Currently viewing the tag: "World’s"

Here’s someone who should stick to hugging trees.

I wonder if she’ll work out a way to bottle the air in her head.

Update: In case you were wondering, her website exists.


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Sen. Kirk (R-IL) speaks at a Caterpillar rental facility.

Gov. Pat Quinn (D-IL), unlike so many other governors across the country, decided to responsibly deal with his state’s budget gap by raising revenue to offset some of the impact of severe budget cuts. Amongst the tax increases Quinn and the Illinois legislature approved was an increase in the state corporate income tax rate from 4.8 percent to 7 percent.

In response to the tax change, the multinational corporation Caterpillar has threatened to move jobs out of Illinois. CEO Doug Oberhelman — who has hosted Republican fundraisers in his home that featured former First Lady Laura Bush — told Quinn in a letter that “the direction that this state is headed in is not favorable to business, and I’d like to work with you to change that.”

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), rather than defending the choices made by the elected officials of his home state, then piled on, claiming that because of the tax increases, Illinois now has “the highest corporate taxes in the industrialized world“:

In comments before and within his address to a formal gathering of Tazewell County Republicans, however, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., blasted Gov. Patrick Quinn specifically for the increases.

Because of Quinn’s “grievous error,” Kirk said, Illinois now has “the highest corporate taxes in the industrialized world.”

Even with the increase, Illinois doesn’t have the highest corporate tax rate in the United States, much less the entire world. By increasing its corporate income tax rate to 7 percent (which is coupled with a 2.5 percent property tax), Illinois still has a lower rate than Iowa, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and Minnesota, and has a rate roughly equal to that of Alaska.

But, more importantly, Illinois’ rate is only that high on paper. Much like the federal corporate income tax, Illinois’ corporate tax is riddled with loopholes and giveaways, which allow Caterpillar to drive its effective tax rate all the way down to just 1.4 percent.

Kirk has taken the side of corporations against the middle class before, but this is a particularly egregious case of going to bat for a corporation that’s holding people’s livelihoods hostage in order to preserve tax giveaways. During the 2010 campaign, Caterpillar gave Kirk $ 24,000 and the endorsement of its chairman, Jim Owens.

(HT: ThinkProgress reader Mitch)

Wonk Room

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I’ll admit, there is an argument – a thin, riddled, web of an argument – that it was U.S. interests that drove military interventions gone wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t buy the argument: As it morphed into a nation-building fantasy, it became disastrously, tragically and recklessly mistaken. But I can see at least that tarnished glimmer of national interest flash in the sludge before sinking from sight.

Nothing like this is to be found in the sands of Libya. This is why the weirdo-bizarre assault on Gadhafi’s forces led, but supposedly not really, by the United States under order of the U.N. Security Council (motley crew) and the Arab League (rogue’s gallery), crossed a fat, red line. The president of the United States sent the U.S. military, already stretched and worn by nearly a decade of wars, into harm’s way for no compelling American reason.

And I mean none. The sudden whim to rid the planet of Gadhafi, while never a bad notion, is, if anything, oddly anticlimactic after his Bush-era debut as a newly minted ally in the “war on terror.” Funny thing: “ally” sounds like a ghastly stretch, but WikiLeaks tells us Gadhafi was in fact most cooperative in providing anti-jihad intelligence – which may or may not have been credible. Still, he should know. It was Libyans, according to a 2007 West Point study, who made the strongest showing, per capita, of foreign insurgents in Iraq. It’s hard not to believe that some who didn’t end up dead or in Gitmo are now “rebels” receiving U.S. air and sea support.

Ain’t it ironic? Or something. It helps explain why Sunni Islam leading cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi – proponent of jihad, Shariah, the caliphate, the Muslim Brotherhood, suicide-bombing all Israelis and U.S. soldiers – is supporting the rebels. According to the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, the umbrella group for anti- Gadhafi forces prominently features Qaradawi’s endorsement on its website.

There’s more. Abu Yahya al-Libi, the al-Qaida star-honcho who escaped from American clutches in Afghanistan, posted a rah-rah video on jihadist websites urging the Libyan “rebels” to keep fighting Gadhafi, predicting dire consequences from defeat.

Just think: Those are “our” rebs, too. I can’t imagine the crew of the USS Kearsarge, now in the Mediterranean, would like that very much. Or the pilots flying F-15s over Libya, either. But what about our Congress? Flat-lining. As for President Obama, if it isn’t impeachable to fight on behalf of America’s enemies, what is?

The fact is, when it comes to American interest, Obama couldn’t care less. He demonstrated that by seeking and taking America’s marching orders solely from the United Nations and the Arab League, without even saying howdy-do to Congress (whose answering chorus of silence is a disgrace), later kicking soccer balls around Rio instead of addressing the American people as to why he was ordering another U.S. military intervention – this one with al-Qaida support.

It’s as if Obama considers the interest he serves as being above all that Congress-American-people-stuff. “Humanitarians” are like that, and what we’re seeing is so-called humanitarian military intervention, the doctrine is promulgated by Obama’s human rights adviser Samantha Power. Known as a genocide expert, Power has gone so far as to argue for the insertion of a “mammoth” American “protection” force into Israeli-Palestinian environs to prevent “human rights abuses” – code for neutralizing Israeli self-defense.

