By Kaamil Ahmed
Red-faced and with his hair still wet, Hani Abu Amirah's grandson sobbed as he shuffled over to where she sat, looking out on the Mediterranean Sea from Gaza's Shati refugee camp.
The boy's distress stemmed from his decision to go swimming a little earlier that morning, one that incurred his father's wrath when he was yanked out of the water and beaten for disobeying orders to stay away from the sea. A year ago, that childlike act of enjoyment would have gone unnoticed but today 80 percent of Gaza's Mediterranean Sea coastline is thought to be polluted and families who used to rely on it for livelihoods and leisure now fear its waters.
"The sea is a part of us, the sea is our life," said Abu Amirah, 56, who still spends her days sitting by the beach with her grandchildren—even if she struggles to find the same pleasure she once did. "But the pollution affects us now, [the smell of sewage means] we cannot even sit here properly anymore … we banned the children from going down there."
Hani Abu Amirah, 56, watches the Mediterranean Sea with her grandchildren from outside her home in Gaza's Shati refugee camp. Kaamil Ahmed / Mongabay
Through three wars and a decade of blockade by Israel and Egypt, the Mediterranean has given an escape to 2 million Gazans living in the Palestinian enclave lodged between southern Israel, Egypt and the sea. Families would bathe in its waters to escape sticky summer days, then line the seafront with coffee and stove-roasted corn by night.
Many now worry they have lost even that, especially over the past year during which an acute electricity crisis has caused 110 million liters (110, 000 cubic meters) of raw or poorly treated sewage to gush into the sea daily, according to the UN. The newest figures are almost one year old.
From her customary position outside the family home, Abu Amirah waves her hand out toward the brown scum seeping out from Gaza's coastline that now dominates her view because of the 17 wastewater pipes that empty straight into it from various points along the 25 mile (40 kilometer) shore. The blue waters they have replaced over the past year are now only noticeable as she points to the unpolluted waters further out, sitting on the horizon beyond Gaza's coast.
Gaza's problems with water have been a recurring theme since Israel imposed an air, land and sea blockade on the coastal enclave in 2007 to squeeze the government set up by Hamas, a group Israel has been tangled in conflict with since the early 2000s, when it carried out dozens of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. With nowhere else to turn in a water-scarce region, Gaza has been drawing much of its water from the sea but also expels effluent into the same source. While Israel has met its water needs with desalinated water, building the world's largest reverse osmosis plant only 30 miles north of Gaza, similar facilities in Gaza lack the electricity to run at full capacity.
The Gaza Valley was once a nature reserve, known for hosting migratory birds, but has been destroyed by waste dumped there in recent years. Kaamil Ahmed / Mongabay
Its power problems became critical last March when an internal dispute between Gaza's ruling leadership, Hamas, and the rival West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) left fuel duties unpaid, forcing the only local power plant's closure and leaving Gaza with such little electricity that pumps used to funnel sewage to cleansing plants could no longer function. The wastewater instead headed straight to the sea, where pollution levels have reached four times the international standard. It has caused alarm in Israel as well, where beaches close to the enclave have been shut down because of the spreading pollution. The most recent figures are about six months old.
With 2 million people living in their coastal territory, Gaza's population is almost as tightly packed as notoriously cramped Hong Kong, putting pressure on everything from the aquifer most draw their water from to the electricity needed to power factories, sewage cleansing facilities and desalination plants.
Though the ongoing electricity crisis has exacerbated those pressures, they have been consistent sources of concern since Hamas took control of Gaza. A 2017 report by the UN predicted the damage done to Gaza's aquifer, its only water source, will be irreversible by 2018—sooner than previous estimations.
Much of that population lives in places like the Shati refugee camp, founded to house an influx of Palestinians displaced from nearby villages during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. At Shati, the industrial pipe spewing into the sea also carries medical waste from Gaza's main hospital, al-Shifa. Residents said their children have complained of itchiness after going swimming and that even the sand smells strongly of sewage. Their fears deepened after five year-old Mohammad al-Sayis died in July 2017 from a form of shigellosis—a disease spread through fecal matter.
Parasites, including many that affect humans, were found in almost half the samples collected for a 2014 study into the quality of water on Gaza's coast led by Ahmed Hillis, an expert with the Palestinian Environment Quality Authority.
