Ecosystem Services

James Surowiecki of the New Yorker, brings to our attention the concept of wealthy countries paying for ‘ecosystem services’ as one tool in the vast array needed to mitigate climate change and associated environmental destruction.  As in many things, Norway is showing by example.

It was notable when Norway announced a deal with Liberia: Norway will give Liberia up to a hundred and fifty million dollars in aid, in exchange for which Liberia will work to stop the rapid destruction of its trees.

Liberia has much of what remains of West Africa’s rain forest, but logging is rampant. The initiative is not an act of charity but a trade: Liberia gets income, which it needs; Norway gets to preserve biodiversity and take a small step against climate change. A similar deal that Norway struck with Brazil years ago helped slow deforestation there. Economists call arrangements of this kind “payments for ecosystem services,” and they follow a rationale known as the Coase theorem. In 1960, the economist Ronald Coase argued that bargaining between parties could, under certain conditions, produce a mutually beneficial and efficient solution to problems like pollution. Trying to force Liberia to stop chopping down trees (by using, say, sanctions) would be high-handed and probably ineffective. Paying Liberia to do so makes both sides better off.

… For the West, which is historically responsible for most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today, paying developing countries to make the transition away from carbon is not only the right thing to do but also squarely in our self-interest. Greenhouse gases emitted in Africa harm us as much as those emitted here. “If Africa just burns the coal and oil that it has at home in order to industrialize, it’ll do trillions of dollars of damage…

Good, thoughtful stuff


Vietnam War Reimagined

The long, ugly war Americans waged in Vietnam, leaving millions dead, a landscape and society in tatters, now has its soft-focus image up for public display.

…the Pentagon — run by a Vietnam veteran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — is planning a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. The effort, which is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $15 million by the end of this fiscal year, is intended to honor veterans and, its website says, “provide the American public with historically accurate materials” suitable for use in schools.

But the extensive website, which has been up for months, largely describes a war of valor and honor that would be unrecognizable to many of the Americans who fought in and against it.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the NY Times, explains how the website has been bowdlerized, trumping actual history with burnished memories and unpleasantness gone unmentioned. For example:

Mr. Hayden said he was particularly incensed at timeline entries like one that describes the Pentagon Papers as “a leaked collection of government memos written by government officials that tell the story of U.S. policy, even while it’s being formed” — without noting the Nixon administration’s effort to prevent their publication, or that Mr. Ellsberg and another leaker, Anthony Russo, were tried as traitors. And while the website does mention some protests, the references are often brief and clinical.

On Nov. 15, 1969 — when 250,000 antiwar protesters jammed Washington in what was then the largest mass march in the nation’s capital — the timeline entry simply states, “Protesters stage a massive protest in Washington D.C.”

As Michael McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace says:

 “One of the biggest concerns for us,” he said, “is that if a full narrative is not remembered, the government will use the narrative it creates to continue to conduct wars around the world — as a propaganda tool.”


Slashing Spending Increases Deficits

Economists Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong and even Larry Summers have long argued that cutting government spending during a recession is bad policy — and have pointed to the failure of such policies in Europe as proof.  Now new evidence supports them.

The fundamental economic question of the last five years has been a simple one: how much does stimulus work? The answer, according to a new paper by Daniel Riera-Crichton, Carlos Vegh, and Guillermo Vuletin, is much more than we previously thought. And that means austerity has also hurt more than we thought — so much so that it might even be self-defeating.

That’s right: cutting spending in a slump might actually make debt problems worse.

…This leaves us in an upside-down world where smaller deficits might actually make our debt problems worse. When interest rates are zero, spending cuts can cripple the economy so much that GDP falls more than the government saves. And that means the debt-to-GDP ratio might increase even though government spending is decreasing — like it has in Greece. That’s why the IMF thinks infrastructure spending would almost pay for itself right now,

WonkBlog: Washington Post

So let’s get it on!  The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U.S. a D+ for its infrastructure effort.


Missing Heat Hiding in the Southern Oceans

Those who have done the science know that CO2 drives rising temperatures on earth. They’ve been puzzled, though, about why the predicted rises in the atmosphere have been greater than measurements show.  Those who don’t do, and don’t believe in science, have crowed that the un-met predictions show that a con-job is being run.

Sadly, no.  New findings of water temperature in the remote southern seas show the heat is hiding there.

Research published Sunday concluded that the upper 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans may have warmed twice as quickly after 1970 than had previously been thought. Gathering reliable ocean data in the Southern Hemisphere has historically been a challenge, given its remoteness and its relative paucity of commercial shipping, which helps gather ocean data…

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“We continue to be stunned at how rapidly the ocean is warming,” said Sarah Gille, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor. Gille was not involved with this paper, nor was she involved with a similar one published Sunday that examined the role of ocean warming in rising sea levels. She described both of them as “tremendously interesting” studies.