Writing at National Review Online, Stanley Kurtz explains: “Obama dithered when it was simply a matter of replacing Gaddafi, yet quickly acted when slaughter in Benghazi became the issue. What Samantha Power and her supporters want is to solidify the principle of ‘ responsibility to protect’ in international law. That requires a ‘pure’ case of intervention on humanitarian grounds. Power’s agenda would explain why Obama acted when he acted, and why the public rationale for action has not included regime change.”

Kurtz continues: “Yet Obama has so far been reluctant to fully explain any of this to either Congress or the American public, perhaps because he realizes that the ideological basis of his actions would not be popular if openly admitted.”

Nor would the non-nationalist basis of his actions. If this continues, don’t be surprised to find Uncle Sucker “promoted” to World’s Permanent Rent-a-Cop, setting up the next no-fly-zone over Israel to intervene for the “humanitarian” cause of Hamas in Gaza.

Big Peace

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We’ve been too busy with real news lately to give him a proper farewell, but the little-turned-not-so-little guy provided many a palate cleanser in his day. We owe him a post. I just wish it could be less creepy than this. KNUT likely died from brain damage, his zoo keepers said today as plans were [...]

Read this post »

Hot Air » Top Picks

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UCLA’s Dr. Stephen Coles studies the oldest people in the world. Hitting the century mark isn’t enough to pique his interest because Coles’ research focuses on supercentenarians, that is, those at least 110-year-old. Today Coles recognizes only 88 people worldwide as supercententarians, and the list is available at the Gerontology Research Group website.

Dr. Coles sat down with’s Ted Balaker to explain why supercententarians live so long, what eventually does them in (it’s not old age), and what could be done to help them (and the rest of us) live longer lives.

Topics include: FDA regulations, the Singularity, and immortality.

Approximately 12:20 minutes. Music by Jason Shaw @

Shot by Hawk Jensen, Zach Weissmueller and Paul Detrick. Edited by Detrick.

Go to for downloadable versions and subscribe to’s YouTube channel to receive automatic notification when new material goes live.

Big Government

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When the professionals stop buying government bonds, it’s time to start paying attention:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Pimco’s Total Return Fund (PTTRX), the world’s biggest bond fund, slashed its exposure to U.S. government debt to zero last month.

It’s the second month in a row that well-known fund manager Bill Gross has drastically reduced Pimco’s exposure to U.S. government debt.

Gross has been very vocal about his feelings toward U.S. interest rates, saying in January that they were “robbing” investors and that U.S. government debt should be “exorcized” from investors’ portfolios.

The Total Return Fund held about 22% of its holdings in U.S. government debt as recently as December, but reduced those holdings to about 12% in January.


In his February newsletter, Gross said he believes U.S. Treasuries are trading at a yield of 1.5 percentage points below where they should be historically, making them an unattractive place to invest for the time being. Gross also reiterated that stocks and bonds may struggle this summer when the Federal Reserve ends its second quantitative easing program.

“Yields may have to go higher, maybe even much higher to attract buying interest,” Gross wrote.

That’s been an underlying fear in the bond markets, and Washington, for some time now, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has attempted to calm the markets by refusing to rule out the possibility of a third round of Quantitative Easing, although in this case it seems clear that the purpose behind such a move would be to prop up the bond market and prevent interest rates from rising.

It’s worth noting, though, that at the same time PIMCO is selling its government bonds, the Chinese are buying:

The markets are agog at  PIMCO’s Bill Gross selling all his Treasuries  and going 23% into cash.

What they should be looking at is the recent surprise revelation that  China’s readjusted US Treasury holdings; they have jumped from 32% of China;’s monetary reserves  to 42% of its reserves- an increase in holdings  of $ 260 billion.  A major portion of this $ 262 billion was purchased for China in the UK, apparently by the Bank of England, in order to hide China’s hand.

This is  a major development- totally under-reported in the financial press except by the Financial Times, where I got my start in the 1960s while a Goldman Sachs risk arbitrageur.

The  bond market recognized  the significance of China’s BUYING Treasuries instead of selling them. Hello!. Treasuries rallied the last 2 trading sessions as the yield on the 10 year  declined from 3.53% to 3.43%, my top gfuru on bonds, Robert Smith of Smith Capital, reported to me today.

Smitty points out that China- the Peoples Bank of China- most likely will replace the US Federal Reserve as the BUYER of last resort of new treasuries once QE2 is over on June 30. So, the doomsday story that China will sink the dollar and the US economy by dumping its US government securities is just so much hogwash.

So, if this prediction is true, then the Bond Market won’t collapse, but we’ll become even more dependent on China. Why don’t I find that very resassuring?

Keep on eye on the bond markets come summer, things are going to be very interesting.


Outside the Beltway

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[I'm on travel, so I'm updating this timely 2009 post on food insecurity.]

The quote above is the powerful final sentence from a 2009 study in Science, “Historical Warnings of Future Food Insecurity with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat.”  The University of Washington news release release explained:

Rapidly warming climate is likely to seriously alter crop yields in the tropics and subtropics by the end of this century and, without adaptation, will leave half the world’s population facing serious food shortages, new research shows….

