Egypt's first solar-powered village is up and running in the Bahariya Oasis.
KarmBuild's Tayebat Workers Village provides shelter for 350 people and was built with 90 percent local, natural materials including sandstone, which was used to construct the buildings.
KarmBuild is the "only company in Egypt to integrate solar energy technology into a building's design" and it did it in a seamless way making the photovoltaic solar panels blend into the stone walls of the village. The panels also act as "thermal roof protection," principal architect Karim Kafrawi told Inhabitat.
"The idea was to create an architectural character that would smoothly blend into the natural landscape so that from a distance, this rather large building would be discreet, almost invisible expect for the towering stone structures highlighted by the P.V. solar panels reflecting the sky and sun," Kafrawi said.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By John Light
Climate change is already hurting the world’s most vulnerable populations. Those who live in areas hit hard by drought, severe storms or rising seas and can’t relocate because of economic or social factors bear the brunt of our planet’s increasing volatility.
One way the changing climate has already made itself known is through a devastating drought—and ensuing food shortage—in Syria; it created a powder keg, and played a significant role in sparking the country’s civil war. We can expect to see similar scenarios unfold in the future.
Moyers & Company’s John Light spoke with Francesco Femia, co-founder of the Center for Climate and Security—a think tank with an advisory board consisting of retired military commanders and international affairs experts—about how climate change serves as a “threat multiplier” in volatile regions such as Syria, Egypt and Pakistan, and what America’s role should be in a world in which climate change increasingly exacerbates—and cause—international crises:
Light: What’s been going on with Syria’s water resources over the past several years?
Femia: Essentially, a massive, five-and-a-half-year drought. From 2006 to 2011, 60 percent of Syria’s land experienced, in the words of one expert, the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago. That, on top of natural resource mismanagement by the Assad regime—subsidizing water-intensive wheat and cotton farming and unsustainable irrigation techniques—led to a large amount of devastation.
There are some quite frightening numbers. Herders and farmers in the north and south had to pick up and move. Nearly 75 percent of farmers in the northeast suffered total crop failure. Herders in the northeast lost around 85 percent of their livestock, which affected about 1.3 million people. That was happening before the civil war in Syria broke out.
Many international security analysts were saying, right up to the day before protest broke out in the small rural town of Daraa, that Syria was immune to the Arab Spring and to the grievances that other Arab publics had brought to bear on their leaders. And that clearly wasn’t the case.
There was quite a bit of displacement happening; millions were trekking into urban areas. Those urban areas were experiencing quite a bit of economic insecurity. Some of that was also coming from poverty and competition from other influxes of people—for example, Iraqi refugees who had been flowing into Syria since 2003, and also Palestinian refugees. These were cities that were already hard-pressed economically.
There wasn’t a lot of information on this until quite recently. The Assad regime wasn’t allowing journalists access to these farmers and herders who were moving into the cities. The military would often accompany the migrants to make sure that journalists had no access. But under the surface of what seemed to be a stable country, there was a large-scale environmental and human disaster happening.
Light: How would you explain to a security analyst that this is related to climate change?
Femia: Part of the picture that was missing when we started looking into this issue were the climate dynamics. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study published in October 2011 showed that there was strong evidence that the recent prolonged period of drought in the Mediterranean littoral area, including the Middle East, is linked to climate change. It was one of the first studies linking climate to observable changes as opposed to just looking out at projected changes.
And then a recent model of climate impact for the future conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute projected that if current rates of greenhouse gas emissions continue, yields of rain-fed crops in Syria will likely decline between 29 and 57 percent from 2010 to 2050. That’s a huge number.
And when you look at the effects of the drought on people within Syria, we can see that displacement has put strains on urban areas and could have contributed to the spread of unrest in Syria.
Of course the conflict is ongoing, and it’s very difficult to study anything that’s happening in Syria at this point. We still have yet to disentangle the line from climate and drought, to displacement, to conflict. We’re not making any causal claims about climate change causing conflict, but it certainly is what the security community calls a “threat multiplier.” It makes other threats to human security worse, and in this case we see it fast at hand.
If security analysts had been incorporating environmental security variables, including climate, into their assessments of how stable Syria was, they may have been able to make a different assessment of Syria’s stability and warned policymakers.
Light: What are some other effects of climate change that you can see exacerbating tensions in already-tense areas?
Femia: Climate change primarily manifests itself through water. But it varies; different kinds of water, different ways. It can lead to more extreme weather events: either a drought or a major storm or an amount of rainfall that’s unusual and leads to flooding. It’s not just scarcity, it’s too much, too little and unpredictably. For example, it’s already difficult to predict how the monsoon season will change from year to year. It’s the same with droughts in the Sahel behaving differently.