"It's a perfect indicator that the shoreline has been polluted by the wastewater," said Hillis, who believes his study shows there is a strong link between the damage being done to the environment and health risks for Gazans.
Palestinian fishermen prepare their nets in Gaza's port before going out to sea. Kaamil Ahmed / Mongabay
According to the World Health Organization, water-related diseases are the main cause of child deaths in Gaza and estimated to account for a quarter of all illnesses.
"This water is a source of pollution and a source of diseases, for the people and also for the environment," Hillis said. "Visitors to the sea suffer from a lot of illnesses related to the skin because of the direct contact from swimming in this polluted water."
All along Gaza's coast, there are pipes expelling wastewater from the towns and refugee camps where most of the population are concentrated. That pollution diffuses outwards over the first six nautical miles, according to Mohammed Abu Thaer, a marine biologist in the Hamas government's agriculture department—the same distance Israel's navy has limited Gaza's fishermen to since the blockade, despite the 1990s Oslo Peace Accords signed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders which allowed them to travel up to 20 nautical miles.
Thaer said most of the fish sold in Gaza's market is safe, however, because after the first three miles, most catches are of deepwater fish that live well below the sea's surface, where the floating film of effluent becomes diluted.
A Palestinian man transports building supplies through Gaza's Shati refugee camp with a horse and cart. Kaamil Ahmed / Mongabay
He also claimed his department has tested the fish as safe by taking samples of incoming hauls but much of Gaza's population still seem worried about eating the fish, crabs and shrimp their cuisine is known for among Palestinians, according to the fishermen themselves who are anxious about how few people now pass through Gaza's almost deserted fish market. They have already struggled for years with catches diminished because of the Israeli restrictions on where they can fish. Now they have to contend with local concerns over their stock.
"We try to persuade people but they are still too scared to eat fish because of what they hear, not what they see here," said Muhammad Mustafa Abu Khair, 32, who insists he fishes in unpolluted waters.
The gloomy wet market's stock is sparse—small presentations of local sea bream (Sparidae), buckets of crabs (Brachyura) and the odd baby shark (Selachimorph)—but Abu Khair is adamant if customers visited, they would see it is all healthy. The problem is that hardly anyone passes through anymore apart from fishermen who sit in circles on its edges, drinking Arabic coffee from paper cups.
A 2016 study led by Palestinian Environment Quality Authority researcher Hossam Zaqoot found traces of heavy metals like copper and lead were found in the muscles of fish caught near Gaza's coast, and warned that though they were not yet at levels dangerous to humans, they could be in the future if continued rises in pollution further poisoned the fish. The more immediate impact of the pollution, said Abu Thaer, has been in reducing the fish stocks off Gaza's coast.
"The wastewater consists of a lot of dangerous materials like chlorine, ammonia and soap. This affects the fish itself—their growth is slowed and their stock doesn't increase," he said.
Some of the fishermen believe that problem has been made worse by overfishing. The blockade prevents Gaza's ever-growing population from traveling abroad for work while also hindering its own industry. By September 2017, the unemployment rate had soared to 44 percent as factories closed down because of the electricity crisis.
Retired fisherman Khaled Rajab Abu Riyal, 50, said he avoided the sea for nine years because of a liver disease he blames on the pollution he had to wade through as a fisherman. Kaamil Ahmed / Mongabay
For many of the jobless, the sea seems an obvious place to search for an income with a boat and some nets. But fisherman Hani Abu Riyal accuses unlicensed fishermen of putting a strain on the industry by crowding out professionals and using fine nets that pick up even the smallest fish.
"What ended the jobs here is the government itself because there are no jobs. Everyone can be a fisherman," said Abu Riyal, who himself returned to the family tradition of fishing after the blockade meant he could no longer travel to nearby Israeli towns where he had worked as a weaver.
"They fish everything, even the young fish during the breeding season," he said, noting the weak governance in Gaza, which has been fractured since PA officials boycotted the Hamas leadership after it seized control of the territory in 2007. "In another country, there would be a system to stop this."
Environmental expert Hillis said Gaza's water problem is not just limited to the sea; its aquifer, shared with Israel, is also being polluted.
A refuse pipe spews untreated wastewater into the sea, a problem that has increased since Gaza's electricity shortage worsened in 2017. Kaamil Ahmed / Mongabay
Just south of the built-up and congested Gaza City, Bedouin fishermen of Gaza Valley live a much quieter life, preparing their nets in corrugated iron beach huts and digging through the shallows for worms they use as bait. Their isolation is interrupted, however, by the imposing stench from a refuse pipe that reaches hundreds of meters away.