“Even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, we’d still have an ocean that is warmer than the ocean of 1950, and that heat commits us to a warmer climate,” Gille said. “Extra heat means extra sea level rise, since warmer water is less dense, so a warmer ocean expands.”

Ocean warming is exacerbating flooding caused by the melting of glaciers and other ice. Seas have risen 8 inches since the industrial revolution, and they continue to rise at a hastening pace, worsening floods and boosting storm surges near shorelines around the world. Another 2 to 7 feet of sea level rise is forecast this century, jeoparizing the homes and neighborhoods of the 5 million Americans who live less than 4 feet above high tide, as well as those of the hundreds of millions living along coastlines in other countries.

Climate Central

The report Nature Climate Change, here


Rising Waters Sagging Cities

Walking in barefeet through three inches of water on a bayfront drive may seem like a lark to the young — once or twice in a childhood.  When that water comes in a dozen times, when cars can’t get through, when basements flood, when foundations begin to shift in muddy jelly, it’s no longer fun.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report today based on tidal gauges in 52 sites along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts that not only show a marked increase in coastal flooding since the 1970s but project much more.

From the Executive Summary:

To analyze how often flooding now occurs at locations along the East and Gulf Coasts—and the frequency and extent of flooding that communities along these coasts can expect, on average, 15 and 30 years from now—we relied on 52 tidegauges from Portland, ME, to Freeport, TX. We limited our analysis to locations where flooding thresholds, defined at the gauges, correlate well with coastal flood advisories issued by the National Weather Service.

Annapolis, MD, in December 2012, when wind, rain, and high tides combined to cause disruptive flooding

Annapolis, MD, in December 2012, when wind, rain, and high tides combined to cause disruptive flooding

Our analysis shows that many East Coast communities now see dozens of tidal floods each year. Some of these communities have seen a fourfold increase in the annual number of days with tidal flooding since 1970.

Using a mid-range scenario for future sea level rise, we find that, by 2030, more than half of the 52 communities we analyzed on the East and Gulf Coasts can expect to average more than two dozen tidal floods per year. The rise in the frequency of tidal flooding by 2030 represents an extremely steep increase for some, and two-thirds could see a tripling or more in the number of high-tide floods each year.

Executive Summary

Al Jazeera has a good report

Or, as the Washington Post, eye on local concerns, has it:

Daily flooding caused by high tides will occur in the District and Annapolis within three decades as sea levels continue to rise due to global warming, a new study says


Myanmar Minorities Still Under Attack

For all the good thing happening in Myanmar/Burma as the country comes out of decades of military rule, the  vicious turn against the Royinga Muslims, particularly in the coastal state of Rakhine, seems to be getting worse instead of better.  The UN this week, called attention to the situation.

(Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on Myanmar raises serious concerns about ethnic and religious tensions that have led to violence against Rohingya Muslims, though he praises the government’s attempts to press ahead with democratic reforms.

The situation is especially worrying in Rakhine state, Ban said, where deep rifts between the Buddhist and Muslim communities have widened and the conditions at camps for internally displaced persons have deteriorated.

“The deep-seated inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions that have re-emerged around the country have given rise to further violence, loss of life, displacement of populations and destruction of property,” the U.N. chief said in his annual report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee.

Human Rights Watch says that the government so called action plan will make things worse, instead of better;

A draft government plan would entrench discriminatory policies that deprive Rohingya Muslims in Burma of citizenship and lead to the forced resettlement of over 130,000 displaced Rohingya into closed camps, Human Rights Watch said today

The plan, a copy of which was obtained by Human Rights Watch, does not recognize the term Rohingya, referring throughout to “Bengalis,” an inaccurate and derogatory term commonly used by Burmese officials and nationalist Buddhists. Muslims are only mentioned in the plan with reference to religious schools.

“The long-awaited Rakhine State Action Plan both expands and solidifies the discriminatory and abusive Burmese government policies that underpin the decades-long persecution of the Rohingya,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “It is nothing less than a blueprint for permanent segregation and statelessness that appears designed to strip the Rohingya of hope and force them to flee the country.”

The man largely responsible for extremist turn against the Royhinga. a Buddhist monk named Wirathu, appeared last week in Sri Lanka, to address a large rally called by the militant Buddhist sect there, Bodu Bala Sena, promising to join them in fighting the “Islamist threat.”

Aljazeera

 


Thai Generals Applying the Gags

Since overthrowing an elected government in May, [Thailand's] military rulers have jailed opponents who dared speak out and silenced the rest with the threat of prosecution. They have censored the media, dispersed protesters and forbidden open debate over the nation’s fate.