And then with salt water you have the problem of sea level rise and ocean acidification. Sea level rise is likely to devastate infrastructure along the coastlines, but it will also have a significant impact on freshwater and the economies that are tied to coastal infrastructure, which go far inland in many countries. It’s not divorced from fresh water: sea level rise can penetrate aquifers that are close to the coast and then you have salt water intrusion, which makes that fresh water useless. Egypt is going to be facing a pretty significant problem in the future as a result of this, a problem that it doesn’t need, as its coastal aquifers—there are many, there’s a lot of water there— have sea water intrude. A significant part of Egypt’s economy is based on that area of the Nile delta in and around the coastline, and a lot of the country’s population is there.
Light: How do these climate change-related conflicts—what we see now in Syria, or what we will see elsewhere in the future—affect U.S. security interests? How should we be thinking about these conflicts strategically?
Femia: The U.S. has started to define its security not just in terms of potential conflicts between nations but also in terms of how failed and fragile states might contribute to transnational security problems. These states can pose any number of problematic security risks, whether it’s a sharp increase in cross-border refugee movement creating refugee crises, whether it’s the implosion of a state that leads to the proliferation of non-state actors—terrorist organizations that might feed on such a situation—or the proliferation of weapons. It can also lead to significant food insecurity, which can have global implications.
For example, Pakistan is a very worrying place, not just because you have a number of terrorist organizations that operate in Pakistan, but also because they have a lot of nuclear material, fissile material and weapons floating around in that country. At the same time, Pakistan is quite vulnerable to the effects of glacial melting, which provides a lot of its water. We saw the impacts of flooding in Pakistan not that long ago, which displaced millions of people. So you don’t want to place this climate strain on a country that’s already so fragile and vulnerable. There are a lot of security problems associated with the situation on the ground in places like Pakistan, places like East Africa, etc.
We also need to look at the issue in a broader sense. Obviously, arctic melt is going to affect the movement of goods. Climate change may be affecting the movement of fisheries in, for example, places like the South China Sea. It’s a main shipping lane for the U.S. The South China Sea is very important for both the U.S. and China, and global trade, and is sort of a sticking point, with many disputes over who can operate in what part of the sea. Climate change is going to have security implications across the globe and conflict is just one area of concern.
Light: How would you recommend America address the increasing number of conflicts exacerbated by climate change?
Femia: What the U.S. should do in this context is, first, focus on integrating climate change and environmental security variables into how it analyzes intelligence and how it looks at the conflict potential of a region or nation. What that means is that the analysts—not just in the intelligence community but also in places like U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department—who look at parts of the world and try to anticipate what might go wrong in these areas, they really need to look at the climate and environmental security variables that impact people’s lives and also look out 10, 15, 20 years at potential conflicts down the line.
Secondly, the U.S. has to do the same sort of thing in its broader national security planning. The Department of Defense has actually been leading the charge in this area. For example, in 2010, it included climate change in its quadrennial defense review. The Navy has a task force on climate change looking at the impacts of sea level rise, not just on the Navy itself, but on how that might influence national security.
Thirdly, based on those assessments, put some resources into the issue. We put a lot of money—oftentimes with bipartisan support—into counterterrorism. We put a lot of money into nonproliferation. But we don’t see that level of resources going into combating climate change. I’d say the U.S., by elevating this issue in its national security thinking, should prioritize devoting resources to both adapting to climate change itself and to helping countries that are vulnerable adapt to climate impacts. It should be a bipartisan issue. It is a national security issue. There’s nothing ideological about the problem. Climate change is happening and we should do something about it. There are differences in how to go about addressing the issue, but in general this is something that there should be widespread agreement on. When you look at it in the context of security, it’s obvious that this has nothing to do with party divisions and we should be putting the necessary resources into it.
Part of the problem is some analysts will say, “well, we don’t want, for example, the military doing much about climate change, that’s not what they do.” Well, that’s true. But if you let this problem get out of hand you’re going to have a number of situations in the future, whether they’re major disasters or conflicts, that our security forces may have to respond to. It will cost us a lot more in the long term if we do nothing now.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
A good backup generator can help you keep your home running smoothly, even in the event of a major power outage. And, when you choose a solar generator, you can power your home using clean, renewable energy from the sun. By contrast, gas and diesel generators burn fossil fuels, and are extremely loud and spew harmful emissions into the atmosphere. Here are the best solar power generators available today that can provide a cleaner alternative for home generators.
