Wednesday, February 21, 2007
THE WAR ON (BLANK)
Americans must come together and give government the tools and funding needed to end the menace of (BLANK). The Special Commission for the Study of (BLANK) made up of former government officials working at a prestigious Washington think tank recently issued a report that reveals the true danger of (BLANK). The report clearly states that if government does not act now to deal with (BLANK), millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules will suffer needlessly and our way of life will be put into jeopardy.
The Special Commission's report calls for a war on (BLANK) and provides a blueprint to deal with eliminating the threats posed by (BLANK). The report recommends that the President should immediately appoint a task force to form a network with various local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, federal intelligence agencies, and the Pentagon in order to mount a well organized attack on (BLANK).
The Special Commission suggests forming an international coalition with friends and allies abroad who share our concern over the (BLANK) menace. Of course, the war on (BLANK) must be fought most vigorously on American soil. This means giving authorities special powers to deal with the elusive and dangerous people involved with (BLANK). The Commission's report suggests specific legislation needed to give the government the powers to deal with (BLANK).
Freedoms that Americans have become used to will have to be temporarily curtailed in order for government to mount an effective campaign to eradict the threat of (BLANK). The government must have the ability to identify and target anyone who is involed in any manner with (BLANK).
This may mean that Americans will have to give up some of their privacy until the war on (BLANK) is won. The war on (BLANK) requires authorities to be able to conduct random searches, monitor financial transactions, monitor communications, detain suspects, and interrogate detainees.
Americans must also be informed of the financial costs of the war on (BLANK). Fighting the gathering dangers of (BLANK) will not come cheap. But, no cost is too great to prevent the destruction of the American way of life.
Experts predict that it may take many years to win the war on (BLANK) and it may cost hundreds of billions of dollars to eliminate the threat (BLANK) poses to America. The Commission's report suggests that the war on (BLANK) can be financed through borrowing in order to protect Americans from costly tax increases. The report notes that most Americans have been supportive of deficit spending for other wars.
Americans working together and supporting the war on (BLANK) will ensure that the war on (BLANK) will be won. There can be no question that if the blueprint outlined in the report issued by the Special Commission for the Study of (BLANK) is followed, we will win the war on (BLANK) and guarantee future generations the same security and freedom that we all cherish.
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737 U.S. Military Bases = Global Empire
With more than 2,500,000 U.S. personnel serving across the planet and military bases spread across each continent, it's time to face up to the fact that our American democracy has spawned a global empire.
Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America's version of the colony is the military base; and by following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever more all-encompassing imperial "footprint" and the militarism that grows with it.
It is not easy, however, to assess the size or exact value of our empire of bases. Official records available to the public on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual inventories from 2002 to 2005 of real property it owns around the world, the Base Structure Report, there has been an immense churning in the numbers of installations.
The total of America's military bases in other people's countries in 2005, according to official sources, was 737. Reflecting massive deployments to Iraq and the pursuit of President Bush's strategy of preemptive war, the trend line for numbers of overseas bases continues to go up.
Interestingly enough, the thirty-eight large and medium-sized American facilities spread around the globe in 2005 -- mostly air and naval bases for our bombers and fleets -- almost exactly equals Britain's thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons at its imperial zenith in 1898. The Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD required thirty-seven major bases to police its realm from Britannia to Egypt, from Hispania to Armenia. Perhaps the optimum number of major citadels and fortresses for an imperialist aspiring to dominate the world is somewhere between thirty-five and forty.
Using data from fiscal year 2005, the Pentagon bureaucrats calculated that its overseas bases were worth at least $127 billion -- surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic products of most countries -- and an estimated $658.1 billion for all of them, foreign and domestic (a base's "worth" is based on a Department of Defense estimate of what it would cost to replace it). During fiscal 2005, the military high command deployed to our overseas bases some 196,975 uniformed personnel as well as an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employed an additional 81,425 locally hired foreigners.
The worldwide total of U.S. military personnel in 2005, including those based domestically, was 1,840,062 supported by an additional 473,306 Defense Department civil service employees and 203,328 local hires. Its overseas bases, according to the Pentagon, contained 32,327 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and 16,527 more that it leased. The size of these holdings was recorded in the inventory as covering 687,347 acres overseas and 29,819,492 acres worldwide, making the Pentagon easily one of the world's largest landlords.
These numbers, although staggeringly big, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally. The 2005 Base Structure Report fails, for instance, to mention any garrisons in Kosovo (or Serbia, of which Kosovo is still officially a province) -- even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel built in 1999 and maintained ever since by the KBR corporation (formerly known as Kellogg Brown Root), a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation of Houston.
The report similarly omits bases in Afghanistan, Iraq (106 garrisons as of May 2005), Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, even though the U.S. military has established colossal base structures in the Persian Gulf and Central Asian areas since 9/11. By way of excuse, a note in the preface says that "facilities provided by other nations at foreign locations" are not included, although this is not strictly true. The report does include twenty sites in Turkey, all owned by the Turkish government and used jointly with the Americans. The Pentagon continues to omit from its accounts most of the $5 billion worth of military and espionage installations in Britain, which have long been conveniently disguised as Royal Air Force bases. If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas, but no one -- possibly not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure.
In some cases, foreign countries themselves have tried to keep their U.S. bases secret, fearing embarrassment if their collusion with American imperialism were revealed. In other instances, the Pentagon seems to want to play down the building of facilities aimed at dominating energy sources, or, in a related situation, retaining a network of bases that would keep Iraq under our hegemony regardless of the wishes of any future Iraqi government. The U.S. government tries not to divulge any information about the bases we use to eavesdrop on global communications, or our nuclear deployments, which, as William Arkin, an authority on the subject, writes, "[have] violated its treaty obligations. The U.S. was lying to many of its closest allies, even in NATO, about its nuclear designs. Tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, hundreds of bases, and dozens of ships and submarines existed in a special secret world of their own with no rational military or even 'deterrence' justification."
In Jordan, to take but one example, we have secretly deployed up to five thousand troops in bases on the Iraqi and Syrian borders. (Jordan has also cooperated with the CIA in torturing prisoners we deliver to them for "interrogation.") Nonetheless, Jordan continues to stress that it has no special arrangements with the United States, no bases, and no American military presence.
The country is formally sovereign but actually a satellite of the United States and has been so for at least the past ten years. Similarly, before our withdrawal from Saudi Arabia in 2003, we habitually denied that we maintained a fleet of enormous and easily observed B-52 bombers in Jeddah because that was what the Saudi government demanded. So long as military bureaucrats can continue to enforce a culture of secrecy to protect themselves, no one will know the true size of our baseworld, least of all the elected representatives of the American people.
In 2005, deployments at home and abroad were in a state of considerable flux. This was said to be caused both by a long overdue change in the strategy for maintaining our global dominance and by the closing of surplus bases at home. In reality, many of the changes seemed to be determined largely by the Bush administration's urge to punish nations and domestic states that had not supported its efforts in Iraq and to reward those that had. Thus, within the United States, bases were being relocated to the South, to states with cultures, as the Christian Science Monitor put it, "more tied to martial traditions" than the Northeast, the northern Middle West, or the Pacific Coast. According to a North Carolina businessman gloating over his new customers, "The military is going where it is wanted and valued most."
In part, the realignment revolved around the Pentagon's decision to bring home by 2007 or 2008 two army divisions from Germany -- the First Armored Division and the First Infantry Division -- and one brigade (3,500 men) of the Second Infantry Division from South Korea (which, in 2005, was officially rehoused at Fort Carson, Colorado). So long as the Iraq insurgency continues, the forces involved are mostly overseas and the facilities at home are not ready for them (nor is there enough money budgeted to get them ready).
Nonetheless, sooner or later, up to 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members will have to be accommodated within the United States. The attendant 2005 "base closings" in the United States are actually a base consolidation and enlargement program with tremendous infusions of money and customers going to a few selected hub areas. At the same time, what sounds like a retrenchment in the empire abroad is really proving to be an exponential growth in new types of bases -- without dependents and the amenities they would require -- in very remote areas where the U.S. military has never been before.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was obvious to anyone who thought about it that the huge concentrations of American military might in Germany, Italy, Japan, and South Korea were no longer needed to meet possible military threats. There were not going to be future wars with the Soviet Union or any country connected to any of those places.
In 1991, the first Bush administration should have begun decommissioning or redeploying redundant forces; and, in fact, the Clinton administration did close some bases in Germany, such as those protecting the Fulda Gap, once envisioned as the likeliest route for a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. But nothing was really done in those years to plan for the strategic repositioning of the American military outside the United States.
By the end of the 1990s, the neoconservatives were developing their grandiose theories to promote overt imperialism by the "lone superpower" -- including preventive and preemptive unilateral military action, spreading democracy abroad at the point of a gun, obstructing the rise of any "near-peer" country or bloc of countries that might challenge U.S. military supremacy, and a vision of a "democratic" Middle East that would supply us with all the oil we wanted. A component of their grand design was a redeployment and streamlining of the military. The initial rationale was for a program of transformation that would turn the armed forces into a lighter, more agile, more high-tech military, which, it was imagined, would free up funds that could be invested in imperial policing.