“The stresses on global food production from temperature alone are going to be huge, and that doesn’t take into account water supplies stressed by the higher temperatures,” said David Battisti, a University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor.

Yes, this 2009 study is a serious underestimate of the speed and scale of likely impacts for two reasons.

First, the conclusions are solely based upon projected temperature rise.  They don’t even consider the potentially more devastating impact from more extreme drought and Dust-Bowlification (See NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts by mid-century even on moderate emissions path) — let alone the combination of heat stress and water stress together.

Second, as is common in such analyses, the authors based their simulations on “the ‘middle of the road’ emission scenario, A1B.” In 2100, A1B hits about 700 ppm with average global temperatures “only” about 3°C (5 F) warmer than today. In fact, on our current emissions path, a 3C temperature rise will happen much sooner (see Hadley Center: “Catastrophic” 5-7°C  warming by 2100 on current emissions path and M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F — with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F).   And remember, the  worst-case scenario is that this happens by mid-century (se Royal Society special issue details ‘hellish vision’ of 7°F (4°C) world — which we may face in the 2060s!)

Figure 2

Figure. “Histogram of summer (June, July, and August) averaged temperatures (blue) observed from 1900 to 2006 and (red) projected for 2090 for (A) France, (B) Ukraine, and (C) the Sahel. Temperature is plotted as the departure from the long-term (1900–2006) climatological mean (21). The data are normalized to represent 100 seasons in each histogram. In (A), for example, the hottest summer on record in France (2003) is 3.6°C above the long-term climatology. The average summer temperature in 2090 [assuming A1B] is projected to be 3.7°C greater than the long-term climatological average.”

The results are still alarming:

We used observational data and output from 23 global climate models to show a high probability (>90%) that growing season temperatures in the tropics and subtropics by the end of the 21st century will exceed the most extreme seasonal temperatures recorded from 1900 to 2006. In temperate regions, the hottest seasons on record will represent the future norm in many locations.

If the authors had modeled the Hadley or M.I.T. or other current business-as-usual scenarios, then I suspect even in the temperate regions, growing season temperatures in 2100 would exceed the most extreme temperatures recorded in the past century — while the tropics and subtropics will be utterly brutalized.

In the tropics, the higher temperatures can be expected to cut yields of the primary food crops, maize and rice, by 20 to 40 percent, the researchers said. But rising temperatures also are likely to play havoc with soil moisture, cutting yields even further.

Indeed, along with the temperature rise, we face desertification of one third the habited planet and moderate drought over half the land mass. Soil moisture drops over large parts of the planet will exceed that of the 1930s Dust Bowl!  And lasting a long, long time (see NOAA: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe).

“We have to be rethinking agriculture systems as a whole, not only thinking about new varieties but also recognizing that many people will just move out of agriculture, and even move from the lands where they live now,” Naylor said.

Currently 3 billion people live in the tropics and subtropics, and their number is expected to nearly double by the end of the century. The area stretches from the southern United States to northern Argentina and southern Brazil, from northern India and southern China to southern Australia and all of Africa….

“When all the signs point in the same direction, and in this case it’s a bad direction, you pretty much know what’s going to happen,” Battisti said. “You are talking about hundreds of millions of additional people looking for food because they won’t be able to find it where they find it now.”

The study warns that the rich countries will also suffer:

Severe heat in the summer of 2003 affected food production as well as human lives in Europe. Record high daytime and nighttime temperatures over most of the summer growing season reduced leaf and grain-filling development of key crops such as maize, fruit trees, and vineyards; accelerated crop ripening and maturity by 10 to 20 days; caused livestock to be stressed; and resulted in reduced soil moisture and increased water consumption in agriculture. Italy experienced a record drop in maize yields of 36% from a year earlier, whereas in France maize and fodder production fell by 30%, fruit harvests declined by 25%, and wheat harvests (which had nearly reached maturity by the time the heat set in) declined by 21%.

Yet, by century’s end, the European summer of 2003 will be considered relatively cool. What do the authors recommend?

It will be extremely difficult to balance food deficits in one part of the world with food surpluses in another, unless major adaptation investments are made soon to develop crop varieties that are tolerant to heat and heat-induced water stress and irrigation systems suitable for diverse agroecosystems. The genetics, genomics, breeding, management, and engineering capacity for such adaptation can be developed globally but will be costly and will require political prioritization. National and international agricultural investments have been waning in recent decades and remain insufficient to meet near-term food needs in the world’s poorest countries, to say nothing of longer-term needs in the face of climate change.

Rather lamely, the study never mentions the possibility of mitigation, of keeping total global warming to far less than 3°C, as a strategy. Why? The final paragraph of the release states:

“You can let it happen and painfully adapt, or you can plan for it,” he said. “You also could mitigate it and not let it happen in the first place, but we’re not doing a very good job of that.”

Okay. Fine. Another understatement of the year.