Goal Zero<p>The <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Portable-Inverter-Generator-Generators-Emergency/dp/B08MBDN4VK" target="_blank">Yeti 6000X</a> is actually a portable power station that can be used for off-grid camping or powering an RV. With 6,000 watt-hours and two 2000W AC charger ports, it will give you plenty of power for your home. With a home integration kit, it's easy to use the Goal Zero Yeti 6000X to power essential circuits.</p><p><strong>Why buy: </strong>Though it isn't exactly cheap, the Yeti 6000X power station is a great all-purpose backup generator, including a top-of-the-line charge controller and two robust AC outlets that make it easy for you to keep your household essentials up and running. It can even power a full-size refrigerator or microwave.</p>
Renogy<p>Renogy produces several different power stations and chargers, but we especially like the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Renogy-Powerbox-Portable-Outdoor-1075WH-Generator/dp/B01N6BCDZD" target="_blank">Lycan Powerbox</a>, a solar power solution that's only a little bit bigger than a suitcase. It comes with an easy-grip handle and heavy-duty wheels, making it one of the most portable solar generators around while still offering 1200W of output, which is enough power for most electronic devices and some appliances.</p><p><strong>Why buy:</strong> The Lycan Powerbox can provide 1075 watt-hours of continuous power without the noise or fumes associated with gas generators. It offers great portability and includes an LCD display and easy, intuitive controls that allow you to switch between DC power and AC power as needed, as well USB ports and 12 volt car charger ports.</p>
Jackery<p>The <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083KBKJ8Q/?tag=best-solar-generator-20" target="_blank">Jackery Explorer 1000 portable power station</a> is one of the best all-around options, equally suited for outdoor activities and for emergency power readiness. Though it's rated for 1,000 watts, it can actually get closer to 2,000. The lithium battery pack offers a capacity of 1,200 watt-hours, and Jackery's professional MPPT technology makes it easy to get your unit fully charged in a relatively short span of time (usually just eight hours if you have two panels going).</p><p><strong>Why buy: </strong>Jackery is one of the leading names in outdoor equipment and in clean energy products. This portable power station is a great pick for campers and can also be a very effective home backup power solution for small appliances and electronics thanks to its pure sine wave inverter AC outlets.</p>
Westinghouse Outdoor Power<p>Westinghouse is another company that specializes in solar powered generators, most of which are more ideally suited for camping trips. Their <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Westinghouse-iGen600s-Portable-Generator-Lithium-ion/dp/B08SJ8JBBC/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&m=A2MDFVW08TGIW8&marketplaceID=ATVPDKIKX0DER&qid=1614289724&s=merchant-items&sr=1-2" target="_blank">iGen600s</a> portable generator, however, offers a wattage of up to 1,200 peak watts, which can certainly function as a decent emergency backup for certain household appliances and small devices.</p><p><strong>Why buy: </strong>For a portable yet still very versatile solar generator, Westinghouse is a company to keep on your list. The iGen600 power system can run a mini fridge for up to 42 hours or a CPAP machine for up to 46 hours thanks to its lithium-ion battery that offers 592 Watt-hours of energy and a long battery life.</p>
EcoFlow<p>The <a href="https://www.amazon.com/EF-ECOFLOW-Portable-Station-Generator/dp/B083FR3762" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">EcoFlow DELTA power station</a> is a wonderfully rugged, dependable backup generator that can help meet your power needs during a blackout. For one thing, the charging time is incredible; you can potentially go from zero to 80 percent in under an hour with a wall outlet. Should you ever find yourself facing a power outage, this is an emergency energy solution you'll be really thankful for.</p><p><strong>Why buy:</strong> The DELTA station from EcoFlow offers a lot of value and usability; in particular, it has one of the fastest recharging times of any solar generator, which may be reason enough for you to choose it over the competitors. The DELTA unit offers 13 ports, meaning it's compatible with pretty much any device or appliance you could ever need to charge.</p>
Bluetti<p>For a heavy-duty emergency power solution, look no further than to MAXOAK, and particularly to a product called the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/BLUETTI-Portable-Station-Generator-Emergency/dp/B08MZJW9Y5" target="_blank">Bluetti AC200P</a>. With a 2000 Watt-hour capacity, this is one of the most robust solar generators you'll find anywhere.</p><p><strong>Why buy:</strong> MAXOAK's Bluetti AC200P is the one you're going to want for really heavy-duty home energy backup. With massive AC inverters that offer up to 4800W surge capacity, it can provide more than enough power to fuel all your most critical home appliances, even some HVAC units. Also note the two-year warranty, a generous consumer protection.</p>
Point Zero Energy<p><a href="https://www.pointzeroenergy.com/product/titan-solar-generator/" target="_blank">Point Zero Energy</a> is one of the foremost names in disaster preparedness, and when you take a look at their product specs, you'll see why. Their Titan model solar generator offers almost twice the storage of similarly priced units with a high-capacity 2,000-watt-hour battery capacity and 3,000 watt high-efficiency inverter.</p><p><strong>Why buy: </strong>On a purely technical level, this is the beefiest generator on our list, though of course, it's also one of the priciest. The unit is made with high-efficiency components, meaning it doesn't waste a lot of energy running the system; instead, it just supplies you with plenty of functional electricity when you need it the most.</p>
By Tim Radford
By 2050, flood damage in the world’s coastal cities is expected to reach $1 trillion a year as sea levels rise and global warming triggers new extremes of heat, windstorm and rain.
More than 40 percent of these prodigious costs could fall upon just four cities—New Orleans, Miami and New York in the U.S. and Guangzhou in China.
Stephane Hallegatte of the World Bank in Washington and colleagues looked at the risks of future flood losses in the 136 largest of the world’s coastal cities.