What came to be known as "defense transformation" first began to be publicly bandied about during the 2000 presidential election campaign. Then 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq intervened. In August 2002, when the whole neocon program began to be put into action, it centered above all on a quick, easy war to incorporate Iraq into the empire. By this time, civilian leaders in the Pentagon had become dangerously overconfident because of what they perceived as America's military brilliance and invincibility as demonstrated in its 2001 campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda -- a strategy that involved reigniting the Afghan civil war through huge payoffs to Afghanistan's Northern Alliance warlords and the massive use of American airpower to support their advance on Kabul.
In August 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld unveiled his "1-4-2-1 defense strategy" to replace the Clinton era's plan for having a military capable of fighting two wars -- in the Middle East and Northeast Asia -- simultaneously. Now, war planners were to prepare to defend the United States while building and assembling forces capable of "deterring aggression and coercion" in four "critical regions": Europe, Northeast Asia (South Korea and Japan), East Asia (the Taiwan Strait), and the Middle East, be able to defeat aggression in two of these regions simultaneously, and "win decisively" (in the sense of "regime change" and occupation) in one of those conflicts "at a time and place of our choosing."As the military analyst William M. Arkin commented, "[With] American military forces ... already stretched to the limit, the new strategy goes far beyond preparing for reactive contingencies and reads more like a plan for picking fights in new parts of the world."
A seemingly easy three-week victory over Saddam Hussein's forces in the spring of 2003 only reconfirmed these plans. The U.S. military was now thought to be so magnificent that it could accomplish any task assigned to it. The collapse of the Baathist regime in Baghdad also emboldened Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to use "transformation" to penalize nations that had been, at best, lukewarm about America's unilateralism -- Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Turkey -- and to reward those whose leaders had welcomed Operation Iraqi Freedom, including such old allies as Japan and Italy but also former communist countries such as Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. The result was the Department of Defense's Integrated Global Presence and Basing Strategy, known informally as the "Global Posture Review."
President Bush first mentioned it in a statement on November 21, 2003, in which he pledged to "realign the global posture" of the United States. He reiterated the phrase and elaborated on it on August 16, 2004, in a speech to the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Cincinnati. Because Bush's Cincinnati address was part of the 2004 presidential election campaign, his comments were not taken very seriously at the time. While he did say that the United States would reduce its troop strength in Europe and Asia by 60,000 to 70,000, he assured his listeners that this would take a decade to accomplish -- well beyond his term in office -- and made a series of promises that sounded more like a reenlistment pitch than a statement of strategy.
"Over the coming decade, we'll deploy a more agile and more flexible force, which means that more of our troops will be stationed and deployed from here at home. We'll move some of our troops and capabilities to new locations, so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats. ... It will reduce the stress on our troops and our military families. ... See, our service members will have more time on the home front, and more predictability and fewer moves over a career. Our military spouses will have fewer job changes, greater stability, more time for their kids and to spend with their families at home."
On September 23, 2004, however, Secretary Rumsfeld disclosed the first concrete details of the plan to the Senate Armed Services Committee. With characteristic grandiosity, he described it as "the biggest re-structuring of America's global forces since 1945." Quoting then undersecretary Douglas Feith, he added, "During the Cold War we had a strong sense that we knew where the major risks and fights were going to be, so we could deploy people right there. We're operating now [with] an entirely different concept. We need to be able to do [the] whole range of military operations, from combat to peacekeeping, anywhere in the world pretty quickly."
Though this may sound plausible enough, in basing terms it opens up a vast landscape of diplomatic and bureaucratic minefields that Rumsfeld's militarists surely underestimated. In order to expand into new areas, the Departments of State and Defense must negotiate with the host countries such things as Status of Forces Agreements, or SOFAs, which are discussed in detail in the next chapter. In addition, they must conclude many other required protocols, such as access rights for our aircraft and ships into foreign territory and airspace, and Article 98 Agreements. The latter refer to article 98 of the International Criminal Court's Rome Statute, which allows countries to exempt U.S. citizens on their territory from the ICC's jurisdiction.
Such immunity agreements were congressionally mandated by the American Service-Members' Protection Act of 2002, even though the European Union holds that they are illegal. Still other necessary accords are acquisitions and cross-servicing agreements or ACSAs, which concern the supply and storage of jet fuel, ammunition, and so forth; terms of leases on real property; levels of bilateral political and economic aid to the United States (so-called host-nation support); training and exercise arrangements (Are night landings allowed? Live firing drills?); and environmental pollution liabilities.
When the United States is not present in a country as its conqueror or military savior, as it was in Germany, Japan, and Italy after World War II and in South Korea after the 1953 Korean War armistice, it is much more difficult to secure the kinds of agreements that allow the Pentagon to do anything it wants and that cause a host nation to pick up a large part of the costs of doing so. When not based on conquest, the structure of the American empire of bases comes to look exceedingly fragile.
From the book NEMESIS: The Last Days of the American Republic by Chalmers Johnson. Reprinted by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright (c) 2006 by Chalmers Johnson. All rights reserved.
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Saturday, February 17, 2007
Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World
There is a “mystery” we must explain: How is it that as corporate investments and foreign aid and international loans to poor countries have increased dramatically throughout the world over the last half century, so has poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. What do we make of this?
Over the last half century, U.S. industries and banks (and other western corporations) have invested heavily in those poorer regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America known as the “Third World.” The transnationals are attracted by the rich natural resources, the high return that comes from low-paid labor, and the nearly complete absence of taxes, environmental regulations, worker benefits, and occupational safety costs.
The U.S. government has subsidized this flight of capital by granting corporations tax concessions on their overseas investments, and even paying some of their relocation expenses---much to the outrage of labor unions here at home who see their jobs evaporating.
The transnationals push out local businesses in the Third World and preempt their markets. American agribusiness cartels, heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, dump surplus products in other countries at below cost and undersell local farmers. As Christopher Cook describes it in his Diet for a Dead Planet, they expropriate the best land in these countries for cash-crop exports, usually monoculture crops requiring large amounts of pesticides, leaving less and less acreage for the hundreds of varieties of organically grown foods that feed the local populations.
By displacing local populations from their lands and robbing them of their self-sufficiency, corporations create overcrowded labor markets of desperate people who are forced into shanty towns to toil for poverty wages (when they can get work), often in violation of the countries’ own minimum wage laws.
In Haiti, for instance, workers are paid 11 cents an hour by corporate giants such as Disney, Wal-Mart, and J.C. Penny. The United States is one of the few countries that has refused to sign an international convention for the abolition of child labor and forced labor. This position stems from the child labor practices of U.S. corporations throughout the Third World and within the United States itself, where children as young as 12 suffer high rates of injuries and fatalities, and are often paid less than the minimum wage.
The savings that big business reaps from cheap labor abroad are not passed on in lower prices to their customers elsewhere. Corporations do not outsource to far-off regions so that U.S. consumers can save money. They outsource in order to increase their margin of profit. In 1990, shoes made by Indonesian children working twelve-hour days for 13 cents an hour, cost only $2.60 but still sold for $100 or more in the United States.
U.S. foreign aid usually works hand in hand with transnational investment. It subsidizes construction of the infrastructure needed by corporations in the Third World: ports, highways, and refineries.
The aid given to Third World governments comes with strings attached. It often must be spent on U.S. products, and the recipient nation is required to give investment preferences to U.S. companies, shifting consumption away from home produced commodities and foods in favor of imported ones, creating more dependency, hunger, and debt.
A good chunk of the aid money never sees the light of day, going directly into the personal coffers of sticky-fingered officials in the recipient countries.
Aid (of a sort) also comes from other sources. In 1944, the United Nations created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Voting power in both organizations is determined by a country’s financial contribution. As the largest “donor,” the United States has a dominant voice, followed by Germany, Japan, France, and Great Britain. The IMF operates in secrecy with a select group of bankers and finance ministry staffs drawn mostly from the rich nations.
The World Bank and IMF are supposed to assist nations in their development. What actually happens is another story. A poor country borrows from the World Bank to build up some aspect of its economy. Should it be unable to pay back the heavy interest because of declining export sales or some other reason, it must borrow again, this time from the IMF.
But the IMF imposes a “structural adjustment program” (SAP), requiring debtor countries to grant tax breaks to the transnational corporations, reduce wages, and make no attempt to protect local enterprises from foreign imports and foreign takeovers. The debtor nations are pressured to privatize their economies, selling at scandalously low prices their state-owned mines, railroads, and utilities to private corporations.
They are forced to open their forests to clear-cutting and their lands to strip mining, without regard to the ecological damage done. The debtor nations also must cut back on subsidies for health, education, transportation and food, spending less on their people in order to have more money to meet debt payments. Required to grow cash crops for export earnings, they become even less able to feed their own populations.