Starting in the West Bank and winding through southern Israel's Negev desert before it arrives in Gaza, the 65 mile-long valley was once a valued ecological site that hosted migratory birds, like flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) and Great White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus), and was declared a nature reserve in 2000 by the PA. But instead of being protected, the previous wetland has become a wasteland used by local municipalities to dump both liquid and solid waste from nearby towns.
A local Bedouin fisherman said their protests against installing wastewater pipes at the site were ignored, but he and the other fishermen all refuse to say anything more.
According to Hillis, Gaza receives only half of the 7.7 billion cubic feet of rain its aquifer requires a year, even less of which recharges the groundwater, allowing salt water to intrude. It also means there's space for leachate, a liquid produced by dissolving waste in landfill sites, and cesspools used to store sewage to seep through Gaza's porous sedimentary rock in places like the Gaza Valley.
Dealing With It
Concern about pollution and the wider electricity crisis has spread to the Israeli sphere, not only because of the physical impact made by intruding pollution but also as Israeli politicians and the military worry that deteriorating conditions increase the chance of another conflict. They accuse Hamas of causing the crisis by allegedly spending money on building its military capacity instead of on the population.
"Israel has an interest in positive dynamics in Gaza, but one cannot demand from the State of Israel to use its state budget for infrastructure that is harmed because of an internal Palestinian conflict, while Hamas invests money in terrorism," Israeli military chief Gadi Eisenkot told the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in July 2017.
A Palestinian fishermen prepares his nets in Gaza's port before going out to sea. Kaamil Ahmed / Mongabay
Israel did agree in late January, however, to begin supplying electricity to a sewage cleansing plant in northern Gaza. The move followed recommendations made in a state review that criticized the military for refusing to provide a power line to the plant when it was built in 2013.
For Hillis, Gaza's environmental challenges cannot be separated from the blockade, which increases the overpopulated enclave's dependence on whatever resources are available to it. He highlights that more than 3,000 items needed to develop Gaza's water and sanitation sector await Israeli approval to enter the strip because of restrictions on "dual-use items," which Israel claims could also be used to build weapons to be used against it.
"Life in Gaza has become more and more complicated by these issues and we need quick solutions for our problems and the environment is the most important," said Hillis. "All of the international community is responsible."
Kaamil Ahmed is a foreign correspondent who has reported on conflicts, labor and the environment in South Asia and the Middle East.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
500 million birds are staying put in parts of Israel that used to serve as a pit stop along their migration route south. Frequent droughts and desertification in Africa have made food scarcer for the birds.
"In the last few decades Israel has become more than just a short stopover because many more birds and a greater number of species can no longer cross the desert," Shay Agmon, an avian coordinator for the Hula Wetland Park in Israel, told Reuters.
Since the 1950s the number of cranes—one of the most abundant species to pass through the Hula wetlands—staying put until the end of winter has risen from 1,000 to 45,000.
"It's harder for the birds to cross a much larger desert and they just cannot do it. There is not enough fuel, there are not enough 'gas stations' on the way, so Israel has [become] their biggest 'gas station,' their biggest restaurant," Agmon told Reuters.
The influx of birds is pressuring farmers as well. Migratory birds are fanning out into the fields and consuming farmers' crops. Experts caution that changes in migratory patterns could alter global food cycles as birds eat insects and protect crops. Workers at the reserve have attempted to lure the birds into the wetlands with feeding sites.
As the climate warms, environmental pressures will push more birds' wintering grounds north.
"They will stay here for longer and eventually the whole pattern of migration will change," Agmon said.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Construction of the world's tallest solar tower is underway. The 820-foot tower, which stands in the middle of a 121-megawatt concentrated solar complex in Israel's sun-drenched Negev desert, is slated for commercial operation by the end of 2017.
World's Tallest Solar Tower to Supply 120,000 Homes With Renewable Energy https://t.co/5Q7089t8de @SolarPowerWorld @votesolar— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1455836129.0
The Ashalim Solar Thermal Power Station, built and operated by Megalim Solar Power Ltd, consists of more than 50,000 computer-controlled heliostats, or mirrors, that track the sun and reflect its rays onto a boiler on top of the tower. The boiler creates superheated steam that then feeds a steam turbine for power generation.
