Earth: Crossing Into Danger

From the always worrisome Earthweek: January 23

An international team of 18 researchers warns that a potent combination of human activities has pushed four of the planet’s nine ecological boundaries into “danger zones,” threatening life on Earth.

The four boundaries that have been crossed are climate change, loss of biodiversity, improvident land use and an altered nitrogen cycle due in part to fertilizer use.

“For the first time in human history, we need to relate to the risk of destabilizing the entire planet,” study author Johan Rockström of Stockholm University told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

America: Suspicion, Paranoia and Violence

Must read Mark Danner’s review of Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

On or about Sept. 11, 2001, American character changed. What Americans had proudly flaunted as “our highest values” were now judged to be luxuries that in a new time of peril the country could ill afford. Justice, and its cardinal principle of innocent until proven guilty, became a risk, its indulgence a weakness. Asked recently about an innocent man who had been tortured to death in an American “black site” in Afghanistan, former Vice President Dick Cheney did not hesitate. “I’m more concerned,” he said, “with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.” In this new era in which all would be sacrificed to protect the country, torture and even murder of the innocent must be counted simply “collateral damage.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.


A very nice, short compilation of King’s speeches….

Enormous Ocean Die Off and Hottest Year in Recorded History

Like kids playing with matches in a barn full of hay, we have been warned repeatedly.  But we just can’t quit.  Something about the excitement of risk, perhaps.  Now, again, it comes:

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science. … humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

Just a few examples:

Coral reefs, for example, have declined by 40 percent worldwide, partly as a result of climate-change-driven warming.

Some fish are migrating to cooler waters already. Black sea bass, once most common off the coast of Virginia, have moved up to New Jersey. Less fortunate species may not be able to find new ranges. At the same time, carbon emissions are altering the chemistry of seawater, making it more acidic.

“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy,” Dr. Pinsky said. “In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.”

Fragile ecosystems like mangroves are being replaced by fish farms, which are projected to provide most of the fish we consume within 20 years.  NY Times

Timeline of Defaunation

Timeline of Defaunation (click for full)

Humans have profoundly decreased the abundance of both large (e.g., whales) and small (e.g., anchovies) marine fauna. Such declines can generate waves of ecological change that travel both up and down ma­rine food webs and can alter ocean ecosystem functioning. Human harvesters have also been a major force of evolutionary change in the oceans and have reshaped the genetic structure of marine animal populations. Climate change threatens to accelerate marine defaunation over the next century.

Says the abstract at Science


And, methane emissions from the well-fed conferees at climate change conferences are adding to the warming problem…

Last year was the hottest in earth’s recorded history, scientists reported on Friday, underscoring scientific warnings about the risks of runaway emissions and undermining claims by climate-change contrarians that global warming had somehow stopped.

Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of the western United States last year. Several European countries set temperature records. And the ocean surface was unusually warm virtually everywhere except around Antarctica, the scientists said, providing the energy that fueled damaging Pacific storms.

In the annals of climatology, 2014 now surpasses 2010 as the warmest year in a global temperature record that stretches back to 1880. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997, a reflection of the relentless planetary warming that scientists say is a consequence of human emissions …  NY Times

More Stupid Anti-Immigrant Tricks

Somedays, news stories about stupidity is enough to make us laugh, like the two young thieves running from the police who jumped over a fence, into the grounds of San Quentin Prison, or another whose ski-mask disguise had his name on the forehead.  Other stories make us want to scream.

Joshua Davies writes an opinion piece in the NY Times about four young New Mexicans he wrote a book about which is soon to come out as a movie, both titled “Spare Parts.”  Four kids from the wrong side of the tracks won a national competition by building an underwater robot.  After the win, other teams sent their members to high prestige colleges.  The New Mexico four, it turns out, were not citizens, brought to the US illegally from Mexico as infants.  They wound up in assembly line or kitchen jobs.

As Davies writes, it is these kind of young people the Obama immigration plan has aimed to properly patriate to the United States — and which the GOP led congress is trying to torpedo.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program created by President Obama’s executive order that shields some undocumented students and young adults from deportation, didn’t go into effect until 2012. Had it been in place when the Carl Hayden students were in high school, allowing them to legally work, their lives might have turned out very differently. They have surmounted enormous odds, but none were able to professionally pursue their passion for robotics. It is a startling rebuke to the American dream.

House Republicans seem to view this as a fitting outcome. This week, John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House, introduced legislation that would roll back the president’s order.

NY Times

If you haven’t had your weekly scream quota, read the story.  Heartbreaking. And stupid.

Warmest Year Ever and Going Higher

Hate the soundtrack, hate the visuals, hate the extremism of ignorance….


A Japanese team has confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year on record. Moreover, ten of the warmest years have occurred since 1998.