So it is that throughout the Third World, real wages have declined, and national debts have soared to the point where debt payments absorb almost all of the poorer countries’ export earnings---which creates further impoverishment as it leaves the debtor country even less able to provide the things its population needs.
Here then we have explained a “mystery.” It is, of course, no mystery at all if you don’t adhere to trickle-down mystification. Why has poverty deepened while foreign aid and loans and investments have grown? Answer: Loans, investments, and most forms of aid are designed not to fight poverty but to augment the wealth of transnational investors at the expense of local populations.
There is no trickle down, only a siphoning up from the toiling many to the moneyed few.
In their perpetual confusion, some liberal critics conclude that foreign aid and IMF and World Bank structural adjustments “do not work”; the end result is less self-sufficiency and more poverty for the recipient nations, they point out. Why then do the rich member states continue to fund the IMF and World Bank? Are their leaders just less intelligent than the critics who keep pointing out to them that their policies are having the opposite effect?
No, it is the critics who are stupid not the western leaders and investors who own so much of the world and enjoy such immense wealth and success. They pursue their aid and foreign loan programs because such programs do work. The question is, work for whom? Cui bono?
The purpose behind their investments, loans, and aid programs is not to uplift the masses in other countries. That is certainly not the business they are in. The purpose is to serve the interests of global capital accumulation, to take over the lands and local economies of Third World peoples, monopolize their markets, depress their wages, indenture their labor with enormous debts, privatize their public service sector, and prevent these nations from emerging as trade competitors by not allowing them a normal development.
In these respects, investments, foreign loans, and structural adjustments work very well indeed.
The real mystery is: why do some people find such an analysis to be so improbable, a “conspiratorial” imagining? Why are they skeptical that U.S. rulers knowingly and deliberately pursue such ruthless policies (suppress wages, rollback environmental protections, eliminate the public sector, cut human services) in the Third World? These rulers are pursuing much the same policies right here in our own country!
Isn’t it time that liberal critics stop thinking that the people who own so much of the world---and want to own it all---are “incompetent” or “misguided” or “failing to see the unintended consequences of their policies”? You are not being very smart when you think your enemies are not as smart as you. They know where their interests lie, and so should we.
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Use Community: Smaller Footprints, Cooler Stuff and More Cash
If we want to build a society which is both prosperous and sustainable, we're going to need to innovate ways of delivering the material goods which underpin that prosperity at a small fraction of the ecological cost they exact today. We must learn to live large while leaving tiny ecological footprints.
We have extremely huge footprints today. If every person lived as the average wealthy American does today, we'd need almost ten planets worth of resources to sustain ourselves, while the gap between our consumption and the capacities of the planet's natural systems has already crossed into overshoot, threatening mass-extinctions and catastrophic climate change.
If we're going to have a bright green future -- if we want to avoid living out the rest of our lives in one long emergency, a kind of constant Katrina -- we need to reinvent our lives now, immediately, on a radical scale. British researchers found that in order to reach sustainable prosperity, Londoners would have to shrink their ecological impacts 80% in the next four decades. For affluent Americans, the number may be more like 90%. And the more we learn about the extent of the damage we're causing the planet, the shorter our timeframes for change become. I suspect that we need to be thinking more along the lines of cutting our impact in half in the next ten years.
Impossible, you say? I think not.
I believe that three main barriers present themselves.
First, we must learn to see the damage we already do. Most of the ecological devastation we cause happens in ways and places which are obscured from our eyes. You might say it happens off-stage: when we turn the ignition key, we don't see the glaciers of Greenland melting; when we throw out our our old television, we don't see its toxic chemicals and heavy metals seeping from the landfill into the groundwater; when we install a new hardwood floor, we don't see the rainforest disappearing in a cloud of chainsaw smoke.
But we ought to see these things. We ought to know the backstory. I believe the next decade will see a lot of artists, activists and culture-jammers finding new ways of highlighting the negative backstories of the goods and services we buy (especially when other choices with better stories exist).
Observation changes behavior. Telling the history of the stuff in our lives is a great way to induce us to change, of course -- for instance, most people will never again want a fur coat once they know what happens to the animals who were wearing that fur before -- but there are even more powerful ways to harness the force of sustained observation. Congestion taxes, for instance, can dramatically alter driving behavior in a very short time. Simply installing home energy meters often leads to a drop in energy use: when we can see immediately the consequences of leaving a light bulb burning unnecessarily, we have an added incentive to switch it off.
Second, we need to make better things. We can shrink our footprints quite a bit through better design and engineering of the products in our lives, by making things which use no raw materials, function at near-optimal energy efficiency, are non-toxic and can be completely recycled or re-used at the end of their lives. That may sound utterly utopian, but we may actually be able to accomplish much of this redesign in the next couple decades, as better tools for designing more sustainably (like computer-aided design programs that take into account not only the strength and function of the materials a designer is playing with using, but their ecological and social impacts) meet emerging technologies and materials. Indeed, some of us are already much farther ahead in this race than others -- the Japanese, for example, have created an extremely prosperous society with an ecological footprint less than half as large as that of most Americans. And there are extremely encouraging signs that designers, engineers and architects around the world are taking the need for transformative change seriously.
Sometimes, we need to see the system in which that good is embedded in a fresh light. Take Netflix. Most of us don't think of it this way, but this DVD-by-mail service is actually a great model of sustainability innovation. Consider: when many North Americans want to watch a movie at home, they get in their cars, drive to a big box store, park in a huge parking lot, shop for an available title under the hot lights with the HVAC whooshing air around above them, pay for their film, drive home, watch their film and then repeat the process. When I watch a Netflix movie, though, I drive nowhere. The postal carrier is already coming to my house to drop of my other mail, so the added effort to get me my movie is negligible. I still get to see Lethal Smoking Gun With a Vengeance 4 or whatever, but my drives to and from the store, and even the store itself, have been dematerialized. The DVD itself is unchanged, yet my movie sits more lightly on the planet.
Third, we need a revolution in how we think about the things we have. We've focused quite a bit here on the concept of product-service systems, and for good reason: transforming one's relationship with objects from one of ownership to one of use offers perhaps the greatest immediately available leverage point for greening our lives.
Take power drills. Supposedly, the average power drill is used for somewhere between six and twenty minutes in its entire lifetime. And yet supposedly almost half of all American households own one. If you think of all the energy and materials it takes to make, store and then dispose of those drills -- all the plastic and metal parts; all the trucks used to ship them and stores built to sell them; all the landfills they wind up in -- the ecological cost of each minute of drilling can be seen to be absurdly large, and thus each hole we put in the wall comes with a chunk of planetary destruction already attached.
But what we want is the hole, not the drill. That is, most of us, most of the time, would be perfectly happy not owning the drill itself if we had the ability to make that hole in the wall in a reasonably convenient manner when the need arose. What if we could substitute, in other words, a hole-drilling service for owning a drill?
We can. Already there are tool libraries, tool-sharing services, and companies that will rent you a drill when you want one. Other models are possible as well, and such product-service systems are not limited to hand tools.
Car sharing offers a great example. With mobile phones, swipe cards and walkshed technologies. it's easy to find the nearest car, quickly make a reservation, walk over and swipe your way inside. Indeed, in sufficiently dense neighborhoods, using a shared car is significantly easier than owning your own car. It can also save you serious cash. It fits perfectly with an urban, high-tech lifestyle.
Even better, car sharing offers major ecological benefits. Because as much as half the energy ever used by a car (and almost all of the material resources) are used not in the operation of the car but in its manufacture and disposal, sharing cars has an immediate and major ecological benefit attached. If three people share one car to do the same amount of driving they used to do in three separate cars, they have roughly one-third the backstory impact on those trips that they used to.
And it turns out that a lot of people can use the same few cars. Zipcar founder Robin Chase told me that they have found that every efficiently-used shared car can replace as many as 20 private cars (that is, cars which users either sell or decide not to buy in the first place). That means that the backstory impacts of all those trips drops to as little as 5% of what it once was.
But the beneficial impacts of car-sharing don't stop there. Because car-sharers' driving time is limited and measured (most pay by the hour), they tend to use it more efficiently, making fewer trips and planning routes more effectively, all of which means that they tend to use less fuel to accomplish the same tasks. Also, because the cars are being used more, they spend less time sitting in parking lots, and as car-sharing becomes more common, we can slash the number of parking spaces in our cities [anyone have a good number for parking-spaces-per-auto in the U.S.?], greatly reducing the amount of space we need to cover with asphalt (if shared cars and carpools were given priority access to the remaining spaces, this would have the additional advantage of disincentivizing people driving alone. We may not go car-free anytime soon, but we could go car-sensible tomorrow.) Perhaps the PARK(ing) kids have the right idea after all. Overall, though it may not be right for everyone, car sharing delivers most of the comfort and utility for less money and a fraction of the footprint of driving one's own car around.
What's more, why stop with drills and cars? We already share exercise equipment (gyms), books (libraries), outdoor space (parks) and short-haul rides (taxis); what kind of a scenario might present itself if we took the concept one step further?