Like other concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, the beauty of the Ashalim complex is that it's designed to produce energy even when the sun isn't shining.
"Compared to solar photovoltaic (PV) applications, direct steam CSP has the advantage of being able to produce electricity for longer periods of time during the solar hours," General Electric, a Megalim shareholder, explained in a brochure. "The ability to operate during peak demand times reduces the need for utilities to build power plants to operate only during peak times—thereby lowering the overall system's electricity production costs."
The electricity generated at the Ashalim facility will be enough to supply 120,000 homes with clean energy and avoid 110,000 tons of CO2 emissions each year.
The Ashalime solar tower in the Negev desert is surrounded by 50,000 heliostats over 1.22 square mile area. Bright Source
"When operational, the Ashalim Solar Thermal Power Station will help Israel achieve its goal of having 10 percent of its electricity production from renewable energy sources by 2020," the developers tout on its website.
As the Associated Press reported, the solar tower is a symbol of Israel's renewable energy ambitions. Renewable sources currently make up only 2.5 percent of the country's energy mix and the Ashalim plant will help increase Israel's energy security by reducing its dependence on fossil fuel imports from other countries.
The Ashalim plant is made of three plots in the Negev desert. It will expand to a fourth plot by 2018. Once the four plots are online, they are set to generate about 310 megawatts of power. That amount of energy can fulfill 1.6 percent of the country's energy needs, or about 5 percent of Israel's population.
"It's the most significant single building block in Israel's commitment to CO2 reduction and renewable energy," Megalim CEO Eran Gartner told the AP.
Israel's Finance Ministry told the AP that if Ashalim is successful, the government will aim to develop more of these facilities.
As Leehee Goldenberg, director of the department of economy and environment at the Israel Union for Environmental Defense said, "Israel has a potential to be a sunshine superpower."
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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A broad coalition of Portlanders have resoundingly rejected fluoridation, by at least a 60-40 percent margin. In rejecting fluoridation, Portland voters agreed with the majority of western nations that there are safer, more effective and less intrusive ways to promote oral health than adding a chemical linked to thyroid disease, IQ loss and other ailments to the water supply, reports the Fluoride Action Network (FAN).
“We are proud of our Portland colleagues who used science and integrity to defeat fluoridation,” said Paul Connett, PhD, FAN's executive director.
Portland’s clean water campaign was spearheaded by Clean Water Portland (CWP), a broad coalition formed in August 2012 after a newspaper revealed secret ongoing fluoridation meetings with Portland City Council members that were illegally kept off the record. With virtually no public input, the city council mandated fluoridation for the city on Sept. 12. CWP then led an unprecedented effort that gathered over 40,000 signatures in less than 30 days to halt the mandate and force the referendum vote.
Fluoride chemicals are the only chemicals added to public water for the purpose of medication. Most western countries, including the vast majority of Europe, do not fluoridate their water.
“Most of Portland’s media falsely reported that fluoridation promoters had science on their side and that opponents used emotion,” said Connett. “Those opposed did their homework, relying on recent scientific findings from the National Research Council (NRC) and Harvard that raise serious questions about the safety of current fluoride exposures."
In 2006, the prestigious NRC warned that current fluoride exposures in the U.S. may increase the risk of thyroid disease, endocrine disruption, neurological disorders and bone damage–particularly among people who have medical conditions that increase their vulnerability to fluoride. The NRC called on scientists to investigate fluoride’s role in chronic disease, but government health authorities have opted against funding such research.
Portland’s vote comes just six months after voters in Wichita, KS soundly rejected fluoridation by a 20 percent margin, and follows close on the heels of an announcement this April that Israel will be ending its mandatory fluoridation program. In Ireland, legislation was proposed this spring that would make it a criminal offense to add fluoride to public water supplies, while in Canada, the number of people drinking fluoridated water has dropped by about 25 percent since 2008.
“The twenty-first century does not take well to anachronistic medical practices, and fluoridation is no exception. This is why more than 120 communities have rejected fluoridation over the past three years alone,” said FAN's Campaign Director, Stuart Cooper. "The trend is towards less fluoridation, not more."
