conflict of interests.”4

From one of the reports cited in the same Guardian article, that was released in August 2010 by Seattle-based Agra Watch – a project of the Community Alliance for Global Justice.

Another report from the South Africa-based watchdog the African Centre for Biosafety uncovered how the Gates Foundation was also teaming up with Cargill in a $10m project to “develop the soya value chain” in Mozambique and elsewhere. Unfortunately the link from the article (copied above) is now dead, but not to worry here’s another report:

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) program was launched in 2008 with a $47 million grant from mega-rich philanthropists Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. The program is supposed to help farmers in several African countries increase their yields with drought- and heat-tolerant corn varieties, but a report released last month by the African Centre for Biosafety claims WEMA is threatening Africa’s food sovereignty and opening new markets for agribusiness giants like Monsanto.5

Vidal’s article continues:

The two incidents raise a host of questions for the foundation. Few people doubt that GM has a place in Africa, but is Gates being hopelessly naïve by backing two of the world’s most aggressive agri-giants? There is, after all, genuine concern at governmental and community level that the United State’s model of extensive hi-tech farming is inappropriate for most of Africa and should not be foist on the poorest farmers in the name of “feeding the world”.

The fact is that Cargill is a faceless agri-giant that controls most of the world’s food commodities and Monsanto has been blundering around poor Asian countries for a decade giving itself and the US a lousy name for corporate bullying. Does Gates know it is in danger of being caught up in their reputations, or does the foundation actually share their corporate vision of farming and intend to work with them more in future?

A year ago, the New York Times described the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as “the world’s principal private funder of agricultural research”6. Nothing so far as I’m aware has changed since, which, reading between the lines, means that it is difficult to draw any clear-cut distinction between the interests of the Gates Foundations and those of Big Agra.

Click here to read John Vidal’s full report.

Now, as I was in the middle of writing this, and wondering if I wasn’t coming down too hard on the saintly Bill Gates, I came across another piece of news [Feb 6th] about Bill Gates ambitions for bringing change to the world. It was also written by the excellent John Vidal:

A small group of leading climate scientists, financially supported by billionaires including Bill Gates, are lobbying governments and international bodies to back experiments into manipulating the climate on a global scale to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The scientists, who advocate geoengineering methods such as spraying millions of tonnes of reflective particles of sulphur dioxide 30 miles above earth, argue that a “plan B” for climate change will be needed if the UN and politicians cannot agree to making the necessary cuts in greenhouse gases, and say the US government and others should pay for a major programme of international research.

Solar geoengineering techniques are highly controversial: while some climate scientists believe they may prove a quick and relatively cheap way to slow global warming, others fear that when conducted in the upper atmosphere, they could irrevocably alter rainfall patterns and interfere with the earth’s climate.7

Click here to read John Vidal’s latest report on Bill Gates’ environmental lobbying.

Geoengineering. Such a grand sounding name for a subject. Engineering, however, is generally applied to very, very well understood systems – usually ones that we ourselves designed in fact. And it is a subject that always builds safety tolerances into its solutions. What weight does that beam need to withstand? Okay, let’s double it just in case. Why? Because in the real world of engineering, unlike the idealised worlds of pure science, you are expected to expect the unexpected.

So what of geoengineering, which is the preferred shorthand for schemes designed for ‘re-engineering the world’s climate’. Well firstly, the climate system is extremely complex. It involves the movement of two different fluids, air and water, around convoluted islands and basins, and the exchange of energy and material between them. Before ‘re-engineering’ it then, we need first to fully understand the movement of those fluids and at all levels: up to the high altitude jet streams and down to the deep ocean currents. We also need to understand how the composition of those fluids varies, the concentrations of salt in the ocean and of the gases (and, most importantly, of water vapour) in the atmosphere, not to mention the distribution and structures of clouds and even the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface (or its albedo).