Any coastal city is always at some risk—by definition it is at sea level, and often on an estuary or floodplain, and very often began as a seaport.
But risks increase as the environment changes: some coastal cities are subsiding; sea levels are slowly but surely rising as the oceans warm and the glaciers melt; and for two decades researchers have repeatedly warned that what used to be “extreme” events such as once-in-a-century floods are likely to arrive considerably more often than once a century.
But, Hallegatte and colleagues point out in Nature Climate Change, there is another factor: populations are growing, and even in the poorest nations there is greater economic development. At bottom, for any future disaster, there will be more potential victims, with more investment to lose.
In 2005, average global flood losses are estimated to have reached $6 billion a year. This figure is expected to grow to $50 billion a year, and unless cities put money into better flood defenses, losses could pass the $1 trillion mark.
To make their calculations, the authors matched average annual losses (and in a city like New Orleans, much of it already below sea level, this is estimated at $600 million) against a city’s gross domestic product, to provide a measure of how much should be set aside to pay for such losses.
Both New York and New Orleans have already undergone catastrophic flooding this century, and flood hazard can only increase.
Some cities—Amsterdam in the Netherlands is a classic example—are highly exposed to flood risk, and the once-a-century flood could cost the Dutch $83 billion, but in fact Dutch sea defense standards are probably the highest in the world. Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Alexandria in Egypt have less to lose, but in relative terms both are far more vulnerable.
Prophecies such as these are intended to be proved wrong: the idea is that a prophet warns of horrors to come, people take steps and as a consequence the horrors do not arrive.
But as disaster professionals have learned again and again, governments, city authorities, investors and even citizens tend not to listen to prophecies of doom: scientists and engineers repeatedly described what could happen to New Orleans if it was hit by a powerful-enough hurricane, and in 2005, as Hurricane Katrina arrived, the levees gave way with catastrophic results.
But, the scientists warn, Miami, New York and New Orleans are especially vulnerable, because wealth is high but protection systems are poor, and governments should be prepared for disasters more devastating than any experienced today.
The paper’s authors argue that with systematic preparedness and adaptation, annual flood losses in the great global cities could be cut to $63 billion a year.
Engineering projects can help, but will not be enough, so civic authorities should also be thinking about disaster planning and comprehensive insurance programs to cover future losses.
Since risks are highly concentrated—any city piles millions of people and billions of dollars of investment into a relatively small area—flood reduction schemes could be highly cost-effective.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
By Janet Larsen and J. Matthew Roney
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
The world quietly reached a milestone in the evolution of the human diet in 2011. For the first time in modern history, world farmed fish production topped beef production. The gap widened in 2012, with output from fish farming—also called aquaculture—reaching a record 66 million tons, compared with production of beef at 63 million tons. And 2013 may well be the first year that people eat more fish raised on farms than caught in the wild. More than just a crossing of lines, these trends illustrate the latest stage in a historic shift in food production—a shift that at its core is a story of natural limits.
As the global demand for animal protein grew more than fivefold over the second half of the twentieth century, humans began to press against the productivity constraints of the world’s rangelands and oceans. Annual beef production climbed from 19 million tons in 1950 to more than 50 million tons in the late 1980s. Over the same period, the wild fish catch ballooned from 17 million tons to almost 90 million tons. But since the late 1980s, the growth in beef production has slowed, and the reported wild fish catch has remained essentially flat.
The bottom line is that getting much more food from natural systems may not be possible. Much of the world’s grassland is stocked at or beyond capacity, and most of the world’s fisheries are fished to their limits or already crashing. Overstocked rangelands become obvious as the loss of protective vegetation leads to soil degradation, which at its worst can cause punishing dust and sand storms. Overexploited fisheries are less readily visible, but fishing patterns over time reveal that more effort is required to achieve the same size catch as in years past. Boats are using more fuel and traveling to more remote and deeper waters to bring in their haul. Anglers are pulling up smaller fish, and populations of some of the most popular food fish have collapsed.
Historically, people’s taste in eating animal protein was largely shaped by where they lived. In places with extensive grasslands, like in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina and Australia, people gravitated toward grazing livestock. Along coasts and on islands, as in Japan, wild fish tended to be the protein staple. Today, with little room for expanding the output from rangelands and the seas, producing more beef and fish for a growing and increasingly affluent world population has meant relying on feedlots for fattening cattle and on ponds, nets and pens for growing fish.
While open waters and grasslands can be self-sustaining if managed carefully, raising fish and livestock in concentrated operations requires inputs. Grain and soybeans have been inserted into the protein production food chain. Cattle consume seven pounds of grain or more to produce an additional pound of beef. This is twice as high as the grain rations for pigs, and over three times those of poultry.