Like many people, I want less clutter and hassle in my life. I already have too much stuff I have to store, too many things I have to maintain and keep track of; I even have, I've decided, too much space (despite loving my home, the first I've ever owned, I find that I could easily, perhaps even more happily, live in half the square footage). All of these things take up much of the time, energy and money I might otherwise apply to having the experiences I want in my life. I want an institutional tool for owning less and doing more.
Let's call it a use community. Imagine a member-owned facility located in the heart of a dense urban neighborhood where I could not only access a tool library, a laundry room, a gym and a shared car, or what-have-you, but access a whole suite of services designed to outsource my responsibility for owning or buying things.
For instance, I love to entertain, and so it is a real pleasure to have a dining room and a decent kitchen. But the reality is that I entertain more than a couple guests at most once a month. And I am told that in New York a company already offers studio dwellers access to a professional kitchen and well-appointed dining room, for a fee. If I had access to a place I could throw bigger dinner parties, I could easily live in a much smaller home and not worry that my kitchen stove only has four burners (and two of those don't work so well).
In a similar way, I have a home office. Now that Worldchanging is both so all-consuming and headquartered in a great, funky space, I spend almost no time working at home, but as someone who's often made my living freelancing and consulting, a home office was long an essential. Or was it? Already there are some amazing groups out there offering shared offices: WorkSpace in Vancouver is a fabulous example (they hosted our Vancouver book tour event), but there are other cool models as well, like the Hub and Aula.
Like a lot of urban people, I love third places like cafes, bars and art spaces, but often wrestle with the discomforting reality that in most third places I have limited ability to influence my surroundings. This is the problem rich people solve by joining exclusive private clubs and our grandparents solved by joining fraternal organizations (like Fred Flintstone's Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes), but those aren't the only models for sharing social space. Take for instance the McLeod Residence, an experimental project here in Seattle which aims to create a member-driven art/social space where everyone can have a voice in creating something cool out of the raw materials of square footage and fun allies.
One could also over-lay this basis of shared space and shared objects with systems for informal sharing -- like Sharer! or RentAThing, even a place-based FreeCycle -- so that me and my fellow members could function as one large, informal, distributed product-service system on top of the formal program. Heck, we could even go the whole nine yards and host various neighborly technologies like yellow chairs.
Combined purchasing power and shared facilities could also make the best available sustainable products more accessible. Services like CSAs would be a snap, but that's only the beginning. If I as an individual buy a super-green washing machine, it may take years to "earn out" (to have saved me more in water and energy costs than the difference in price between the green machine and cheaper, more wasteful alternatives). Ten people using that same machine, however, would earn out much more quickly (as well as reducing their individual backstory footprints), meaning they could live more sustainably, more cheaply. Similarly, with a shared facility, pushing the building itself to reflect cutting-edge best practices would become more cost-effective. Why shouldn't my use community's facility be something like the Jubilee Wharf? The money we saved would be our own.
I'd bet that a comprehensive survey of both my ecological impact now and the life I'd like to be living would reveal a ton of ways in which I could give up things I now own or purchase, replace them with things I use and share, and in the process not only greatly reduce my impact on the planet but actually get more life through the energy and money I'd save. (Indeed, an interesting subject I won't pursue here is the sudden explosion of financial models through which people can act to their mutual benefit -- not only what are called Mutual Benefit Corporations here in the US, but Tenancy-in-Common arrangements, joint ownership agreements and various forms of time-shares and cooperatives. Wealthy people already understand this principle well, creating corporations to share things like hunting lodges and golf courses -- what if a community of users did the same? I am pretty intrigued by the possibilities such mechanisms offer people looking to create innovative new systems of sharing.)
Building passion for such an institution would take creating some serious service envy, but that might be easier than old school marketers might think, especially if the execution of the idea lead visibly to the bright green trifecta of having cooler stuff, more money and less impact on the planet.
The impacts might be broader still. One of our goals here must be the redefinition of stylish affluence, not only because the affluent of the Global North are directly responsible for a fairly large share of global pollution, but because it is their lifestyle which is being emulated and adopted by the affluent in the emerging economies. If we can change the way we deliver affluence here, we can share affluence there without losing the great wager. That seems worth some experimentation.
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Friday, February 02, 2007
The Mystery of Consciousness
The young women had survived the car crash, after a fashion. In
the five months since parts of her brain had been crushed, she could
open her eyes but didn't respond to sights, sounds or jabs. In the
jargon of neurology, she was judged to be in a persistent vegetative
state. In crueler everyday language, she was a vegetable.
picture the astonishment of British and Belgian scientists as they
scanned her brain using a kind of MRI that detects blood flow to active
parts of the brain. When they recited sentences, the parts involved in
language lit up. When they asked her to imagine visiting the rooms of
her house, the parts involved in navigating space and recognizing
places ramped up. And when they asked her to imagine playing tennis,
the regions that trigger motion joined in. Indeed, her scans were
barely different from those of healthy volunteers. The woman, it
appears, had glimmerings of consciousness.
Try to comprehend
what it is like to be that woman. Do you appreciate the words and
caresses of your distraught family while racked with frustration at
your inability to reassure them that they are getting through? Or do
you drift in a haze, springing to life with a concrete thought when a
voice prods you, only to slip back into blankness? If we could
experience this existence, would we prefer it to death? And if these
questions have answers, would they change our policies toward
unresponsive patients--making the Terri Schiavo case look like child's
The report of this unusual case last September was just
the latest shock from a bracing new field, the science of
consciousness. Questions once confined to theological speculations and
late-night dorm-room bull sessions are now at the forefront of
cognitive neuroscience. With some problems, a modicum of consensus has
taken shape. With others, the puzzlement is so deep that they may never
be resolved. Some of our deepest convictions about what it means to be
human have been shaken.
It shouldn't be surprising that research
on consciousness is alternately exhilarating and disturbing. No other
topic is like it. As René Descartes noted, our own consciousness is the
most indubitable thing there is. The major religions locate it in a
soul that survives the body's death to receive its just deserts or to
meld into a global mind. For each of us, consciousness is life itself,
the reason Woody Allen said, "I don't want to achieve immortality
through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying." And the conviction
that other people can suffer and flourish as each of us does is the
essence of empathy and the foundation of morality.
scientific headway in a topic as tangled as consciousness, it helps to
clear away some red herrings. Consciousness surely does not depend on
language. Babies, many animals and patients robbed of speech by brain
damage are not insensate robots; they have reactions like ours that
indicate that someone's home. Nor can consciousness be equated with
self-awareness. At times we have all lost ourselves in music, exercise
or sensual pleasure, but that is different from being knocked out cold.
THE "EASY" AND "HARD" PROBLEMS
REMAINS IS NOT ONE PROBLEM ABOUT CONSCIOUSNESS BUT two, which the
philosopher David Chalmers has dubbed the Easy Problem and the Hard
Problem. Calling the first one easy is an in-joke: it is easy in the
sense that curing cancer or sending someone to Mars is easy. That is,
scientists more or less know what to look for, and with enough
brainpower and funding, they would probably crack it in this century.
exactly is the Easy Problem? It's the one that Freud made famous, the
difference between conscious and unconscious thoughts. Some kinds of
information in the brain--such as the surfaces in front of you, your
daydreams, your plans for the day, your pleasures and peeves--are
conscious. You can ponder them, discuss them and let them guide your
behavior. Other kinds, like the control of your heart rate, the rules
that order the words as you speak and the sequence of muscle
contractions that allow you to hold a pencil, are unconscious. They
must be in the brain somewhere because you couldn't walk and talk and
see without them, but they are sealed off from your planning and
reasoning circuits, and you can't say a thing about them.
Easy Problem, then, is to distinguish conscious from unconscious mental
computation, identify its correlates in the brain and explain why it
The Hard Problem, on the other hand, is why it feels
like something to have a conscious process going on in one's head--why
there is first-person, subjective experience. Not only does a green
thing look different from a red thing, remind us of other green things
and inspire us to say, "That's green" (the Easy Problem), but it also
actually looks green: it produces an experience of sheer greenness that
isn't reducible to anything else. As Louis Armstrong said in response
to a request to define jazz, "When you got to ask what it is, you never
get to know."
The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective
experience arises from neural computation. The problem is hard because
no one knows what a solution might look like or even whether it is a
genuine scientific problem in the first place. And not surprisingly,
everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a
Although neither problem has been solved,
neuroscientists agree on many features of both of them, and the feature
they find least controversial is the one that many people outside the
field find the most shocking. Francis Crick called it "the astonishing
hypothesis"--the idea that our thoughts, sensations, joys and aches
consist entirely of physiological activity in the tissues of the brain.
Consciousness does not reside in an ethereal soul that uses the brain
like a PDA; consciousness is the activity of the brain.