Whilst all of this is happening on Earth, the energy available to drive these interconnected feedback systems arrives only from the Sun. So we must know how the output of the Sun varies, but not only in terms of radiative output (or ‘sunlight’), which is helpfully constant (at least over the short term) but in other ways that might influence the Earth’s climate. We need to understand how a constant stream of plasma called the solar wind interacts with the upper atmosphere, and what effects changes there might have at lower altitudes.8 To understand long term variations (such as ice ages), we also need to precisely factor all effects due to changes in the Earth’s position relative to the Sun. Steady changes in the orientation of the Earth’s orbit and spin axis, and more subtle changes in the shape of our orbit around the Sun9.

‘Extremely complex’ simply doesn’t do justice to the enormity of the task involved in fully understanding our climate systems, especially when we remind ourselves that beyond all the physics and chemistry, there is also biology to take into account. Life interacts with the atmosphere and the oceans, no less than sunlight and gravity. Hardly surprisingly, we are only now beginning to understand how all the cogs turn together. Sure there are models of climate behaviour, but these models simply ignore or approximate many of the influences on our weather and ocean systems. They go so far, but should very definitely not be mistaken as the sorts of ‘high fidelity’ models that exist, say, to test the performance of bridges or to predict the motion of the planets in our Solar System.

So Geoengineering is about intervening with something that is far from fully understood, yet at the same time very, very precious, and quite probably fragile (certainly from the point of view of securing continued human habitation). On top of that, it isn’t properly engineering at all, and ought to really to be called ‘geoexperimenting’: an experiment that some experts say “could irrevocably alter rainfall patterns and interfere with the earth’s climate.” Irrevocably being a very, very long time.

If you were worried about the switch on of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, then you really shouldn’t have been, because the fuss about black holes and so forth was really just a load of media hype – quite possibly cooked up by some of the scientists who knew better, of course, but perhaps thought it worthwhile to play the media circus for greater publicity. And for a few weeks, the media couldn’t get enough of the LHC. Everyone was talking about hadrons. Geoengineering, on the other hand, which, if ever implemented (and judging by the levels of investment, looks set to be coming), must be considered a genuine threat to our continuing existence on Earth, yet rarely gets a mention.

In June 2010, Democracy Now! hosted an interesting debate between Indian environmentalist and scientist, Vandana Shiva, and geopolitical analyst and columnist, Gwynne Dyer. Here are some of the carefully considered reasons Vandana Shiva gave for rejecting geoengineering solutions:

It’s an engineering paradigm that created the fossil fuel age, that gave us climate change. And Einstein warned us and said you can’t solve problems with the same mindset that created them. Geoengineering is trying to solve the problems with the same old mindset of controlling nature. And the phrase that was used, of cheating — let’s cheat — you can’t cheat nature. That’s something people should recognize by now. There is no cheating possible. Eventually, the laws of Gaia determine the final outcome. […]

I work on ecological agriculture. We need that sunlight for photosynthesis. The geoengineers don’t realize, sunshine is not a curse on the planet. The sun is not the problem. The problem is the mess of pollution we are creating. So, again, we can’t cheat.

Well, the first thing is, there’s never enough time, but you have to find the solutions. And to use the excuse of immediacy and urgency to take the wrong action is not a solution. In terms of time, we do organic farming, and again, in my book Soil Not Oil, we’ve shown that a localized ecological biodiverse system of farming could solve 40 percent of the climate problem, because 40 percent emissions are coming from food miles, nitrogen oxide emissions, cutting down the Amazon forest, all linked to a globalized industrialized food system. Tomorrow we can do that. In three years’ time, all of the world’s farming could be ecological, absorbing the carbon dioxide and putting fertility back in the soil. It’s not a fifty-year experiment. It’s an assured, guaranteed path that has been shown to work.

Click here to watch the video and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

So just why would Bill Gates choose to blemish his reputation by getting so deeply involved in an enterprise as controversial as geoengineering? To save the planet from climate change? So he says, although it seems that he does have another incentive too – I wonder if you can guess:

As well as Gates, other wealthy individuals including Sir Richard Branson, tar sands magnate Murray Edwards and the co-founder of Skype, Niklas Zennström, have funded a series of official reports into future use of the technology. Branson, who has frequently called for geoengineering to combat climate change, helped fund the Royal Society’s inquiry into solar radiation management last year through his Carbon War Room charity. It is not known how much he contributed.