Fish are far more efficient, typically taking less than two pounds of feed to add another pound of weight. Pork and poultry are the most widely eaten forms of animal protein worldwide, but farmed fish output is increasing the fastest. Average annual growth rates over the last five years have mirrored the relative efficiency of feed use, with the global production of farmed fish growing by nearly six percent a year, poultry by four percent, and pork by 1.7 percent—fast outpacing beef, which barely increased at all.
As grain and soybean prices have risen well above historical levels in recent years, the cost of producing grain-eating livestock has also gone up. Higher prices have nudged consumers away from the least-efficient feeders. This means more farmed fish and less beef. In the U.S., where the amount of meat in people's diets has been falling since 2004, average consumption of beef per person has dropped by more than 13 percent and that of chicken by five percent. U.S. fish consumption has also dropped, but just by two percent.
Beyond economic considerations, health and environmental concerns are also leading many people in industrial countries to reduce their beef intake. Meanwhile, fish are touted as healthy alternatives (save for the largest types, which have accumulated mercury from environmental pollution). Diets heavy in red meat have been associated with a higher risk for heart disease and colon cancer, among other ailments. Beef production has garnered a negative reputation for having a large carbon footprint and for destroying habitat, notably in the Brazilian Amazon. And excess nitrogen fertilizer applied to the fields of feed corn grown to satisfy the world’s livestock runs off into streams and rivers, sometimes flowing to coastal waters where it creates large algal blooms and low-oxygen “dead zones” where fish cannot survive.
While it is only recently that the limitations of natural systems have emerged on a global scale, the practice of aquaculture dates back millennia. China, which accounts for 62 percent of the world’s farmed fish, has long cultivated different types of carp that eat different things—phytoplankton, zooplankton, grass or detritus—together in a mini ecosystem. Today carp and their relatives are still the mainstay of Chinese aquaculture, making up nearly half the country’s output. Filter-feeding mollusks, like clams and oysters, account for close to a third. Carp, catfish and other species are also grown in Chinese rice paddies, where their waste can fertilize the grain crop. This is also practiced in Indonesia, Thailand and Egypt.
Unfortunately, not all aquaculture works this way. Some of the farmed fish that are quickly gaining popularity, like salmon and shrimp, are carnivorous species that eat fishmeal or fish oil produced from forage fish from the wild. Yet most forage fish stocks (think anchovies, herrings and sardines), which typically make up about a third of the world oceanic fish catch, are dangerously overharvested. Fish farmers are working to reduce the amount of fish meal and oil in their rations, but in the rush to meet ever-expanding world demand, the share of farmed fish being fed has increased because they can reach market size quickly. Norway, the world’s top farmed salmon producer, now imports more fish oil than any other country. China, the world’s leading shrimp producer, takes in some 30 percent of the fishmeal traded each year.
As cattle ranches have displaced biologically rich rainforests, fish farms have displaced mangrove forests that provide important fish nursery habitats and protect coasts during storms. Worldwide, aquaculture is thought to be responsible for more than half of all mangrove loss, mostly for shrimp farming. In the Philippines, some two thirds of the country’s mangroves—more than 100,000 hectares—have been removed for shrimp farming over the last 40 years.
Another problem with intensive confined animal feeding operations of all kinds, whether for farmed fish or for cattle, is not what gets extracted from the environment but what gets put in it. On a small-scale farm with livestock, animal waste can be used to fertilize crops. But putting large numbers of animals together transforms waste from an asset into a liability. Along with the vast quantities of waste, the antibiotic and parasite-killing chemicals used to deal with the unwanted disease and infestations that can spread easily in crowded conditions also can end up in surrounding ecosystems. The overuse of antibiotics in livestock operations can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, threatening both human and animal health. In the U.S., for instance, 80 percent of antibiotics use is in agriculture—and often not for treating sick animals but for promoting rapid weight gain.
Thus the solutions to our collision with the limitations of the natural systems that have long provided food have created their own host of problems. On a per person basis, beef consumption—now averaging less than 20 pounds (8.9 kilograms) each year globally—is unlikely to rebound to the 24 pounds eaten in the 1970s. But annual world fish consumption per person of 42 pounds—up from 25 pounds in the 1970s—is set to keep rising. With the additional fish coming from farms rather than the seas, the urgency of making aquaculture sustainable is clear.
On the fish feed front, fishmeal producers are incorporating more seafood scraps into their products; today roughly a third of fishmeal is made up of food fish trimmings and other by-products. And some fish farmers are substituting livestock and poultry processing wastes and plant-based feeds for fishmeal and oil, which does not sound particularly appetizing, but does reduce pressure on wild stocks. From a sustainability standpoint, however, it would be preferable to shift the balance back in favor of farmed fish raised without feeds based on food grains, oilseeds and protein from other animals.
Our global population of seven billion people, growing by nearly 80 million per year, cannot escape the limits of nature. To live within Earth’s natural boundaries requires rethinking meat and fish production practices to respect ecology. Most important, it means reducing demand by slowing population growth and, for those of us already living high on the food chain, eating less meat, milk, eggs and fish.