THE BRAIN AS MACHINE
HAVE EXORCISED THE GHOST FROM THE MACHINE NOT because they are
mechanistic killjoys but because they have amassed evidence that every
aspect of consciousness can be tied to the brain. Using functional MRI,
cognitive neuroscientists can almost read people's thoughts from the
blood flow in their brains. They can tell, for instance, whether a
person is thinking about a face or a place or whether a picture the
person is looking at is of a bottle or a shoe.
consciousness can be pushed around by physical manipulations.
Electrical stimulation of the brain during surgery can cause a person
to have hallucinations that are indistinguishable from reality, such as
a song playing in the room or a childhood birthday party. Chemicals
that affect the brain, from caffeine and alcohol to Prozac and LSD, can
profoundly alter how people think, feel and see. Surgery that severs
the corpus callosum, separating the two hemispheres (a treatment for
epilepsy), spawns two consciousnesses within the same skull, as if the
soul could be cleaved in two with a knife.
And when the
physiological activity of the brain ceases, as far as anyone can tell
the person's consciousness goes out of existence. Attempts to contact
the souls of the dead (a pursuit of serious scientists a century ago)
turned up only cheap magic tricks, and near death experiences are not
the eyewitness reports of a soul parting company from the body but
symptoms of oxygen starvation in the eyes and brain. In September, a
team of Swiss neuroscientists reported that they could turn out-of-body
experiences on and off by stimulating the part of the brain in which
vision and bodily sensations converge.
THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL
STARTLING CONCLUSION FROM the science of consciousness is that the
intuitive feeling we have that there's an executive "I" that sits in a
control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and
pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion. Consciousness turns
out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain.
These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the
others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts
the impression that a single self was in charge all along.
the famous cognitive-dissonance experiments. When an experimenter got
people to endure electric shocks in a sham experiment on learning,
those who were given a good rationale ("It will help scientists
understand learning") rated the shocks as more painful than the ones
given a feeble rationale ("We're curious.") Presumably, it's because
the second group would have felt foolish to have suffered for no good
reason. Yet when these people were asked why they agreed to be shocked,
they offered bogus reasons of their own in all sincerity, like "I used
to mess around with radios and got used to electric shocks."
not only decisions in sketchy circumstances that get rationalized but
also the texture of our immediate experience. We all feel we are
conscious of a rich and detailed world in front of our eyes. Yet
outside the dead center of our gaze, vision is amazingly coarse. Just
try holding your hand a few inches from your line of sight and counting
your fingers. And if someone removed and reinserted an object every
time you blinked (which experimenters can simulate by flashing two
pictures in rapid sequence), you would be hard pressed to notice the
change. Ordinarily, our eyes flit from place to place, alighting on
whichever object needs our attention on a need-to-know basis. This
fools us into thinking that wall-to-wall detail was there all along--an
example of how we overestimate the scope and power of our own
Our authorship of voluntary
actions can also be an illusion, the result of noticing a correlation
between what we decide and how our bodies move. The psychologist Dan
Wegner studied the party game in which a subject is seated in front of
a mirror while someone behind him extends his arms under the subject's
armpits and moves his arms around, making it look as if the subject is
moving his own arms. If the subject hears a tape telling the person
behind him how to move (wave, touch the subject's nose and so on), he
feels as if he is actually in command of the arms.
spin doctoring is displayed even more dramatically in neurological
conditions in which the healthy parts of the brain explain away the
foibles of the damaged parts (which are invisible to the self because
they are part of the self). A patient who fails to experience a
visceral click of recognition when he sees his wife but who
acknowledges that she looks and acts just like her deduces that she is
an amazingly well-trained impostor. A patient who believes he is at
home and is shown the hospital elevator says without missing a beat,
"You wouldn't believe what it cost us to have that installed."
does consciousness exist at all, at least in the Easy Problem sense in
which some kinds of information are accessible and others hidden? One
reason is information overload. Just as a person can be overwhelmed
today by the gusher of data coming in from electronic media, decision
circuits inside the brain would be swamped if every curlicue and muscle
twitch that was registered somewhere in the brain were constantly being
delivered to them. Instead, our working memory and spotlight of
attention receive executive summaries of the events and states that are
most relevant to updating an understanding of the world and figuring
out what to do next. The cognitive psychologist Bernard Baars likens
consciousness to a global blackboard on which brain processes post
their results and monitor the results of the others.
BELIEVING OUR OWN LIES
SECOND REASON THAT INFORMATION MAY BE SEALED OFF FROM consciousness is
strategic. Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers has noted that people
have a motive to sell themselves as beneficent, rational, competent
agents. The best propagandist is the one who believes his own lies,
ensuring that he can't leak his deceit through nervous twitches or
self-contradictions. So the brain might have been shaped to keep
compromising data away from the conscious processes that govern our
interaction with other people. At the same time, it keeps the data
around in unconscious processes to prevent the person from getting too
far out of touch with reality.
What about the brain itself? You
might wonder how scientists could even begin to find the seat of
awareness in the cacophony of a hundred billion jabbering neurons. The
trick is to see what parts of the brain change when a person's
consciousness flips from one experience to another. In one technique,
called binocular rivalry, vertical stripes are presented to the left
eye, horizontal stripes to the right. The eyes compete for
consciousness, and the person sees vertical stripes for a few seconds,
then horizontal stripes, and so on.
way to experience the effect yourself is to look through a paper tube
at a white wall with your right eye and hold your left hand in front of
your left eye. After a few seconds, a white hole in your hand should
appear, then disappear, then reappear.
binocular rivalry. They can learn to press a button every time their
perception flips, while their brains are impaled with electrodes that
record any change in activity. Neuroscientist Nikos Logothetis found
that the earliest way stations for visual input in the back of the
brain barely budged as the monkeys' consciousness flipped from one
state to another. Instead, it was a region that sits further down the
information stream and that registers coherent shapes and objects that
tracks the monkeys' awareness. Now this doesn't mean that this place on
the underside of the brain is the TV screen of consciousness. What it
means, according to a theory by Crick and his collaborator Christof
Koch, is that consciousness resides only in the "higher" parts of the
brain that are connected to circuits for emotion and decision making,
just what one would expect from the blackboard metaphor.
WAVES OF BRAIN
IN THE BRAIN CAN BE TRACKED NOT JUST IN SPACE but also in time.
Neuroscientists have long known that consciousness depends on certain
frequencies of oscillation in the electroencephalograph (EEG). These
brain waves consist of loops of activation between the cortex (the
wrinkled surface of the brain) and the thalamus (the cluster of hubs at
the center that serve as input-output relay stations). Large, slow,
regular waves signal a coma, anesthesia or a dreamless sleep; smaller,
faster, spikier ones correspond to being awake and alert. These waves
are not like the useless hum from a noisy appliance but may allow
consciousness to do its job in the brain. They may bind the activity in
far-flung regions (one for color, another for shape, a third for
motion) into a coherent conscious experience, a bit like radio
transmitters and receivers tuned to the same frequency. Sure enough,
when two patterns compete for awareness in a binocular-rivalry display,
the neurons representing the eye that is "winning" the competition
oscillate in synchrony, while the ones representing the eye that is
suppressed fall out of synch.
So neuroscientists are well on the
way to identifying the neural correlates of consciousness, a part of
the Easy Problem. But what about explaining how these events actually
cause consciousness in the sense of inner experience--the Hard Problem?
TACKLING THE HARD PROBLEM
APPRECIATE THE HARDNESS OF THE HARD PROBLEM, CONSIDER how you could
ever know whether you see colors the same way that I do. Sure, you and
I both call grass green, but perhaps you see grass as having the color
that I would describe, if I were in your shoes, as purple. Or ponder
whether there could be a true zombie--a being who acts just like you or
me but in whom there is no self actually feeling anything. This was the
crux of a Star Trek plot in which officials wanted to reverse-engineer
Lieut. Commander Data, and a furious debate erupted as to whether this
was merely dismantling a machine or snuffing out a sentient life.
one knows what to do with the Hard Problem. Some people may see it as
an opening to sneak the soul back in, but this just relabels the
mystery of "consciousness" as the mystery of "the soul"--a word game
that provides no insight.
Many philosophers, like Daniel
Dennett, deny that the Hard Problem exists at all. Speculating about
zombies and inverted colors is a waste of time, they say, because
nothing could ever settle the issue one way or another. Anything you
could do to understand consciousness--like finding out what wavelengths
make people see green or how similar they say it is to blue, or what
emotions they associate with it--boils down to information processing
in the brain and thus gets sucked back into the Easy Problem, leaving
nothing else to explain. Most people react to this argument with
incredulity because it seems to deny the ultimate undeniable fact: our
The most popular attitude to the Hard Problem
among neuroscientists is that it remains unsolved for now but will
eventually succumb to research that chips away at the Easy Problem.