Professors David Keith, of Harvard University, and Ken Caldeira of Stanford, are the world’s two leading advocates of major research into geoengineering the upper atmosphere to provide earth with a reflective shield. They have so far received over $4.6m from Gates to run the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (Ficer). Nearly half Ficer’s money, which comes directly from Gates’s personal funds, has so far been used for their own research, but the rest is disbursed by them to fund the work of other advocates of large-scale interventions.

According to statements of financial interests, Keith receives an undisclosed sum from Bill Gates each year, and is the president and majority owner of the geoengineering company Carbon Engineering, in which both Gates and Edwards have major stakes – believed to be together worth over $10m.

Another Edwards company, Canadian Natural Resources, has plans to spend $25bn to turn the bitumen-bearing sand found in northern Alberta into barrels of crude oil. Caldeira says he receives $375,000 a year from Gates, holds a carbon capture patent and works for Intellectual Ventures, a private geoegineering research company part-owned by Gates and run by Nathan Myhrvold, former head of technology at Microsoft.

Click here for John Vidal’s full article (which reads like an almanack of conflicts of interest).

Here in Yorkshire, there is a saying that “where there’s muck there’s money”, and when it comes to geoengineering there is muck aplenty. Stuff like sulphur dioxide that we’ve been scrubbing from our industrial chimneys for many years, in efforts to prevent acid rain and to clean up the air quality of our cities. But here the idea is to spray sulphur dioxide and other muck directly into the high atmosphere in order to ‘provide earth with a reflective shield’.10 In other words, to block out the sun by increasing pollution, which is sufficiently hare-brained to have been dreamt up by Blofeld.

All of which now causes me to wonder who is the more dangerous: the more or less openly diabolical Monsanto or such ‘eco-friendly’ meddlers as Gates, Buffett and Branson to name but a few. Whatever the case, the lesson for those intent on world domination remains the same. And aspiring Bond villains will please take note – Forget about your mountain hideouts and armies of incompetents, what you really need is good publicity, and best of all, the backing of a respectable charitable foundation. Just knock it off with all of that “no, I expect you to die Mr Bond”, and try gently rattling a tin instead. “Welcome Mr Bond,” you might say, politely adding “have you ever considered making a small donation to save the planet?”

1 “The vast majority of the world’s 500m farmers still collect their best seeds each year and replant them. Preventing a process followed since farming began 10,000 years ago has been seen as endangering their way of life.

The problem for Monsanto and other companies is that in developing countries terminator has become synonymous with GM and a symbol of the increasing control of world agriculture by big foreign corporations.

In Monsanto’s version, seeds are soaked in the antibiotic tetracycline, which sets in motion a genetic chain reaction that ultimately instructs the plant to kill its own seeds.

Monsanto’s chief executive, Robert Shapiro, in a letter to the Rockefeller Foundation in New York which announced the terminator’s development, said the company intended to continue research into sophisticated “trait technologies”.

These have been dubbed “terminator 2”, or “gene-switchers”, and would allow a company to develop crops that grow only if sprayed with a regimen of chemicals that include its herbicides or insecticides.”

From an article entitled “World braced for terminator 2”, written by John Vidal, published in the Guardian on October 6, 1999. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/1999/oct/06/gm.food2

2 “Previously unseen Environment Agency documents from 2005 show that almost 30 years after being filled, Brofiscin [a quarry in South Wales where Monsanto dumped waste from its chemical works in Newport and elsewhere] is one of the most contaminated places in Britain. According to engineering company WS Atkins, in a report prepared for the agency and the local authority in 2005 but never made public, the site contains at least 67 toxic chemicals. Seven PCBs have been identified, along with vinyl chlorides and naphthalene.”