By Noam Chomsky
What is the future likely to bring? A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside. So, imagine that you’re an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what’s happening here or, for that matter, imagine you’re an historian 100 years from now—assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious—and you’re looking back at what’s happening today. You’d see something quite remarkable.
For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves. That’s been true since 1945. It’s now being finally recognized that there are more long-term processes like environmental destruction leading in the same direction, maybe not to total destruction, but at least to the destruction of the capacity for a decent existence.
And there are other dangers like pandemics, which have to do with globalization and interaction. So there are processes underway and institutions right in place, like nuclear weapons systems, which could lead to a serious blow to, or maybe the termination of, an organized existence.
How to Destroy a Planet Without Really Trying
The question is: What are people doing about it? None of this is a secret. It’s all perfectly open. In fact, you have to make an effort not to see it.
There have been a range of reactions. There are those who are trying hard to do something about these threats, and others who are acting to escalate them. If you look at who they are, this future historian or extraterrestrial observer would see something strange indeed. Trying to mitigate or overcome these threats are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them, tribal societies and first nations in Canada. They’re not talking about nuclear war but environmental disaster, and they’re really trying to do something about it.
In fact, all over the world—Australia, India, South America—there are battles going on, sometimes wars. In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences. In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand. The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the “rights of nature.”
Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it—and the ground is where it ought to be.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the United Nations General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling President George W. Bush a devil. He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting. Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer. Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product. In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use. That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer. You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background. Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the UN was never even reported.
So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster. At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the U.S. and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible. Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.
Both political parties, President Obama, the media and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call “a century of energy independence” for the U.S. Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside. What they mean is: We’ll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world.
And that’s pretty much the case everywhere. Admittedly, when it comes to alternative energy development, Europe is doing something. Meanwhile, the U.S., the richest and most powerful country in world history, is the only nation among perhaps 100 relevant ones that doesn’t have a national policy for restricting the use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t even have renewable energy targets. It’s not because the population doesn’t want it. Americans are pretty close to the international norm in their concern about global warming. It’s institutional structures that block change. Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one.
So that’s what the future historian—if there is one—would see. He might also read today’s scientific journals. Just about every one you open has a more dire prediction than the last.
“The Most Dangerous Moment in History”
The other issue is nuclear war. It’s been known for a long time that if there were to be a first strike by a major power, even with no retaliation, it would probably destroy civilization just because of the nuclear-winter consequences that would follow. You can read about it in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It’s well understood. So the danger has always been a lot worse than we thought it was.
We’ve just passed the 50 year anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was called "the most dangerous moment in history" by historian Arthur Schlesinger, President John F. Kennedy’s advisor. Which it was. It was a very close call, and not the only time either. In some ways, however, the worst aspect of these grim events is that the lessons haven’t been learned.
What happened in the missile crisis in October 1962 has been prettified to make it look as if acts of courage and thoughtfulness abounded. The truth is that the whole episode was almost insane. There was a point, as the missile crisis was reaching its peak, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy offering to settle it by a public announcement of a withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. missiles from Turkey. Actually, Kennedy hadn’t even known that the U.S. had missiles in Turkey at the time. They were being withdrawn anyway, because they were being replaced by more lethal Polaris nuclear submarines, which were invulnerable.
So that was the offer. Kennedy and his advisors considered it—and rejected it. At the time, Kennedy himself was estimating the likelihood of nuclear war at a third to a half. So Kennedy was willing to accept a very high risk of massive destruction in order to establish the principle that we—and only we—have the right to offensive missiles beyond our borders, in fact anywhere we like, no matter what the risk to others—and to ourselves, if matters fall out of control. We have that right, but no one else does.
Kennedy did, however, accept a secret agreement to withdraw the missiles the U.S. was already withdrawing, as long as it was never made public. Khrushchev, in other words, had to openly withdraw the Russian missiles while the U.S. secretly withdrew its obsolete ones; that is, Khrushchev had to be humiliated and Kennedy had to maintain his macho image. He’s greatly praised for this: Courage and coolness under threat, and so on. The horror of his decisions is not even mentioned—try to find it on the record.
And to add a little more, a couple of months before the crisis blew up, the U.S. had sent missiles with nuclear warheads to Okinawa, Japan. These were aimed at China during a period of great regional tension.
Well, who cares? We have the right to do anything we want anywhere in the world. That was one grim lesson from that era, but there were others to come.
Ten years after that, in 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear alert. It was his way of warning the Russians not to interfere in the ongoing Israel-Arab war and, in particular, not to interfere after he had informed the Israelis that they could violate a ceasefire the U.S. and Russia had just agreed upon. Fortunately, nothing happened.
Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan was in office. Soon after he entered the White House, he and his advisors had the Air Force start penetrating Russian air space to try to elicit information about Russian warning systems, Operation Able Archer. Essentially, these were mock attacks. The Russians were uncertain, some high-level officials fearing that this was a step towards a real first strike. Fortunately, they didn’t react, though it was a close call. And it goes on like that.