But since the authors clearly assert in the study that we’re also not doing a very good job of adaptation or investment in agriculture, I’m not sure why it makes more sense for them to push adaptation as a solution than mitigation. In fact, we’ll need to do both, but absent serious mitigation, “climate adaptation” may be little more than cruel doubletalk for most of the world [see Real adaptation is as politically tough as real mitigation, but much more expensive and not as effective in reducing future misery; Rhetorical adaptation, however, is a political winner. Too bad it means preventable suffering for billions].

[Note to authors -- if you ignore mitigation, than you need to model an emissions scenarios that does not have much if any mitigation. Try A1F1 next time.]

If we end up with 5.5°C warming or more by century’s end, and if you throw in the desertification and sharps drops in soil moisture — plus the loss of the inland glaciers that act as reservoirs for so many major river systems around the globe — then simply developing crops “that are tolerant to heat and heat-induced water stress” along with better irrigation is likely to prove utterly inadequate and irrelevant for billions of people.

And let’s not forget where we’re ultimately heading — Science stunner: On our current emissions path, CO2 levels in 2100 will hit levels last seen when the Earth was 29°F (16°C) hotter

The only genuine hope for avoiding “the worst form of triage” is aggressive and immediate greenhouse gas mitigation.

For more, see the posts under the category “food insecurity.”

Climate Progress

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I am not a fan of our corn ethanol policy as I made clear made clear during the last food crisis (see “The Fuel on the Hill” and “Can words describe how bad corn ethanol is?” and “Let them eat biofuels!“).  In a world of blatantly increasing food insecurity — driven by population, dietary trends, rising oil prices, and growing climate instability — America’s  policy of burning one third of our corn crop in our engines (soon to be 37% or more) is becoming increasingly untenable, if not unconscionable.

I was glad to see former Pres. Bill Clinton start talking about this in a Washington Post piece  headlined, “Clinton: Too much ethanol could lead to food riots” — though I tend to see the world’s increasing use of crops for fuel as an underlying cause for growing food insecurity, something that makes the whole food system more brittle and thus more vulnerable to triggering events, like once in 1000 100 year droughts and once in 500 year floods, which is to say climate instability (see WashPost, Lester Brown explain how extreme weather, climate change drive record food prices).

If you want to understand why it will be politically difficult to roll back US ethanol production to saner levels, Reuters has a good article, “Analysis: In food vs fuel debate, U.S. resolute on ethanol.”  Yet it is that piece which notes, “U.S. ethanol production this year will consume 15 percent of the world’s corn supply, up from 10 percent in 2008.”

Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton, had an excellent piece in the WashPost explaining “How biofuels contribute to the food crisis,” which I excerpt below:

Each year, the world demands more grain, and this year the world’s farms will not produce it. World food prices have surged above the food crisis levels of 2008. Millions more people will be malnourished, and hundreds of millions who are already hungry will eat less or give up other necessities. Food riots have started again.

Nearly all assessments of the 2008 food crisis assigned biofuels a meaningful role, but much of academia and the media ultimately agreed that the scale of the crisis resulted from a “perfect storm” of causes. Yet this “perfect storm” has re-formed not three years later. We should recognize the ways in which biofuels are driving it.

Demand for biofuels is almost doubling the challenge of producing more food. Since 2004, for every additional ton of grain needed to feed a growing world population, rising government requirements for ethanol from grain have demanded a matching ton. Brazil’s reliance on sugar ethanol and Europe’s on biodiesel have comparably increased growth rates in the demand for sugar and driven up demand for vegetable oil.

Agricultural production is keeping up in general with the growing demand for food — but it keeps up with the added demand for biofuels only if growing weather is good. A good growing year in 2008 helped end that year’s crisis, but average-to-poor weather since then has stressed inventories and confidence. Higher fuel costs for farmers and a weaker dollar contribute to higher prices, but prices soar only when large consumers, fearing that production will continue to fall short, bid up prices to secure their supplies.

Much of today’s discussion focuses only on the challenge of meeting rising food demand because of factors such as rising meat consumption in China and long-term underinvestment in agricultural research. Droughts in Russia and floods in Australia over the past year may be early harbingers of climate change. But if it is hard to meet rising food demands, it must be harder to meet demands for both food and biofuels.

… some studies evaluated the effect of biofuels on retail food prices in the United States rather than on wholesale crop prices worldwide. Not surprisingly, they found little impact. The price of corn in your corn flakes and other retail products is so small that even a tripling of crop prices has little effect at U.S. grocery stores. But the world’s poor do not eat processed, packaged corn flakes; they spend more than half of their incomes on staples such as corn meal.

Several reports tried to segregate the precise role of biofuels from weather and other factors. That’s not possible because the causes multiply each other. Just as a political tremor in the Middle East makes oil prices jump in tight markets, so drought in Russia sends wheat futures soaring once biofuels have stressed grain markets. In 2008 and again recently, some governments have responded by banning grain exports to keep domestic prices down. This has the effect of forcing prices higher for everyone else. You can blame national self-interest and the inevitable vagaries of weather, but the key is to avoid tight markets in the first place.