In Portland, opposition to fluoridation included the regional Sierra Club, the Portland branch of the NAACP, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality employees union and more than 200 local medical professionals. National leaders also weighed in, including Ralph Nader, Lois Gibbs, John Stauber, Food and Water Watch, Organic Consumers Association and esteemed scientists Dr. Theo Colborn, Dr. William Hirzy and two members of the NRC's review.
The breadth of the coalition was reflected in polling data showing bipartisan opposition to fluoridation among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, and overwhelming opposition among communities of color.
Voters who rejected fluoridation were concerned by research showing that low-income communities are at highest risk of fluoride’s adverse effects without any benefits. This fact was not lost on Portland’s low-income neighborhoods, which voted overwhelmingly against fluoridation.
Fluoridation proponents had a massive near-million dollar war chest. They used their nearly four to one funding advantage and media clout to flood Portland with misleading ads and editorials touting fluoridation as an urgently needed tool for solving the “dental crisis” in the city’s poor neighborhoods.
But there really wasn’t a dental crisis in Portland as the Oregon Department of Health’s own reports indicate. Fluoridationists tried to hide this inconvenient truth. The most recent Smile Survey shows that Portland children’s decay rates improved since five years ago without fluoridation and, in fact, are better than most fluoridated cites.
Furthermore, analysis of the 2012 Smile Survey showed that non-fluoridated places in Oregon like Portland actually had slightly fewer kids with dental decay than the fluoridated places.
“Fluoridationists had no evidence that any Portland child was fluoride-deficient; but did prove that some Portland children are dentist-deficient. We urge the legalization of Dental Therapists in Oregon who will treat the low-income children who dentists refuse to treat,” said Connett.
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By J. Matthew Roney
Even amid policy uncertainty in major wind power markets, wind developers still managed to set a new record for installations in 2012, with 44,000 megawatts of new wind capacity worldwide. With total capacity exceeding 280,000 megawatts, wind farms generate carbon-free electricity in more than 80 countries, 24 of which have at least 1,000 megawatts. At the European level of consumption, the world’s operating wind turbines could satisfy the residential electricity needs of 450 million people.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
China installed some 13,000 megawatts of wind in 2012, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). This was a marked slowdown from the previous two years, when new installations averaged 18,000 megawatts annually. Reasons for the drop-off include concerns about project quality and inadequate electricity transmission and grid infrastructure, which prompted the government to approve fewer projects and to restrict lending. Still, all told, China leads the world with 75,000 megawatts of wind capacity: more than a quarter of the world total.
In a country more readily associated with coal-fired electricity and nuclear power ambitions, wind reached some impressive milestones in China’s energy mix in 2012. Wind-generated electricity increased more than coal-fired electricity did for the first time. Even more remarkable, the electricity produced by wind farms over the course of the year exceeded that produced by nuclear power plants. And this is just the beginning: with massive wind projects under development across its northern and eastern provinces, and 19 ultra-high-voltage transmission projects connecting windy rural areas to population centers (all to be completed by 2014), more milestones lie ahead in China. Consulting firms GTM Research and Azure International project that China will reach 140,000 megawatts of wind by 2015 and nearly 250,000 megawatts by 2020.
The U.S. wind industry made headlines too. More new wind electricity generating capacity was added in 2012 than any other generation technology, including natural gas—a record 13,100 megawatts. An incredible 5,200 megawatts, spread among 59 wind farms, came online in December alone as developers raced to qualify for the federal production tax credit before it was set to expire at the end of the year. The U.S. remains second only to China, with 60,000 total megawatts of wind capacity—enough to power more than 14 million U.S. homes.
Several U.S. states have more installed wind capacity than most countries do. The 12,200 megawatts in Texas and the 5,500 megawatts in California, for example, would rank them sixth and eleventh, respectively, on the world wind power list. In Texas, a further 21,000 megawatts of wind projects are under consideration, much of which could be accommodated by the “Competitive Renewable Energy Zones” high-voltage transmission projects scheduled for completion by the end of 2013. These new lines will connect wind-rich West Texas and the panhandle with high-demand markets to the east. (See data).
Wind farms generated at least 10 percent of the electricity produced in nine states in 2012, up from five states the year before. Iowa and South Dakota got nearly a quarter of their electricity from wind. Oregon’s 845-megawatt Shepherd’s Flat wind farm, commissioned in 2012, is North America’s largest. But in Carbon County, Wyoming, a project of up to 3,000 megawatts is under development.