So when roughly 150 people attended the latest in a series of talks Thammasat University called “Democracy Classroom,” one weary student reminded all those present they should only discuss failed regimes — “please repeat after me, OVERSEAS.”

A few minutes after the event began, however, it was cut short by police — triggering a rare public uproar from university professors nationwide over the expanding reach of junta censorship. The incident, the first of its kind on a college campus here since the coup, also underscored the fact that the deep societal tensions that have fueled a decade of political upheaval here are not being healed, but suppressed.

 

More at ABC news


Fred Branfman Dies at 72; Exposed U.S. Covert Bombing of Laos

The peace activist and author Fred Branfman has died of ALS at the age of 72. Branfman exposed the covert U.S. bombing of Laos. In the 1960s and 1970s, in what became the largest bombing campaign in history, the United States dropped more than two million tons of bombs on the small Southeast Asian country. Branfman interviewed refugees and helped illuminate their plight for other journalists and activists, including world-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky, who traveled to Laos in 1970. Speaking at Harvard University last year, Chomsky praised Branfman’s work.

Noam Chomsky: “He’s the person who worked for years, with enormous courage and effort, to try to expose what were called the ‘secret wars.’ The secret wars were perfectly public wars which the media were keeping secret, government. And Fred — this was in Laos — he finally did succeed in breaking through, and a tremendous exposure of huge wars that were going on.”

More at Democracy Now


Medicare Spending Gap Falls Again

For quite some time now, the Deficit Hawks in the greater American punditocracy have waved their fear flags about Medicare and how it was going to send the nation down the slippery slope of Greekification.  Better to let each oldster and handicapped person work it out on their own, or depend on relatives or churches, or the side-walks, like the good old days!

Well the latest data shows the worry has been overwhelming their prognostication.  Not that they will stop shrieking of course.  But anyway, here it is:

You’re looking at the biggest story involving the federal budget and a crucial one for the future of the American economy. Every year for the last six years in a row, the Congressional Budget Office has reduced its estimate for how much the federal government will need to spend on Medicare in coming years. The latest reduction came in a report from the budget office on Wednesday morning.

The changes are big. The difference between the current estimate for Medicare’s 2019 budget and the estimate for the 2019 budget four years ago is about $95 billion.

Some of the recent reductions in Medicare spending are because of differences in estimates about the economy and demographics that affect the program.

And some are because of cuts in health care spending passed by Congress. The Affordable Care Act, in particular, made significant reductions to Medicare’s spending on hospitals and private Medicare plans, to help subsidize insurance coverage for low- and middle-income Americans. The Budget Control Act, which Congress passed in 2011, also made some across-the-board cuts to Medicare spending.


Torture: After it Stops, It’s Not Over

The obituary today for Helen Bamber, a long time healer to those who had been tortured, reminds us of the very best humans have to offer one another, and the worst.

Helen Bamber, whose volunteering to comfort broken survivors of a Nazi concentration camp when she was 19 inspired her to devote her next seven decades to helping more than 50,000 victims of torture in 90 countries, died on Aug. 21 in London. She was 89.

… Ms. Bamber said the worst toll of torture was psychic — “the act of killing a man without dying,” a survivor once told her. Torture, she wrote in an autobiography for her foundation, constitutes “a total perversion of all that is good in human relationships.”

“It is designed to destroy not only the physical and psychological integrity of one individual, but with every blow, with every electrode, his or her family and the next generation,” she continued. “The body betrays and is often discarded, a body to be hated for its scars and injuries, a body which is a constant reminder even if there are no scars or remaining injuries.”

Her approach was to treat the whole person, often in group therapy, which she saw as giving alienated victims a sense of community. She recruited dozens of professionals to treat more than 2,000 victims a year, and worked with many patients herself as a psychotherapist — which she became through experience, she said, rather than an academic degree.

Her method involved revisiting victims’ worst horrors and letting them “vomit” them out.

“You have to move into the torture chamber with them,” she told the British newspaper The Observer in 1999. “You almost have to be tortured with them.”

The next step, she told The Irish Times in 1995, is to work with the “noble and good” qualities that can enable a victim to survive. It was enough, she said, to take a victim’s story, hold it and say, “Yes, I believe you.”

Her theory, and practice, of immersion with the sufferer, back into the horror and repetitively talking it out, is much the same as that which has helped those gripped by traumatic stress (PTSD).  As Daniel Shay in his ground breaking book Achilles in Vietnam, says, “healing from trauma depends upon communication of the trauma–being able safely to tell the story to someone who is listening and who can be trusted to retell it truthfully to others in the community.”

The two faces of war trauma, both responsive to re-connecting with the human community that was lost.

Another teacher gone, but a legacy left of those who can carry on the work.