A broad misunderstanding has also arisen from economic models predicting price increases from biofuels that are still far lower than those of the past decade. In fact, these models do not estimate biofuel effects on prices today but those in a future market “equilibrium,” which will exist only after farmers have ample time to increase production to match demand. Today, the market is out of equilibrium. Biofuels have grown rapidly, from consuming 2 percent of world grain and virtually no vegetable oil in 2004 to more than 6.5 percent of grain and 8 percent of vegetable oil last year. Governments worldwide seek to triple production of biofuels by 2020, and that implies more moderately high prices after good growing years and soaring prices after bad ones.

The good news is that relief is possible. The same economic studies imply that food prices should come down if we can just limit biofuel growth. Corn ethanol is nearing Congress’s requirement for 15 billion gallons a year, and lawmakers need to hold it there. Similarly, Europe must rethink its mandates. For “advanced biofuels” required by Congress, the Obama administration needs to focus on fuel sources that do not compete with food, such as garbage and crop residues, and not grasses grown on good cropland. Otherwise, the sequel to the food crisis is likely to turn into a series.

Hear!  Hear!

As an aside, conservatives like to claim that it is environmentalists who gave us our current biofuels policy, but in fact I never have met an environmentalist who thought we should mandate anywhere near the current amount of corn ethanol.

The only reason environmentalists and clean energy advocates even tolerated energy deals with corn ethanol mandates is the hope that jumpstarting the infrastructure for corn ethanol would pave the way for next-generation cellulosic ethanol.  That turned out to be a mistake (see “Are biofuels a core climate solution?“).

We have gone far beyond what is tenable.  Yes, peak oil (and the energy-intensive nature of food production) means that oil prices will rise in tandem with food prices, thus increasing the profitability of biofuels.  And yes, we are a rich country, the  breadbasket of the world, politically far more impervious to higher food prices than higher oil prices.

But as population grows, developing countries’ diets change, and the extreme weather of the last year increasingly becomes the norm in a globally warmed world,  food insecurity will grow and our biofuels policy will, inevitably, collapse.  It must.

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Climate Progress

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Donald Rumsfeld wrongly denied that the U.S. is viewed more favorably under President Barack Obama than it was under President George W. Bush. In fact, residents of several nations including Britain, Germany, France and China view the U.S. more favorably, according to a survey released last year by the …

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The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization issued an alert Tuesday that a severe drought was threatening the wheat crop in China, the world’s largest wheat producer, and was even resulting in shortages of drinking water for people and livestock.

The state-run news media in China warned Monday that the country’s major agricultural regions were facing their worst drought in 60 years and said Tuesday that Shandong Province, a cornerstone of Chinese grain production, was bracing for its worst drought in 200 years unless substantial precipitation came by the end of this month.

World wheat prices are already surging and have been widely cited as one reason for protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.

As Craig Fugate, who heads the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, put it in December, “The term ‘100-year event’ really lost its meaning this year.”

The climate impact deniers are having a field day.  With record-smashing extreme weather around the globe destroying crops and helping to run up food prices, there are more and more opportunities to deny that human-caused climate change is actually having any impacts that one would ever have to adapt to (see Munich Re: “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change”).

While some quote irrelevant decades-old data, the world is suffering from the fact that we are beyond the carrying capacity of the planet in many arenas — and close to the edge on others — according to scientists.  That means when we have the hottest and wettest year on record — and multiple extreme events — the global food system will be pushed to the breaking point.

As agricultural economist Lester Brown said yesterday, “I think we are seeing some of the early effects of climate change on food security.”  In the same story, retired vice admiral Dennis McGinn, a member of the military board of advisors of the Center for Naval Analysis, said “The adverse effects of bad weather caused by climate change act as a threat multiplier for instability in critical parts of the world.”

The FAO also warned yesterday, “rising waters threaten food security“:

Thousands of hectares of agricultural land and crops have been damaged by floods and heavy rains in parts of southern Africa, and more damage may occur in the coming weeks  if above normal rains persist.

This is raising concern about the food security of the affected population in the poorer parts of the sub-region over the coming months.

With the rainy season still only half way through, and with the cyclone season due to peak in February, several agricultural areas along the rivers in southern African countries remain at high risk of flooding, including portions of Botswana, Lesotho Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Food insecurity already critical

“Food insecurity levels are already critical in the affected areas of some of these countries and floods will only further worsen the ability of poor farmers to cope and feed their families in the coming months,” said Cindy Holleman, FAO Regional Emergency Coordinator for Southern Africa. FAO is working with regional and national early warning systems to monitor the evolution in major river basins and to assess the impact on food crops.

Meanwhile, much of the media seems unable to draw any fine distinctions whatsoever.  If you point out that global warming is contributing to extreme weather events that are helping to drive up food prices, which in turn are one factor in MidEast protests, then even if you are Nobel-prize winning economist, you end up with this headline in The Atlantic:

Paul Krugman Blames Global Warming for Middle East Uprisings


Meanwhile, over at DotEarth, where I’m interviewed, we get a similar reductio ad absurdum in a piece titled, “Egypt, Inkblots, Agendas and Feeding 9 Billion.”  The word “inkblot” is meant to suggest that in fact it’s impossible to have any idea what’s really going on, so one person’s interpretation is the same as any other.  Silly stuff.