Others are skeptical about this cheery optimism because none of the
inroads into the Easy Problem brings a solution to the Hard Problem
even a bit closer. Identifying awareness with brain physiology, they
say, is a kind of "meat chauvinism" that would dogmatically deny
consciousness to Lieut. Commander Data just because he doesn't have the
soft tissue of a human brain. Identifying it with information
processing would go too far in the other direction and grant a simple
consciousness to thermostats and calculators--a leap that most people
find hard to stomach. Some mavericks, like the mathematician Roger
Penrose, suggest the answer might someday be found in quantum
mechanics. But to my ear, this amounts to the feeling that quantum
mechanics sure is weird, and consciousness sure is weird, so maybe
quantum mechanics can explain consciousness.
And then there is
the theory put forward by philosopher Colin McGinn that our vertigo
when pondering the Hard Problem is itself a quirk of our brains. The
brain is a product of evolution, and just as animal brains have their
limitations, we have ours. Our brains can't hold a hundred numbers in
memory, can't visualize seven-dimensional space and perhaps can't
intuitively grasp why neural information processing observed from the
outside should give rise to subjective experience on the inside. This
is where I place my bet, though I admit that the theory could be
demolished when an unborn genius--a Darwin or Einstein of
consciousness--comes up with a flabbergasting new idea that suddenly
makes it all clear to us.
Whatever the solutions to the Easy and
Hard problems turn out to be, few scientists doubt that they will
locate consciousness in the activity of the brain. For many
nonscientists, this is a terrifying prospect. Not only does it strangle
the hope that we might survive the death of our bodies, but it also
seems to undermine the notion that we are free agents responsible for
our choices--not just in this lifetime but also in a life to come. In
his millennial essay "Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died," Tom Wolfe
worried that when science has killed the soul, "the lurid carnival that
will ensue may make the phrase 'the total eclipse of all values' seem
TOWARD A NEW MORALITY
MY OWN VIEW
IS THAT THIS IS backward: the biology of consciousness offers a sounder
basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul. It's
not just that an understanding of the physiology of consciousness will
reduce human suffering through new treatments for pain and depression.
That understanding can also force us to recognize the interests of
other beings--the core of morality.
As every student in
Philosophy 101 learns, nothing can force me to believe that anyone
except me is conscious. This power to deny that other people have
feelings is not just an academic exercise but an all-too-common vice,
as we see in the long history of human cruelty. Yet once we realize
that our own consciousness is a product of our brains and that other
people have brains like ours, a denial of other people's sentience
becomes ludicrous. "Hath not a Jew eyes?" asked Shylock. Today the
question is more pointed: Hath not a Jew--or an Arab, or an African, or
a baby, or a dog--a cerebral cortex and a thalamus? The undeniable fact
that we are all made of the same neural flesh makes it impossible to
deny our common capacity to suffer.
And when you think about it,
the doctrine of a life-to-come is not such an uplifting idea after all
because it necessarily devalues life on earth. Just remember the most
famous people in recent memory who acted in expectation of a reward in
the hereafter: the conspirators who hijacked the airliners on 9/11.
too, about why we sometimes remind ourselves that "life is short." It
is an impetus to extend a gesture of affection to a loved one, to bury
the hatchet in a pointless dispute, to use time productively rather
than squander it. I would argue that nothing gives life more purpose
than the realization that every moment of consciousness is a precious
and fragile gift.
Steven Pinker is Johnstone Professor of
Psychology at Harvard and the author of The Language Instinct, How the
Mind Works and The Blank Slate
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Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Another Species of Denial
It is a testament to the power of money that Nicholas Stern’s report should have swung the argument for drastic action, even before anyone has finished reading it. He appears to have demonstrated what many of us suspected: that it would cost much less to prevent runaway climate change than to seek to live with it. Useful as this finding is, I hope it doesn’t mean that the debate will now concentrate on money. The principal costs of climate change will be measured in lives, not pounds. As Stern reminded us yesterday, there would be a moral imperative to seek to prevent mass death even if the economic case did not stack up.
But at least almost everyone now agrees that we must act, if not at the necessary speed. If we’re to have a high chance of preventing global temperatures from rising by 2C (3.6F) above preindustrial levels, we need, in the rich nations, a 90% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. The greater part of the cut has to be made at the beginning of this period. To see why, picture two graphs with time on the horizontal axis and the rate of emissions plotted vertically. On one graph the line falls like a ski jump: a steep drop followed by a shallow tail. On the other it falls like the trajectory of a bullet. The area under each line represents the total volume of greenhouse gases produced in that period. They fall to the same point by the same date, but far more gases have been produced in the second case, making runaway climate change more likely.
So how do we do it without bringing civilisation crashing down? Here is a plan for drastic but affordable action that the government could take. It goes much further than the proposals discussed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown yesterday, for the reason that this is what the science demands.
1. Set a target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions based on the latest science. The government is using outdated figures, aiming for a 60% reduction by 2050. Even the annual 3% cut proposed in the early day motion calling for a new climate change bill does not go far enough. Timescale: immediately.
2. Use that target to set an annual carbon cap, which falls on the ski-jump trajectory. Then use the cap to set a personal carbon ration. Every citizen is given a free annual quota of carbon dioxide. He or she spends it by buying gas and electricity, petrol and train and plane tickets. If they run out, they must buy the rest from someone who has used less than his or her quota. This accounts for about 40% of the carbon dioxide we produce. The remainder is auctioned off to companies. It’s a simpler and fairer approach than either green taxation or the EU’s emissions trading scheme, and it also provides people with a powerful incentive to demand low-carbon technologies. Timescale: a full scheme in place by January 2009.
3. Introduce a new set of building regulations, with three objectives. A. Imposing strict energy-efficiency requirements on all major refurbishments (costing £3,000 or more). Timescale: in force by June 2007. B. Obliging landlords to bring their houses up to high energy-efficiency standards before they can rent them out. Timescale: to cover all new rentals from January 2008. C. Ensuring that all new homes in the UK are built to the German Passivhaus standard (which requires no heating system). Timescale: in force by 2012.
4. Ban the sale of incandescent lightbulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights and other wasteful and unnecessary technologies. Introduce a stiff “feebate” system for all electronic goods sold in the UK, with the least efficient taxed heavily and the most efficient receiving tax discounts. Every year the standards in each category rise. Timescale: fully implemented by November 2007.
5. Redeploy money now earmarked for new nuclear missiles towards a massive investment in energy generation and distribution. Two schemes in particular require government support to make them commercially viable: very large wind farms, many miles offshore, connected to the grid with high-voltage direct-current cables; and a hydrogen pipeline network to take over from the natural gas grid as the primary means of delivering fuel for home heating. Timescale: both programmes commence at the end of 2007 and are completed by 2018.
6. Promote the development of a new national coach network. City-centre coach stations are shut down and moved to motorway junctions. Urban public transport networks are extended to meet them. The coaches travel on dedicated lanes and never leave the motorways. Journeys by public transport then become as fast as journeys by car, while saving 90% of emissions. It is self-financing, through the sale of the land now used for coach stations. Timescale: commences in 2008; completed by 2020.
7. Oblige all chains of filling stations to supply leasable electric car batteries. This provides electric cars with unlimited mileage: as the battery runs down, you pull into a forecourt; a crane lifts it out and drops in a fresh one. The batteries are charged overnight with surplus electricity from offshore wind farms. Timescale: fully operational by 2011.
8. Abandon the road-building and road-widening programme, and spend the money on tackling climate change. The government has earmarked £11.4bn for road expansion. It claims to be allocating just £545m a year to “spending policies that tackle climate change”. Timescale: immediately.
9. Freeze and then reduce UK airport capacity. While capacity remains high there will be constant upward pressure on any scheme the government introduces to limit flights. We need a freeze on all new airport construction and the introduction of a national quota for landing slots, to be reduced by 90% by 2030. Timescale: immediately.
10. Legislate for the closure of all out-of-town superstores, and their replacement with a warehouse and delivery system. Shops use a staggering amount of energy (six times as much electricity per square metre as factories, for example), and major reductions are hard to achieve: Tesco’s “state of the art” energy-saving store at Diss in Norfolk has managed to cut its energy use by only 20%. Warehouses containing the same quantity of goods use roughly 5% of the energy. Out-of-town shops are also hardwired to the car – delivery vehicles use 70% less fuel. Timescale: fully implemented by 2012.
These timescales might seem extraordinarily ambitious. They are, by contrast to the current glacial pace of change. But when the US entered the second world war it turned the economy around on a sixpence. Carmakers began producing aircraft and missiles within a year, and amphibious vehicles in 90 days, from a standing start. And that was 65 years ago. If we want this to happen, we can make it happen. It will require more economic intervention than we are used to, and some pretty brutal emergency planning policies (with little time or scope for objections). But if you believe that these are worse than mass death then there is something wrong with your value system.
Climate change is not just a moral question: it is the moral question of the 21st century. There is one position even more morally culpable than denial. That is to accept that it’s happening and that its results will be catastrophic, but to fail to take the measures needed to prevent it.
George Monbiot’s latest book is Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning.
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Monday, January 29, 2007
Missing presumed tortured
Published 20 November 2006
More than 7,000 prisoners have been captured in America's war on terror. Just 700 ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Between extraordinary rendition to foreign jails and disappearance into the CIA's "black sites", what happened to the rest?