From an article entitled “The wasteland: how years of secret chemical dumping left a toxic legacy – Monsanto helped to create one of the most contaminated sites in Britain”, written by John Vidal, published in the Guardian on February 12, 2007. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/feb/12/uknews.pollution1

3 From an article entitled “Why is the Gates foundation investing in GM giant Monsanto? – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s investments in Monsanto and Cargill have come under heavy criticism. Is it time for the foundation to come clean on its visions for argiculture in developing countries?” written by John Vidal, published by the Guardian on September 29, 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2010/sep/29/gates-foundation-gm-monsanto

4 From a report by the Community Alliance for Global Justice, posted on August 25, 2010. http://www.seattleglobaljustice.org/2010/08/for-immediate-release-gates-foundation-invests-in-monsanto/

5 From an article entitled “Monsanto and Gates Foundation Push GE Crops on Africa”, written by Mike Ludwig, published by Truthout on July 12, 2011. http://www.truth-out.org/second-green-revolutionaries-gates-foundation-and-monsanto-push-ge-crops-africa/1310411034

6 According to an article entitled “The Struggle for Daily Bread”, written by David Rieff, published by the New York Times on October 14, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/15/opinion/15iht-edrieff15.html

7 From an article entitled “Bill Gates backs climate scientists lobbying for large-scale geoengineering: Other wealthy individuals have also funded a series of reports into the future use of technologies to geoengineer the climate”, written by John Vidal, published in the Guardian on February 6, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/feb/06/bill-gates-climate-scientists-geoengineering

8 Over the short term of a few decades, the output of solar radiation is nearly constant (varying by up to about 0.1%), but the Sun also produces a continuous stream of charged particles known as the solar wind, which is far from constant, varying considerably depending on solar activity. Although the stream is deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field, some of the particles do nevertheless interact with the Earth’s upper atmosphere, producing the wonderful aurora whilst also heating the ionosphere. In addition to this, the solar wind helps to reduce the influx of cosmic rays. Does any of this affect the climate at lower levels in the Earth’s atmosphere? The answer is that we simply don’t know precisely how processes in the upper atmosphere affect the climate below. There are theories that cosmic rays are important for cloud formation, whilst it could also be the case that changes in the ionosphere can shift the position of the high altitude jet streams. In both cases, the effects on the climate would be very significant.

9 To read more about the theory of how changes in the Earth’s movement and orientation affect climate see the wikipedia entry on Milankovitch cycles http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles.

10 Sulphur dioxide is noxious enough, but “potential types of particles for injection include sulfur dioxide, aluminum oxide dust or even designer self-levitating aerosols [which are one of David Keith’s ideas]…”. These would then need to be ‘replenished’ every year or two years. Replenished because it will all slowly but surely fall back to Earth. In this case of ‘aluminium oxide dust’ and the ‘designer aerosols’ this means clouds of nanoparticles that would then fall out over land and sea, building up in concentration in our rivers, our soil and our homes. Could these it toxic? Well, there is still much debate about the toxicity of aluminium oxide, but certainly reasons for concern, and especially given evidence of its adverse effects on the germination of seeds and growth of plants – something that Monsanto could no doubt help out with later.

Read more of these proposals in “Unilateral Geoengineering: Non-technical Briefing Notes for a Workshop at the Council on Foreign Relations”, published April 15, 2008. (Quote taken from p.4) https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:b1EPc92sD8UJ:www.cfr.org/content/thinktank/GeoEng_041209.pdf+geoengineering+aluminium+oxide&hl=en&gl=uk&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESih0YswcESwswvLvNdo4BdK-lBPke3qvH6bQ-N8ZxALTs8zbJnXtDkhkhUmE7k6QjjjR5F8ORJ8DHWPhCmm4DTMkdCNiBsz3DGx0ZsBMII7LssnM0bzX2RzLhZyehFzZWRfsA4X&sig=AHIEtbQvJBXXg09zivyqBcyDS52PneIFVw

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“Occupy Everywhere”: a public debate about what happens next

It is more than two months since a few hundred people first gathered to camp-out in the streets of Manhattan, and so the question becomes how does the Occupy movement progress from “the outrage phase” to the presentation of a new political and economic programme. Last Friday [Nov 25th], Democracy Now! broadcast excerpts from a recent event that examined this question.