What the scientists are measuring is that average temperature of the earth’s surface, including the oceans, throughout the world. Thus, the cold winter in North America last year was offset by torrid temperatures in California, Australia, Europe and in the Pacific Ocean. 2014 was a startling half a degree F. warmer than the 20th century average.

The earth has not warmed so quickly in millions of years, and perhaps not since its volatile beginnings 4.5 billion years ago. While there have been previous epochs in which the parts per million of carbon dioxide spiked, mostly because of volcanic activity, it did not happen so rapidly but rather over hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.  Read ALL

The Italian-French Founder of Charlie Hebdo

Fascinating sub-story at Bloomberg on the attacked magazine, Charlie Hebdo….
Perhaps you did not find Charlie Hebdo, the Paris satirical weekly attacked by terrorists on Wednesday, all that funny. That’s only natural: People in different countries laugh at different jokes and have varying tolerance for irreverence, offensiveness and plain grossness. As the French magazine, notwithstanding all it’s suffered, prepares to print a million copies of its next issue —  17 times its usual run — it’s important to note that it comes from a European tradition much broader than the French brand of satirical slapstick it most employs, and has at its roots a personal story as tortured as the continent’s recent history.

Francois Cavanna was the publication’s founding editor in chief, back when it was called Hara-Kiri. He was the one who renamed it Charlie Hebdo in 1970, after Hara-Kiri was banned for publishing this cover, which used the death of Charles de Gaulle to spoof press coverage of a nightclub fire that took 146 lives. (“Tragic Ball at Colombey, One Dead,” read the coverline.)

Cavanna was the son of an Italian immigrant mason. He grew up in a poor eastern suburb of Paris, taunted by French nationalists but in love with the French language. He didn’t get to make it his profession until much later.

In 1943, at the age of 20, he was sent by the Nazis to Germany to work in an ordnance factory in Treptow, now part of Berlin … Read ALL

Muslim War On Terror

Contrary to commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, there has been significant Muslim push-back against the crimes being carried out in its name.  Here is Juan Cole, a close observer.

When American commentators like Carl Bernstein complain that Muslim authorities have not sufficiently denounced the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris, they show a profound ignorance of the current situation in the Middle East.

The fact is that both governments of Muslim-majority countries and the chief religious institutions have been engaged in a vigorous war on religious extremism for some time.  See ALL

As he also says, one of the purported assassins, now dead himself, is said to have attributed his motivation to turn to weapons to what he saw in the world:

… Benyettou took them on the internet, and showed them images from Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. Sharif said, “It was everything I saw on the television, the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, all that, which motivated me.”

Which of course does not excuse his actions but is surely a way to begin what every theorist of war, indeed of human behavior, says is of vital importance — knowing the other.

Non Muslims could surely help Muslims in reversing the surge of terror by understanding such motives and taking steps to make them lose force.

Cartoonists Respond

Cartoon Charlie HebdoFrom Cartooning For Peace dot Org  (see more in upper right corner)

PARIS, Jan 8 2015 (IPS) – “They are cowards who react to satire by going for their Kalashnikovs.” That was how renowned French cartoonist Plantu described the killers of 10 media workers and two policemen in Paris Wednesday. MORE at Informed Comment

Why So Few Brave Men?

The summary of the report on U.S. Torture, released yesterday by the United States Senate Intelligence Committee can only be read in small doses.  Almost every paragraph stuns one into vertigo.


This morning one man who took part in some of what was reported spoke about his lasting shame.

I can’t be forgiven for what I did at Abu Ghraib

I was an interrogator at Abu Ghraib. I tortured.

… , the Senate released its torture report. Many people were surprised by what it contained: accounts of waterboardings far more frequent than what had previously been reported, weeklong sleep deprivation, a horrific and humiliating procedure called “rectal rehydration.” I’m not surprised. I assure you there is more; much remains redacted.

Eric Fair is a brave man for saying this, publicly and in a widely read forum.  He is not as brave as he wishes he might have been.  In another piece he gives more details.

Eric Fair – An Iraq Interrogator’s Nightmare

The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.

… While I was appalled by the conduct of my friends and colleagues, I lacked the courage to challenge the status quo. That was a failure of character and in many ways made me complicit in what went on. I’m ashamed of that failure, but as time passes, and as the memories of what I saw in Iraq continue to infect my every thought, I’m becoming more ashamed of my silence.

So, the question is, how do we relearn the values of courage, of resistance to illegal orders, of non-participation in evil?  I dont’ know if Eric Fair has any good ideas.  I bet he wishes he had stood up after his first experience and said “no more,” and damn the consequences.  I know I wish hundreds more had said: I will not participate.

The stars and stripes are now the stars and bars, the red of tortured men running down.