It’s just a debate between “techno-cornucopians convinced that innovation and efficiency will feed 9 billion prospering people and enviro-calamatists convinced the cliff is nigh, or we’re already over it.”  Not even the mildest distinction is allowed, that the issue isn’t whether the “cliff [undefined] is nigh [undefined], or we’re already over it” — the issue is whether failure to act aggressively this decade — and even more aggressively in the next one — to reduce emissions makes it all but impossible to plausibly stop catastrophic climate impacts.

And then, in the comments, we get this highlighted humdinger by Revkin himself:

While talking about the state of the world, and human affairs, with Brad Allenby at Arizona State last week, I made the following statement, which applies here:

Why is it that there always seems to be an inverse relationship between the definitiveness of an assertion and its credibility?

Huh?  Did a former science reporter actually write that?  And use the word “always”?

It is the whole point of science to allow us to make credible assertions as definitively as possible.  Let’s not even discuss the basic laws of physics, which are quite definitive and credible.   Even on climate science, we have the U.S. National Academy of Sciences:

A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems….

Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.

Sounds like a very definitive assertion to me.  And highly credible.

That doesn’t mean every credible scientific statement is definitive.  In the arena of climate change making recent weather more extreme, I’m not certain I’d use the word ‘definitive’, but I ran through the many leading scientist who have made the case in this post.  Here’s a pretty definitive and credible assertion, from Kevin Trenberth, head of NCAR’s Climate Analysis Section:

“… there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”

So let’s move beyond the straw men and reductio ad absurdum.

There is a good story in PRI on this subject, “Egyptian protests, climate change, and global food prices” (with audio), which notes:

The throngs of protestors in the streets of Cairo this week have a host of grievances. There are the decades of authoritarian rule of course, and the lack of political expression or economic opportunity. But the uprising grew in part out of protests against high food prices.

Food price inflation in Egypt was over 20 percent last year. In particular, there’s been a big squeeze from the rising global price of wheat. New York global investment manager Vincent Truglia says depending on how you measure it, the price of wheat went up between 50 and 70 percent in 2010.

“This has just devastated Egyptian budgets,” says Truglia, who is managing director of global economic research at Granite Springs Asset Management.

Egypt is among the world’s largest importers of wheat, and the global wheat market received a number of nasty shocks recently. The worst came last summer, when Russia was hit by an unprecedented drought and heat wave that destroyed 40 percent of its wheat harvest.

Russia abruptly banned exports, and Egypt, which had just signed a big wheat deal with Russia, was left scrambling….

“I think we are seeing some of the early effects of climate change on food security,” says veteran environmental analyst Lester Brown, of the Earth Policy Institute. In particular, Brown says the heat wave that led to the collapse of Russia’s wheat harvest was no ordinary weather event.

“If someone had told me that there was likely to be a heat wave in Russia in which the average temperature would be 14 degrees Fahrenheit above the norm — that’s pushing the envelope. I mean FOUR degrees would be a lot.”

Brown and many others say the Russian heat wave only one of several recent events effecting global food supply that likely were linked to climate change. And he believes that the stresses these events are putting on food supplies are contributing to unrest around the world.

“You can’t prove that link,” Brown says. “But you can say it is highly likely that that is the case.”

… Brown has some surprising compatriots.

Among them is retired vice admiral Dennis McGinn. McGinn is a member of the military board of advisors of the Center for Naval Analysis, which wrote an influential 2007 report on the security implications of climate change.*

“The adverse effects of bad weather caused by climate change act as a threat multiplier for instability in critical parts of the world,” admiral McGinn says.

Like Brown, McGinn says you can rarely draw a straight line of causation between climate change and political upheaval. There are usually many underlying causes, he says, but climate change may well be one of them.

“If you have long term droughts and crop failures, and in other parts of the world too much water in the form of flooding, you have added pressure to the already existing fault lines in fragile societies with fragile governments,” McGinn says. “And certainly Egypt would fall under that category.”


I’ll discuss the implications of China importing a significant amount of wheat in a later post, but these facts in the NYT story are noteworthy:

With $ 2.85 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, nearly three times that of Japan, the country with the second-largest reserves, China has ample buying power to prevent any serious food shortages.

They can buy whatever they need to buy, and they can outbid anyone,” Mr. Zeigler said. China’s self-sufficiency in grain prevented world food prices from moving even higher when they spiked three years ago, he said.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said Tuesday that 12.75 million acres of China’s 35 million acres of wheat fields had been affected by the drought. It said that 2.57 million people and 2.79 million head of livestock faced shortages of drinking water.

Chinese state news media are describing the drought in increasingly dire terms. “Minimal rainfall or snow this winter has crippled China’s major agricultural regions, leaving many of them parched,” Xinhua reported. “Crop production has fallen sharply, as the worst drought in six decades shows no sign of letting up.”

If this turns into another once in a century drought, China obviously pay what ever it needs to to feed its people and avoid food riots.

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The global union movement is reaffirming its strong support for the General Tunisian Workers’ Union (UGTT) and the Tunisian people in their courageous struggle for equality, social justice, political freedom and democracy.