The discussion, under the title “Occupy Everywhere: On the New Politics and Possibilities of the Movement Against Corporate Power”, which was hosted by The Nation magazine and The New School in New York City, featured a panel of speakers including Occupy Wall Street organizer, Patrick Bruner; filmmaker and author, Michael Moore; veteran journalist, William Greider, author of “Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country”; Rinku Sen of the Applied Research Center and publisher of ColorLines; and Naomi Klein, author of the “Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”.

Here’s an overview of what the panel had to say:

MICHAEL MOORE: This is one of the most remarkable movements that I’ve seen in my lifetime, precisely because it really isn’t a movement in the traditional sense. And I think that it has succeeded because it hasn’t followed the old motifs that we’re used to, in terms of organizing. But it has its roots in all the good works that so many people have done for so many years, especially in the last 30 years since Reagan took office and the decline and destruction of the country, and essentially the world, began its modern-day disaster.

And when somebody asked me the other day, “Well, who organized this? Who organized this movement?” I said, “Well, actually, Goldman Sachs organized it. Citibank organized it. BP organized it. They did—they did the organization.”

It’s taken so many forms that—and it can’t be stopped. And it’s so great to watch Fox News and the others try to wrap their heads around it, because they can’t get their brain quite—like it can’t grab onto it, which is great. That’s what’s great. So, I’m a big supporter of it staying leaderless, with a lack of a certain amount of organization, that it remain in its free and open state. And thank God for all the young people who are willing to not take it anymore. And I’ve just been inspired by it, and I’m glad that I got to live to see what I believe, or hope, will be the beginning of the end of a very evil system that is unfair, and it’s unjust, and it’s not democratic.

PATRICK BRUNER: Well, I think there are many reasons why this has worked. You know, obviously, we have a great history behind us. Tahrir Square, the indignados in Spain—these are movements that are very, very similar to our movement, you know, the way that we are organized: direct democracy, egalitarian values. These are things that we think deserve to be central in every movement, and we think that’s a big reason why we have been successful, is that our tactics and our values and our goals, they’re all the same.

The Tea Party comes from the same mindset as we do, although we have many differences. You know, those are people who had legitimate grievances against this system that they had tried to work for their entire lives, and then it ended up screwing them. And, you know, that’s what’s going on with my generation. We have kids who have massive amounts of student debt, and they’re going to carry that for the rest of their lives, possibly— not if we have anything to do with it, but…

We have taken Liberty Square. We have renamed it, and we have rebuilt it into something that we believe is a better model. Maybe it’s not perfect. Maybe it’s not what we’ll come out of this with. But it’s a way to at least start a discussion, a real discussion, about all of the things that ail us on a daily basis, the things that are never really discussed. Like you said, before this, you know, the biggest discussion in American politics was whether or not to raise the debt ceiling for the 103rd time. Now we don’t talk about things like that. Now we’re starting to talk about wealth inequality. We’re starting to talk about greed. You know, we’ve had fun looking at Google trends and seeing that words like that have gone up in usage a thousand times. So, there’s a real shift in terms of the mentality of people. There’s a psychic break that’s going on that we’re riding, because of—you know, because of what they did to us.