Sana'a, Yemen. By the gates of the Old City, Muhammad Bashmilah was walking, talking, and laughing in the crowd - behaving like a man without a care in the world. Bargaining with the spice traders and joking with passers-by; at last he was free.
A 33-year-old businessman, Bashmilah has an impish sense of humour; his eyes sparkled as he chatted about his country and the khat leaves that all the young men were chewing. But when I began my interview by asking for the story of his past three years, his mood shifted. His face narrowed, his eyes calmed, and he stared beyond me - as if looking directly into the nether world from which he had so recently emerged.
For 11 months, Bashmilah was held in one of the CIA's most secret prisons - its so-called "black sites" - so secret that he had no idea in which country, or even on which continent, he was being held. He was flown there, in chains and wearing a blindfold, from another jail in Afghanistan; his guards wore masks; and he was held in a 10ft by 13ft cell with two video cameras that watched his every move. He was shackled to the floor with a chain of 110 links.
From the times of evening prayer given to him by the guards, the cold winter temperatures, and the number of hours spent flying to this secret jail, he suspected that he was held somewhere in eastern Europe - but he could not be sure.
When he arrived at the prison, said Bashmilah, he was greeted by an interrogator with the words: "Welcome to your new home." He implied that Bashmilah would never be released. "I had gone there without any reason, without any proof, without any accusation," he said. His mental state collapsed and he went on hunger strike for ten days - until he was force-fed food through his nostrils. Finally released after months in detention without being charged with any crime, Bashmilah was one of the first prisoners to provide an inside account of the most secret part of the CIA's detention system.
On 6 September, President George W Bush finally confirmed the existence of secret CIA jails such as the one that held Bashmilah. He added something chilling - a declaration that there were now "no terrorists in the CIA programme", that the many prisoners held with Bashmilah were all gone. It was a statement that hinted at something very dark - that the United States has "disappeared" hundreds of prisoners to an uncertain fate.
Let's examine the arithmetic of this systematic disappearance. In the first years after the attacks of 11 September, thousands of Taliban or suspected terrorist suspects were captured. Just in Afghanistan, the US admitted processing more than 6,000 prisoners. Pakistan has said it handed over around 500 captives to the US; Iran said it sent 1,000 across the border to Afghanistan. Of all these, some were released and just over 700 ended up in Guantanamo, Cuba. But the simple act of subtraction shows that thousands are missing. More than five years after 9/11, where are they all? We know that many were rendered to foreign jails, both by the CIA and directly by the US military. But how many precisely? The answer is still classified. No audit of the fate of all these souls has ever been published.
Bush's next big scandal
Since the publications of photographs from Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration has faced a string of scandals concerning its conduct of the war on terror: from abuses of prisoners by the US military, to the rendition of terrorist suspects to jails in places such as Egypt and Syria, where torture is routine, a process first described in the New Statesman in May 2004. International outrage, inquiries launched against CIA activities by prosecutors in Europe, as well as clear instructions from the US Supreme Court that, in its reaction to 9/11, Congress had not issued the president with a "blank cheque", have all challenged the administration's venture into what vice-president Dick Cheney called "the dark side" of warfare.
But if Bush hoped to appease his critics with his public acknowledgement of the CIA's secret programmes, and his promise to bring some of America's most important captives to an open military trial at Guantanamo, then he will be disappointed. After last week's midterm elections, the administration will face legislators more emboldened to probe its conduct. And the issue of disappearances - of the fate of the missing prisoners held by the CIA and the Pentagon - threatens to become the next big scandal.
It was in early 2002, when the camp at Guantanamo Bay was opening up, that I heard from a source close to the CIA that most of the media were missing the point. As cameras showed images of chained prisoners being wheeled across the base on trolleys, there was predictable outrage. But the source described these images as "the press release".
This was what Washington wanted the world to see. Beyond Cuba was a concealed network of prisons around the globe that were becoming home to thousands more prisoners. The CIA had its own secret facilities, but many more were held in jails run by foreign allies. There are some good operational reasons for keeping the arrest of suspected terrorists secret. Sometimes, in the short term, deception makes good tactical sense; staying quiet about an arrest may keep the enemy guessing. Sometimes it can be for diplomatic reasons: secrecy may help to persuade countries such as Egypt to accept a prisoner.
But why is it so sensitive to confirm what happened to these prisoners, to detail how many were transferred where and when? Why should a country receiving prisoners be so embarrassed? And why - when countries such as Egypt have come clean and said "yes, we received 70 to 80 prisoners rendered by the United States" - will the United States itself not confirm what it did? Despite admitting, in general, that the CIA carries out renditions, the US has yet to own up to a single specific case of transferring a prisoner to foreign custody.
The explanation for the secrecy is one that most of the CIA officers involved in rendition will quite freely admit - a transfer to places such as Egypt or Uzbekistan (a country known for boiling prisoners alive) will inevitably involve torture. And knowingly sending a prisoner to face torture is, under both US and international law, an illegal act. Revealing the fate of the missing prisoners may be just too politically embarrassing.
Justifying war with torture
One of those "disappeared", for example, is the former al- Qaeda camp commander Ibn-al Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured in late 2001. Al-Libi was first interrogated by the FBI but, according to those involved, he was then snatched by the CIA and rendered to Cairo. It was while he was under Egyptian interrogation that al-Libi provided an important piece of "testimony": that Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship with al-Qaeda. It was an erroneous claim, since formally withdrawn by the CIA, but was used as part of the justification for the war in Iraq. Al-Libi's anonymous testimony was cited by Colin Powell before the United Nations. But no one mentioned where the intelligence came from.
After his interrogation in Egypt, al-Libi was sent back to US custody in Afghanistan. But now he has disappeared. Perhaps he has been sent to Libya? He is certainly a more important prisoner than the vast majority at Guantanamo. Yet sending al-Libi to the Cuban camp, put ting him on public trial and allowing him to tell his story would be a political disaster. So he remains hidden.
Other key prisoners are missing too - others whose stories would shock the public conscience. The US, for example, has never acknowledged what it did with German citizen Mohammed Haydar Zammar. He was captured in December 2001, one of the first in custody who was connected to the Hamburg cell that carried out the 9/11 attacks. And, again, instead of being held in US hands, he was rendered in secret to Damascus. He has never been brought to a public trial or had any chance to reveal how he was treated.
The cases of al-Libi and Zammar, who according to fellow prisoners in Syria was brutally tortured, illustrate the corrosive effect of the policy of disappearance. While the secrecy may protect the US from legal jeopardy and from political embarrassment, it also makes the threat of torture self-fulfilling. If you send a prisoner to Damascus, Tripoli or Tashkent, how can you hope to protect that prisoner - to ensure a fair trial or see that he stays alive - if you keep that rendition quiet? Secrecy protects the torturer; and it denies those innocent, those wrongly accused of crimes of terrorism and caught up in these renditions, any chance of justice.
Last month, Bush signed into law his new Military Commissions Act, which provides for the trial at Guantanamo of top al-Qaeda leaders. The act grants fewer rights to defendants than the Nazis got at Nuremberg. And yet, in this strange world, the rights now granted to men such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who devised the 9/11 attack and who will now be brought to trial, still rank far higher than the rights of the small fry, those much less significant players behind bars in foreign jails. In this new justice, the big terrorists are granted privileges, and the other missing prisoners, subtracted from the public record, are disappeared off the face of the earth. That's the mathematics of torture.
Stephen Grey is the author of "Ghost Plane: the inside story of the CIA's secret rendition programme" published by C Hurst Co (£16.95)
14 European countries admit allowing the CIA to run secret prisons or carry out renditions on their territory
7,000+ prisoners have been captured in America's war on terror
450 prisoners are thought to be held at Guantanamo
10 prisoners at Guantanamo have been convicted
40 countries have citizens held in Guantanamo
$18,000 was spent by two alleged CIA agents at the Milan-Savoy hotel during an illegal rendition operation in Italy
Research by Maria Stella
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An Impartial Interrogation of George W. Bush
/>Senator George McGovern delivered these remarks at the National Press Club January 12. They are published here as part of Moral Compass, a series focusing on the spoken word.
I'm glad to be back at the National Press Club. Indeed, at the age of eighty-four, I'm glad to be anywhere. In my younger years when the subject of aging came up, trying to sound worldly wise, I would say, "It doesn't matter so much the number of years you have, but what you do with those years." I don't say that anymore. I now want to reach a hundred. Why? Because I thoroughly enjoy life and there are so many things I must still do before entering the mystery beyond. The most urgent of these is to get American soldiers out of the Iraqi hellhole Bush-Cheney and their neoconservative theorists have created in what was once called the cradle of civilization. It is believed to be the location of the Garden of Eden. I mention the neoconservative theorists to recall Walter Lippman's observance, "There is nothing so dangerous as a belligerent professor."