What to Make of the Iranian and North Korean Nuclear Crises
At the moment, the nuclear issue is regularly on front pages in the cases of North Korea and Iran. There are ways to deal with these ongoing crises. Maybe they wouldn’t work, but at least you could try. They are, however, not even being considered, not even reported.
Take the case of Iran, which is considered in the West—not in the Arab world, not in Asia—the gravest threat to world peace. It’s a Western obsession, and it’s interesting to look into the reasons for it, but I’ll put that aside here. Is there a way to deal with the supposed gravest threat to world peace? Actually, there are quite a few. One way, a pretty sensible one, was proposed a couple of months ago at a meeting of the non-aligned countries in Tehran. In fact, they were just reiterating a proposal that’s been around for decades, pressed particularly by Egypt, and has been approved by the UN General Assembly.
The proposal is to move toward establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region. That wouldn’t be the answer to everything, but it would be a pretty significant step forward. And there were ways to proceed. Under UN auspices, there was to be an international conference in Finland last December to try to implement plans to move toward this. What happened?
You won’t read about it in the newspapers because it wasn’t reported—only in specialist journals. In early November, Iran agreed to attend the meeting. A couple of days later President Obama cancelled the meeting, saying the time wasn’t right. The European Parliament issued a statement calling for it to continue, as did the Arab states. Nothing resulted. So we’ll move toward ever-harsher sanctions against the Iranian population—it doesn’t hurt the regime—and maybe war. Who knows what will happen?
In Northeast Asia, it’s the same sort of thing. North Korea may be the craziest country in the world. It’s certainly a good competitor for that title. But it does make sense to try to figure out what’s in the minds of people when they’re acting in crazy ways. Why would they behave the way they do? Just imagine ourselves in their situation. Imagine what it meant in the Korean War years of the early 1950s for your country to be totally leveled, everything destroyed by a huge superpower, which furthermore was gloating about what it was doing. Imagine the imprint that would leave behind.
Bear in mind that the North Korean leadership is likely to have read the public military journals of this superpower at that time explaining that, since everything else in North Korea had been destroyed, the Air Force was sent to destroy North Korea’s dams, huge dams that controlled the water supply—a war crime, by the way, for which people were hanged in Nuremberg. And these official journals were talking excitedly about how wonderful it was to see the water pouring down, digging out the valleys, and the Asians scurrying around trying to survive. The journals were exulting in what this meant to those “Asians,” horrors beyond our imagination. It meant the destruction of their rice crop, which in turn meant starvation and death. How magnificent! It’s not in our memory, but it’s in their memory.
Let’s turn to the present. There’s an interesting recent history. In 1993, Israel and North Korea were moving towards an agreement in which North Korea would stop sending any missiles or military technology to the Middle East and Israel would recognize that country. President Clinton intervened and blocked it. Shortly after that, in retaliation, North Korea carried out a minor missile test. The U.S. and North Korea did then reach a framework agreement in 1994 that halted its nuclear work and was more or less honored by both sides. When George W. Bush came into office, North Korea had maybe one nuclear weapon and verifiably wasn’t producing any more.
Bush immediately launched his aggressive militarism, threatening North Korea—“axis of evil” and all that—so North Korea got back to work on its nuclear program. By the time Bush left office, they had eight to 10 nuclear weapons and a missile system, another great neocon achievement. In between, other things happened. In 2005, the U.S. and North Korea actually reached an agreement in which North Korea was to end all nuclear weapons and missile development. In return, the West, but mainly the U.S., was to provide a light-water reactor for its medical needs and end aggressive statements. They would then form a nonaggression pact and move toward accommodation.
It was pretty promising, but almost immediately Bush undermined it. He withdrew the offer of the light-water reactor and initiated programs to compel banks to stop handling any North Korean transactions, even perfectly legal ones. The North Koreans reacted by reviving their nuclear weapons program. And that’s the way it’s been going.
It’s well known. You can read it in straight, mainstream American scholarship. What they say is: It’s a pretty crazy regime, but it’s also following a kind of tit-for-tat policy. You make a hostile gesture and we’ll respond with some crazy gesture of our own. You make an accommodating gesture and we’ll reciprocate in some way.
Lately, for instance, there have been South Korean-U.S. military exercises on the Korean peninsula which, from the North’s point of view, have got to look threatening. We’d think they were threatening if they were going on in Canada and aimed at us. In the course of these, the most advanced bombers in history, Stealth B-2s and B-52s, are carrying out simulated nuclear bombing attacks right on North Korea’s borders.
This surely sets off alarm bells from the past. They remember that past, so they’re reacting in a very aggressive, extreme way. Well, what comes to the West from all this is how crazy and how awful the North Korean leaders are. Yes, they are. But that’s hardly the whole story, and this is the way the world is going.
It’s not that there are no alternatives. The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous. So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture. Unless people do something about it. We always can.