WILLIAM GREIDER: The American pulse for democracy, the thirst for equality, for freedom, is a little like an underground river that has run underneath the surfaces of American history from the beginning. And it rarely is visible, at least to the established powers. It gets misled, deflected, stymied in different ways. But it continues these ideals, the original promise of what this country could be. And I told myself, “OK, I don’t know if anything changes now. It doesn’t seem to be happening. But I’m going to—I’m going to be in that stream with the others, the historic stream, and do what I can and at least keep the candle lit and aloft.” And that’s a good thing to do with your life. Then, sometime, often unpredictably, this underground river gathers force, and it breaks through to the surface, and everything is changed. And you can read American history and find those moments, which changed everything and opened a vista of a different country. I think that’s what we’re experiencing right now. I literally mean that. And I think it’s—we know it’s a high-risk enterprise to try to build an authentic social movement. Many arise and fail, or get crushed. And the ideas are literally pushed back out of the public square. But they go back—they continue somehow and maybe come back a generation or two generations later. So we have to—I think we have to take that sort of long view of what we’re doing.

The paper I worked for many years ago has got a competitor now in Washington called The Occupied Washington Post, and it pleases me greatly to see that. But now—and they had a — The Occupied Washington Post has a poster-type headline: “We Stand with the Majority, For Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed.” That’s a pretty good start on a program, I think. And—but I think the—I think what we’re seeing now, in our construction, is beginning, believe it or not, to convince even the Washington Post.

In previous articles, I have already expressed the view that some kind of programme for economic and political reform is required so that the movement can progress, so I do not entirely share the panels’ enthusiasm for maintaining such wholly free-floating and organic structure, although this certainly has its advantages – one positive consequence being that the movement has so far avoided being co-opted – however, if no demands are agreed and no alternatives offered, then sooner or later there will undoubtedly be atrophy.

In addition to this, the Occupy movement would do well not to turn away potential support from unusual allies. Patrick Bruner, rightly in my view, nods acknowledgment to original The Tea Party (libertarian right) protestors, since there is much that is shared between these disaffected groups.

Both sides have finally recognised the same centralised corruption (Occupy shining their spotlight on Wall Street, whilst libertarians are more intent on exposing the Federal Reserve), and both wish for a restoration of the rule of law as underwritten by the unalienable rights of the Constitution. Unfortunately, however, there is also a major disagreement along economic lines, with The Tea Party having sold its soul to free market neo-liberalism; swallowing the lie that “austerity” measures will save the economy, when in reality, of course, it was the freeing of the markets, in the form of financial deregulation, that caused the underlying banking crisis, and so it is only through re-regulation that long-term economic stability can be ever be restored.

Increasing the debate between these two sides would help to clarify and hopefully resolve these issues. The Occupy movement reminding those of the disaffected right, how the IMF and World Bank have used “austerity measures” on many past occasions to asset-strip nations in the developing world, and that any slashing of government spending in a depression is tantamount to economic suicide. The libertarians in turn questioning some of the dafter and supposedly ‘green’ solutions proposed by the new movement. Here, for instance, is part of what Naomi Klein had to say to the audience:

Now—I just learned this today—the—originally, it was traditional generators that was powering Occupy Wall Street. And then, some people had the idea that they don’t actually want fossil fuels to power—to power the laptops and the other energy needs of Liberty Square, so there was a move to bring in bicycle generators. This was starting, and then it got kind of expedited, because the police came in and seized the generators. So when I arrived at the park just on Monday, I went over to the sustainability table and checked in, and they had one functioning bicycle generator. And I just left today. They have 14 functioning bicycle generators.

Now I am a very strong believer in developing new technologies in order to make our lives safer and easier, since this is really the only good reason for developing technologies at all, but bicycle generators are neither new nor alternative. They are in fact just the kind of a gimmick that is deeply unhelpful.

Firstly, a bicycle generator produces about 100 watts of power, and that’s assuming you’re fit and healthy. So fourteen bicycle generators will provide a maximum of about 1.4 kW, which happens to be almost precisely the power supplied by our sun over each square metre of the Earth’s atmosphere1. In other words all of the pedal-power from these machines supplies the equivalent produced by just a few solar panels. But it’s worse than that, as becomes abundantly clear once you think about where the energy going into the bicycles came from in the first place. Pedal-power isn’t free; it comes from food. Originally then, from plants, which had absorbed and stored the energy of the sun, which were almost certainly cultivated with the help of petrol-driven tractors and artificial fertilisers, and then shipped and processed using additional fossil fuels. So bicycle generators are actually just about the most inefficient method for deriving energy from sunlight that we could possibly devise.