The popular revolt was triggered by the Dec. 17 suicide of a young street vendor in Sidi Bouzid after authorities confiscated his merchandise. The revolt has spread rapidly throughout the country and has led to the departure of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

In a statement, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which includes the AFL-CIO, said it welcomes the fall of the dictatorship in Tunisia and fully supports UGTT ’s call for an end to corruption and nepotism and a genuine transition toward a true democracy. Read the entire ITUC statement here.

The ITUC also expressed serious concern at the recent increase in attempted suicides among young unemployed men in other countries in the region, such as Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania and Yemen, to protest social injustices, poverty and the lack of freedom. In other countries, there also has been a surge in street protests against the huge rise in the prices of basic commodities and in support of the people of Tunisia.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:

The events in Tunisia are the logical outcome of the absence of civil liberties, the repressive authoritarianism and social injustice. The governments of this region must take urgent stock of their people’s needs and aspirations [and] open a real dialogue with the unions regarding the introduction of new social policies and show respect for fundamental freedoms, which is key to good governance.


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It’s time for The Gathering again,  at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  Perhaps 2,500 people are expected to congregate and tell us how to fix our problems and ourselves.  I’m not opposed to conferences and meetings to discuss ideas,  but Davos has always struck me as a top-down, we-tell-you kind of haughty gathering that doesn’t accomplish except to allow the elite to parade themselves around as Mandarins. Can you really see anything in the Davos track-record that amounts to seriously tackling a difficult problem?  Any sense of personal humility?

This year organizer Klaus Schwab says it will be different.  As the New York Times reports,  he promises that this year’s event will be in “risk prevention” mode rather than “firefighting mode.”  They are going to foresee problems rather than simply react to existing ones.  Oh,  that makes me feel better.  Heavyweights in attendance will include Russian President Dmitri Medvedev,  German Chancellor Angela Merkle, and Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK.  Oh,  and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will be there,  presumably to advise other country’s on how they can get their debt under control and how to make sure you are paying your taxes.

And be sure not to miss the session on “Music for Social Change.”

If all of this seems so 1990s,  it should.  The oracles have spoken-and they are broken. I think if the global financial crisis has demonstrated anything it is how incompetent our elites really are.  The only reason I would attend Davos this year would be to see the presentation by “Sully” Sullenberger, the heroic pilot who landed that plane on the Hudson River in 2009.  According to the New York Times,  he is going to talk about “leadership under pressure.” Now there is a real leader. Go get them Sully.

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In 2010, global average temperature was 0.53°C (0.95°F) above the 1961-90 mean. This value is 0.01°C (0.02°F) above the nominal temperature in 2005, and 0.02°C (0.05°F) above 1998. The difference between the three years is less than the margin of uncertainty (± 0.09°C or ± 0.16°F) in comparing the data….

Arctic sea-ice cover in December 2010 was the lowest on record.

The World Meteorological Organization announcement follows fast on the heels of the release of NOAA and NASA data showing 2010 tied with 2005 for hottest year on record.

WMO takes into account data from NASA, NOAA and UK Meteorological Office Hadley Center, as well as the satellite data, which is why 1998 is so close.  We now know that Met Office Hadley Centre data underestimates the rate of recent global warming.

The 2010 data confirm the Earth’s significant long-term warming trend,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “The ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998.”

Over the ten years from 2001 to 2010, global temperatures have averaged 0.46°C (0.83°F) above the 1961-1990 average, and are the highest ever recorded for a 10-year period since the beginning of instrumental climate records.

The WMO also discusses the extreme weather:

The year 2010 was characterized by a high number of extreme weather events, including the heatwave in Russia and the devastating monsoonal floods in Pakistan….

There have been many major weather and climate events in late 2010 and early 2011. These include:

  • In early January floods affected more than 800 000 people in Sri Lanka according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The Philippines were also severely affected by floods and mudslides during January.
  • Flash floods in the mountain areas near the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in the second week of January resulted in more than 700 deaths, many of them in mudslides. This is one of the highest death tolls due to a single natural disaster in Brazilian history.
  • Severe flooding occurred in eastern Australia in December and the first half of January, associated with the continuing strong La Niña event.  The most extensive damage was in the city of Brisbane, which had its second-highest flood of the last 100 years after that of January 1974. In financial terms it is expected to be the most costly natural disaster in Australia’s history.on

As scientists have long predicted, increasing levels of greenhouse gases would lead to increasing global temperatures, and more extreme weather, especially heatwaves and flooding.

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The votes from last week’s mostly peaceful referendum are now being counted. Early results indicate that Sudan—Africa’s largest country—will soon split in two. Some countries (such as Iran) have reluctantly accepted the likely outcome, while simultaneously criticizing the idea of self-determination. At the same time, some American commentators such as Daniel Larison have criticized America’s role in supporting southern Sudan’s independence as “folly”. Although the international legal concept of national self-determination is a rather recent one (emerging as an international doctrine after WWII in order to facilitate decolonization), the deeper concept of republican self-government and America’s role in supporting it around the world is as old as the United States itself.

The southern Sudanese people are ultimately responsible for their own destiny, and should be focused not only on protecting human rights during the transition, but also on providing for human nature in the new nation’s institutions of government. For its part, the United States should continue to manifestly support the ideas of liberty and the practice of self-government as the world’s newest nation takes form.