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Hundreds of activists from the Arab region and around the world attended a historical march at Cornish Park in Doha, Qatar demanding urgent actions to address climate change during the UN climate conference, COP18. Activists are asking for world leaders to help create a world that does not compromise resources and life for future generations or their ability to meet their own needs. The march is thought to be the first event of its kind in the history of modern day Qatar.
Ali Fakhry, IndyACT media campaigner explained, "The marchers are here to ask their country leaders to act now, there is no time left." During the march, people held banners and chanted "Pledge Pledge, Pledge," "Arabs; it's time to lead" and "One Environment, Earth," while calling for urgent climate action, concrete steps towards binding future agreement in Doha and a second commitment of Kyoto protocol to start in 2013.
"Time is running out for us to ensure climate impacts do not spin out of control. We only have one environment and one Earth, as the ministers and decision makers are coming, we need them to hear civil society voices and push for concrete steps they are willing to take whether it is committing to cutting their emissions or ensuring poorer countries get support to take action," said Fakhry.
Activists from more than 15 Arab countries, including Qatar, Mauritania, Morocco, Jordan, Libya, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Sudan, Oman, Egypt and Bahrain are also calling on their leaders—during the first climate negotiations ever held in the Middle East—to submit concrete voluntary pledges for mitigation targets at COP18 in order to fulfill their own responsibilities in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The march was supported by regional and international NGO networks such as IndyACT, OASIS Doha, 350.org, Climate Action Network and the global TckTckTck campaign, as well as youth activists who were instrumental in the Arab spring and are now organized in the newly founded Arab Youth Climate Movement.
The youth climate movement—another first of its kind in the Arab world launched by IndyACT—unites hundreds of grassroots activists from across the region. On Nov. 10, activists staged a regional Day of Action in the lead up to the UN climate talks in Doha.
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A new International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publication outlining action plans for women to help them adapt to climate change and minimize its impact has been launched at the 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar.
A water taxi network owned and operated by women on the Nile that reduces emissions and provides fast, reliable public transport in a gridlocked Cairo transport system; a recycling project that empowers women as green entrepreneurs in Kathmandu; women-environmental whistleblowers on the coast of Liberia that assist the government in the collection of meteorological data to forecast the weather, acting as an early-warning system for storms and reporting environmental offenses; a carbon-footprint program run by community women and poetry singers in temples in Jordan and Nepal that communicate climate change messages. These are just a few innovative examples included in the book.
The Art of Implementation: Gender Strategies Transforming National and Regional Climate Change Decision Making focuses on the development of climate change and gender action plans—steps to be taken by women to adapt to climate change and minimize its impact. The publication includes a synthesis of strategies and action plans developed by the IUCN Global Gender Office on behalf of the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) in Mozambique, Jordan, Egypt, Tanzania, Nepal, Haiti, Panama, Costa Rica, Liberia, the Arab League of States and the Central American Region. It also outlines the methodology used by IUCN.
“A critical step in the development of these action plans is the need to anchor global agreements within national contexts so as to take action on climate change at the local and national level, whilst harnessing the power of women in the process,” says Lorena Aguilar, IUCN’s Senior Global Gender Adviser. “The strategies and action plans represent a country’s intention to empower and respond to the needs of the often invisible 'other half' of the population in the context of climate change. They link national and global policy in a concrete manner, communicate the importance of gender in climate action and frame women as agents of change—and not merely as a 'vulnerable' group.”
The book outlines actions designed to adapt to climate change and minimize its impact that can be taken by women and other players in a variety of sectors covering topics as diverse as agriculture and food security, forests and REDD+, water, energy, health, urbanization, integrated coastal management, waste management, tourism, land use and disaster risk management. Each section also includes clear objectives, actions and indicators and identifies the specific institutions responsible for their implementation and delivery.
The action plans provide a comprehensive framework for the development of projects and their implementation, which has been agreed on by governments, UN institutions, contributing country partners, academia, the private sector and civil society, among others.
“Climate change will undermine the very foundation of socioeconomic development and will increase inequality and poverty,” says Tarja Halonen, Former President of Finland and main funding partner to the project. “It will have a serious impact on the livelihoods of poor women in developing countries, as the increasing droughts and storms will affect agriculture and water resources, which are often the responsibility of women.”
Until recently, policy responses at the global or national level did not reflect this reality. For more than twenty years, gender equality was absent from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and in decision-making by its Conference of the Parties and Subsidiary Bodies. Few National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs) or national communications submitted by Parties to the UNFCCC addressed gender issues in a comprehensive manner, and some did not mention gender considerations at all.
Following several years of advocacy, capacity building, and building awareness, governments have now agreed multilaterally that gender equality is a key component in achieving climate change goals. Since 2008, more than 60 official gender references have entered the UNFCCC negotiation text, and the final outcomes of the Cancun (2010) and Durban (2011) conferences included eight and seventeen references to gender, respectively.
With these global mandates in place, the urgent next step is to turn them into action and determine how to design climate change policies that address these issues.
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