Alternative methods of both generating and supplying energy are urgently required, but finding solutions to our energy needs means being realistic, and thus, thinking bigger and smarter. Covering our hillsides in windmills won’t save us either, and until we discover genuinely viable alternatives, we must necessarily accept the fact that a ‘modern’ world is reliant on oil and coal. That without access to these vital resources our own lives, and the lives of those in poorer regions, will become unbearable or (to use the term preferred by the left) ‘unsustainable’. For instance, the push for bio-fuel production is already stealing food from the mouths of the hungry. In short, if we are ever to wean ourselves off these essentially Victorian power sources (of burning stuff and turning water into steam), then we have to develop twenty-first century, and that means hi-tech, solutions (these may involve solar, geothermal, fusion, or methods as yet undiscovered). But I believe that if we are serious then something like a peacetime “Manhattan Project” should be funded to provide such real alternatives.

In the meantime, some of the loopier ideas of the ‘green movement’ are worse than unscientific, and only present us with a kind of new puritanism, which ironically looks a lot like the kind of “austerity” programme already being foisted from on-high. Perhaps some in the younger generation don’t remember Norman Tebbit’s notorious “get on your bike and look for work” speech, or if they did, they might not be so keen to promote such pointless and retrogressive ‘alternatives’ as pedal-power.

Unlike Klein, I also think that it would be a big mistake for the Occupy movement to nail its colours to the mast regarding ‘climate change’. And if the question of ‘climate change’ (which is a poor shorthand for ‘catastrophic anthropogenic global warming’) is regarded, as it should be, as a scientific issue, then there is absolutely no justification for using such inflammatory terms as ‘denier’, since there is nothing inherently unscientific about remaining skeptical of any theory that isn’t one hundred per cent certain. Science is founded on skepticism, which is the reason it’s so damned effective.

The problem is that the whole ‘climate change’ debate (on both sides) has become highly politicised, which means that using it to spearhead the movement will only further the schism between ‘left’ and ‘right’. In any case, and given the situation we increasingly find ourselves in, it is surely sensible to be distrustful of all prevailing government (or worse, global) intervention. So in this case, the left ought to be saying quite clearly that carbon trading is a scam. Whilst carbon taxing is another scam waiting to happen.

It will be much more effective, I believe, to leave the whole ‘global warming’ debate on hold, whilst we address the more immediately solvable problems that can be agreed upon. Let’s first win the battle to take back our nations, then sort out the problems of securing our energy future when the political climate is more amenable. And so the part of Naomi Klein’s contribution that most needs repeating is really this:

NAOMI KLEIN: Because I think that, you know, this has been one of the great failures of the left, is not understanding that state power can be just as alienating and just as corrupt as corporate power. And we have to have learned those lessons of the past.

The debate ended with Michael Moore rallying the troops. “Occupy used to be a dirty word”, he told the audience, but now that word has been reclaimed:

MICHAEL MOORE: Bill [William Greider] is so right. You know, Bill has been such a warrior for trying to keep the bare threads of our democracy that are still there intact, and there aren’t many left. We are really just hanging on by a few of these threads. And if—one of those threads is one person, one vote, and so they can’t really do anything about that. […]

So, if you’re at home and you’re watching this and you’re in some out-of-the-way place, you already own it. This is already your country. You—you have been occupied by Wall Street. Your homes have been occupied by Wall Street. Your government has been occupied by Wall Street. Your media has been occupied by Wall Street. And it’s OK for you to say, “Not anymore. Those days are over. End of story.”

Click here to read the full transcript.

1 The actual direct solar irradiance at the top of the atmosphere fluctuates by about 6.9% during a year (from 1.412 kW/m² in early January to 1.321 kW/m² in early July) due to the Earth’s varying distance from the Sun, and typically by much less than one part per thousand from day to day.

Taken from wikipedia.

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