The outcome of this month’s independence referendum is legally binding on the government in Khartoum, per the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was negotiated with the diplomatic leadership of the Bush administration. That settlement ended the 20-year old civil war between northern and southern Sudan which claimed the lives of over two million people. Unfortunately, Sudan has received less attention from the US under the Obama Administration in recent years, even though the potential for conflict has only increased as it approached the independence referendum and likely secession. At this time, however, it is crucial that the United States continue its long-held tradition of providing moral and diplomatic support to a people seeking independence and self-government. This sort of vigorous diplomacy is not contrary to the traditions of American foreign policy (as some isolationists might argue) but actually in the spirit of early US foreign policy.

Soon after America was established, the people of the United States were presented with the opportunity to support similar experiments in self-government around the world. As revolutions sprang up in Spain’s Latin American colonies, most lovers of liberty in Europe and the United States celebrated. James Madison described the developments as part of “the great struggle of the Epoch between liberty and despotism.” He believed that America should “sustain the former in this hemisphere at least.” This belief led the US to be the first established nation to recognize the new Latin American republics and also helped to inform the Monroe Doctrine and America’s role elsewhere around the world.

As nations in Europe began to seek independence and self-government in the 1800’s, Americans debated what they should do. During the Greek Revolution of 1821 against the Ottoman Empire, U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster asked, “What is the soul, the informing spirit of our own institutions, of our entire system of government?” His answer: “Public opinion. While this acts with intensity and moves in the right direction the country must ever be safe—let us direct the force, the vast moral force, of this engine to the aid of others.” Even when the U.S. government does not intervene militarily, the support of the American people and American diplomacy for those who seek liberty is a valuable aid to their cause.

Throughout our history, American citizens have been inspired by our political, religious, and economic freedoms to act as ambassadors of liberty. As missionaries, merchants, and medics, our citizen-diplomats have established schools, orphanages, and hospitals. They have translated literature, educated children, and inspired political reform in countries around the world that were oppressed and impoverished. The “greatest enemy of tyranny,” as Webster said, is this republican spirit of self-government. The civic engagement of individual American citizens and their commitment to America’s political principles are a vital part of the United States’ unique role in the world. Even today, in the work of organizations like Water for Sudan, this spirit is still alive and allows Americans to contribute to experiments in self-government abroad.

America’s official foreign policy must seek to preserve its independence and prudently pursue its interests, while supporting the idea of political freedom across the globe. The American people are not required to risk their blood and treasure in defense of the liberty of others. But the United States cannot have a foreign policy that fails to reflect the political truths that define it. America stands for the principles of liberty, independence, and self-government; its interests are defined and shaped by those principles.

It is in this respect that Daniel Larison’s understanding of the relationship between American diplomacy and liberty is at odds with the wisdom of America’s foreign policy history: “American advocacy or lack of it has nothing to do with it. Our government’s impact on the internal politics of most countries is understandably minimal, and it is unreasonable to expect that the direction of political developments all around the world somehow hinge on what U.S. officials do or do not say.” In contrast to this view, America’s Founders and early statesmen understood that America’s commitment to its principles—in both domestic and foreign policy—has profound consequences for the cause of liberty everywhere.

Like Americans during 1776, the southern Sudanese people are attempting to gain their political independence and “to provide new guards for their future security” after suffering a “long train of abuses” at the hands of the Khartoum government in northern Sudan. The successful referendum this month is a solid step towards self-government for the southern Sudanese, but much uncertainty remains. Although scheduled to become an independent country on July 9 of this year, the precise form of government and even the name of the new nation is yet to be determined.

There may be many unforeseen consequences as well: Some in the north, anticipate that Arabic will become the official language and that sharia law will be instituted in predominately Arab-Muslim Sudan. Also, while the Sudanese government in Khartoum appears to have accepted the legality of the referendum and even the eventuality of southern secession, they are not prepared to let go of the disputed, oil-rich border region of Abyei. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has gone so far as to threaten war over Abyei:  “We will not accept Abyei to be part of the South. If any party takes any independent action over Abyei, that will be the beginning of a conflict.” Regardless of the outcome of the January referendum, for Bashir, “the status of Abyei remains unchanged.”

There have already been incidents of violence in Abyei this month. Conflict in this region could quickly escalate and spread to other areas. The diplomatic actions of the United States at the critical time should emphasize that violence by the government in Khartoum is unacceptable, as is its failure to prevent or swiftly police any violence that may occur.

Southern Sudan, one of the poorest regions in Africa, has a long road ahead. Although the viability of a prosperous nation-state may be far off, the opportunity to lay the foundations of a free and just southern Sudan is now. The vigorous diplomacy of American officials and the concerned involvement of American citizens can promote a constitutional system of government that ensures the rule of law and a robust system of checks and balances. This scenario is in the best interest of the southern Sudanese people and represents an outcome that would gratify James Madison himself—that in yet another corner of the globe, the balance between liberty and despotism is tipping toward liberty.

The Foundry: Conservative Policy News.

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My friend Vlasta Molak informs me that the world’s oldest Jewish woman is Alice Herz-Sommer, who celebrated her 107th birthday recently on November 26, 2010.
The Moderate Voice

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