One of the things I miss about my eighteen years in the US Senate are the stories of the old Southern Democrats. I didn't always vote with them, but I loved their technique of responding to an opponent's questions with a humorous story. Once when Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina had to handle a tough question from Mike Mansfield, he said, "You know, Mr. Leader, that question reminds me of the old Baptist preacher who was telling a class of Sunday school boys the creation story. 'God created Adam and Eve and from this union came two sons, Cain and Abel and thus the human race developed.' A boy in the class then asked, 'Reverend, where did Cain and Abel get their wives?' After frowning for a moment, the preacher replied, 'Young man--it's impertinent questions like that that's hurtin' religion.'"
Well, Mr. Bush, Jr. I have some impertinent questions for you.
Mr. President, Sir, when reporter Bob Woodward asked you if you had consulted with your father before ordering our army into Iraq you said, "No, he's not the father you call on a decision like this. I talked to my heavenly Father above." My question, Mr. President: If God asked you to bombard, invade and occupy Iraq for four years, why did he send an opposite message to the Pope? Did you not know that your father, George Bush, Sr., his Secretary of State James Baker and his National Security Advisor General Scowcroft were all opposed to your invasion? Wouldn't you, our troops, the American people and the Iraqis all be much better off if you had listened to your more experienced elders including your earthly father? Instead of blaming God for the awful catastrophe you have unleashed in Iraq, wouldn't it have been less self-righteous if you had fallen back on the oft-quoted explanation of wrongdoing, "The devil made me do it?"
And Mr. President, after the 9/11 hit against the Twin Towers in New York, which gained us the sympathy and support of the entire world, why did you then order the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11? Are you aware that your actions destroyed the international reservoir of good will towards the United States? What is the cost to America of shattering the standing and influence of our country in the eyes of the world?
Why, Mr. President did you pressure the CIA to report falsely that Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons? And when you ordered your Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to go to New York and present to the UN the Administration's "evidence" that Iraq was an imminent nuclear threat to the United States, were you aware that after reading this deceitful statement to the UN, Mr. Powell told an aid that the so-called evidence was "bullshit"?
Is it reasonable to you, President Bush, that Colin Powell told you near the end of your first term that he would not be in your Administration if you were to receive a second term? What decent person could survive two full terms of forced lying and deceit?
And Mr. President, how do you enjoy your leisure time, and how can you sleep at night knowing that 3,014 young Americans have died in a war you mistakenly ordered? What do you say to the 48,000 young Americans who have been crippled for life in mind or body? What is your reaction to the conclusion of the leading British medical journal (Lancet) that since you ordered the bombardment and occupation of Iraq four years ago, 600,000 Iraqi men, women and children have been killed? What do you think of the destruction of the Iraqi's homes, their electrical and water systems, their public buildings?
And Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, while neither of you has ever been in combat (Mr. Cheney asking and receiving five deferments from the Vietnam War), have you not at least read or been briefed on the terrible costs of that ill-advised and seemingly endless American war in tiny Vietnam? Do you realize that another Texas President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, declined to seek a second term in part because he had lost his credibility over the disastrous war in Vietnam? Are you aware that one of the chief architects of that war, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, resigned his office and years later published a book declaring that the war was all a tragic mistake? Do you know this recent history in which 58,000 young Americans died in the process of killing 2 million Vietnamese men, women and children? If you do not know about this terrible blunder in Vietnam, are you not ignoring the conclusion of one of our great philosophers: "Those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it." And, Mr. President, in your ignorance of the lessons of Vietnam, are you not condemning our troops and our people to repeat the same tragedy in Iraq?
During the long years between 1963 and 1975 when I fought to end the American war in Vietnam, first as a US Senator from South Dakota and then as my party's nominee for President, my four daughters ganged up on my one night. "Dad, why don't you give up this battle? You've been speaking out against this crazy war since we were little kids. When you won the Democratic presidential nomination, you got snowed under by President Nixon." In reply I said, "Just remember that sometimes in history even a tragic mistake produces something good. The good about Vietnam is that it is such a terrible blunder, we'll never go down that road again." Mr. President, we're going down that road again. So, what do I tell my daughters? And what do you tell your daughters?
Mr. President, I do not speak either as a pacifist or a draft dodger. I speak as one who after the attack on Pearl Harbor, volunteered at the age of nineteen for the Army Air Corps and flew thirty-five missions as a B-24 bomber. I believed in that war then and I still do sixty-five years later. And so did the rest of America. Mr. President, are you missing the intellectual and moral capacity to know the difference between a justified war and a war of folly in Vietnam or Iraq?
Public opinion polls indicate that two-thirds of the American people think that the war in Iraq has been a mistake on your part. It is widely believed that this war was the central reason Democrats captured control of both houses of Congress. Polls among the people of Iraq indicate that nearly all Iraqis want our military presence in their country for the last four years to end now. Why do you persist in defying public opinion in both the United States and Iraq and throughout the other countries around the globe? Do you see yourself as omniscient? What is your view of the doctrine of self-determination, which we Americans hold dear?
And wonder of wonders, Mr. President, after such needless death and destruction, first in the Vietnamese jungle and now in the Arabian desert, how can you order 21,500 more American troops to Iraq? Are you aware that as the war in Vietnam went from bad to worse, our leaders sent in more troops and wasted more billions of dollars until we had 550,000 US troops in that little country? It makes me shudder as an aging bomber pilot to remember that we dropped more bombs on the Vietnamese and their country than the total of all the bombs dropped by all the air forces around the world in World War II. Do you, Mr. President, honestly believe that we need tens of thousands of additional troops plus a supplemental military appropriation of $200 billion before we can bring our troops home from this nightmare in ancient Baghdad?
In your initial campaign for the Presidency, Mr. Bush, you described yourself as a "compassionate conservative". What is compassionate about consigning America's youth to a needless and seemingly endless war that has now lasted longer than World War II? And what is conservative about reducing the taxes needed to finance this war and instead running our national debt to nine trillion dollars with money borrowed from China, Japan, Germany and Britain? Is this wild deficit financing your idea of conservatism? Mr. President, how can a true conservative be indifferent to the steadily rising cost of a war that claims over $7 billion a month, $237 million every day? Are you troubled to know as a conservative that just the interest on our skyrocketing national debt is $760,000 every day. Mr. President, our Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, estimates that if the war were to continue until 2010 as you have indicated it might, the cost would be over a trillion dollars.
Perhaps, Mr. President, you should ponder the words of a genuine conservative - England's nineteenth-century member of Parliament, Edmund Burke: "A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood".
And, Mr. President at a time when your most respected generals have concluded that the chaos and conflict in Iraq cannot be resolved by more American dollars and more American young bodies, do you ever consider the needs here at home of our own anxious and troubled society? What about the words of another true conservative, General and President Dwight Eisenhower who said that, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed."
And, Mr. President, would not you and all the rest of us do well to ponder the farewell words of President Eisenhower: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of the unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
Finally, Mr. President, I ask have you kept your oath of office to uphold the Constitution when you use what you call the war on terrorism to undermine the Bill of Rights? On what constitutional theory do you seize and imprison suspects without charge, sometimes torturing them in foreign jails? On what constitutional or legal basis have you tapped the phones of Americans without approval of the courts as required by law? Are you above the Constitution, above the law, and above the Geneva accords? If we are fighting for freedom in Iraq as you say, why are you so indifferent to protecting liberty here in America?
Many Americans are now saying in effect, "The American war in Iraq has created a horrible mess but how can we now walk away from it?" William Polk, a former Harvard and University of Chicago professor of Middle East Studies and a former State Department expert on the Middle East, has teamed up with me on a recent book requested by Simon and Schuster. It is entitled, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now. I feel awkward praising it, so I give you the respected journalist of the New York Times, and now of Newsweek, Anna Quindlen who told Charlie Rose on his excellent TV program: "There is a wonderful book I am recommending to everyone. It's a very small, readable book by George McGovern and William Polk called Out of Iraq. And it just very quickly runs you through the history of the country, the makeup of the country, how we got in, the arguments for getting in--many of which don't withstand scrutiny--and how we can get out. It's like a little primer. I think the entire nation should read it and then we will be united."
If you need a second for the judgment of Anna Quindlen, I give you the esteemed Library Journal: "In this crisp and cogently argued book, former Senator McGovern and scholar Polk offer a trenchant and straightforward critique of the war in Iraq. What makes their highly readable book unique is that it not only argues why the United States needs to disengage militarily from Iraq now...but also clearly delineates practical steps for troop withdrawal...Essential reading for anybody who wants to cut through the maze of confusion that surrounds current US policy in Iraq, this book is highly recommended for public and academic libraries."
Professor Polk is a descendant of President Polk and the brother of the noted George Polk, is here today from his home in southern France and he will join me at the podium as I conclude this impartial interrogation of President Bush. And now, members of the National Press Club and your guests, it's your turn to cross-examine Bill Polk and me in, of course, an equally impartial manner.
George McGovern, senator from South Dakota from 1962 to 1980 and Democratic candidate for President in 1972, is the author of The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time.
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