To the north, Canada’s 6,500 megawatts of wind power are sufficient to meet the electricity needs of nearly 2 million households. As Ontario, the country’s most populous province, works to phase out coal-fired power by 2014, its wind generation is growing—in fact, Ontario’s wires carried more electricity from wind than from coal for the first time in 2012.
The European Union (EU) added more megawatts of wind in 2012 than it did natural gas, coal, or nuclear, even as fiscal austerity measures cut renewable energy incentives. Several EU member states lead the world in the share of electricity they get from wind farms. Spain and Portugal typically have a 16 percent wind share. In Germany, whose 30,000 megawatts of wind capacity are the third highest in the world, the national wind share is 11 percent. Four of Germany’s northern states now get roughly half of their electricity from wind.
But it is Denmark that sets the bar for wind’s role in electricity production. The Danish Wind Industry Association reports that wind farms generated 30 percent of Denmark’s electricity in 2012, up from 28 percent in 2011. The government pledged in late 2011 to boost this share to 50 percent by 2020.
Looking eastward, Romania and Poland each added roughly 900 megawatts of wind in 2012, reaching 2,500 and 1,900 megawatts, respectively. Turkey’s goal is to reach 20,000 megawatts of wind in the next 10 years, nearly 10 times its current capacity.
Aside from China, India is the other big Asian wind market. With more than 18,000 megawatts installed, India ranks fifth worldwide in wind capacity. The government plans to spend roughly $8 billion on grid and transmission upgrades by 2017 through its “green energy corridors” plan. This is sorely needed in a country where nearly 300 million people do not have access to electricity.
Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Oceania have enormous wind potential but little actual development thus far. Activity in each of these regions, however, indicates seriousness about harnessing the wind. In Latin America, Mexico more than doubled its wind capacity to almost 1,400 megawatts in 2012. Brazil, where wind installations grew 75 percent in 2012, could add another 1,500 megawatts in 2013 to reach 4,000 megawatts total.
Just 100 megawatts of wind were installed in all of Africa in 2012, split between Ethiopia and Tunisia. Kenya’s long-awaited 310-megawatt Lake Turkana wind farm, which could generate more than 10 percent of national electricity, has suffered multiple setbacks but may begin construction in 2013. No new wind projects came online in the Middle East. Jordan is looking to grow its currently negligible wind power to 1,200 megawatts by 2020, however, and plans are also under way in Israel and Saudi Arabia.
In Australia, the goal is to get 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Half of the country’s current 2,600 megawatts of wind is in the state of South Australia, where wind farms generated 24 percent of all electricity in 2012. The January 2013 commissioning of the 420-megawatt Macarthur wind farm in the state of Victoria gets the country halfway to its expected 30 percent wind growth for the year.
Most of the world’s installed wind capacity is land-based; just 2 percent—roughly 5,400 megawatts—has been built offshore. Recently, however, offshore development has accelerated, more than tripling over the last five years. Ten of the 12 countries with offshore wind farms are European. The United Kingdom hosts more than half of the world’s offshore capacity and aims for 18,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2020; its offshore wind resources are actually estimated to be 16 times larger than its electricity consumption. In Denmark, some 15 percent of electricity is expected to come from offshore wind farms by 2014.
China and Japan are the only offshore wind producers outside of Europe, hosting 390 megawatts and 25 megawatts, respectively. With 130 megawatts installed in 2012 alone, China has quickly amassed the world’s third largest offshore capacity figure; the country’s near-term offshore targets are 5,000 megawatts by 2015 and 30,000 by 2020. In the wake of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan is looking to harness more of its offshore wind, a resource plentiful enough to meet national electricity needs nearly three times over. And in South Korea, numerous offshore projects are under way, as the country’s wind industry aims to reach 23,000 megawatts of wind power by 2030.
According to Navigant Research, new wind installations worldwide will fall to some 40,000 megawatts in 2013. This would be the first instance in at least 17 years when annual additions did not increase year-to-year. Much of this deceleration will likely be the result of a slowdown in U.S. development. Still, the annual market is expected to rebound in 2014 as costs continue to fall, as major players recover, and as newcomers in Africa, the Middle East and the Baltic region begin to realize their wind ambitions. GWEC and Greenpeace International project at least 425,000 megawatts of wind capacity worldwide by 2015—enough to generate electricity for all of Central and South America. The world is starting to realize that wind’s potential is almost without limit.
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