Archive for May, 2013

At Left Forum 2013: “The Theory of One-Dimensional Society, the Specter of Climate Collapse, and Prospects for Social Transformation”

May 31, 2013

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I will be chairing a panel during the first session of Left Forum 2013 next Saturday morning (10-11:50am) at Pace University in New York City with my comrades Sky Cohen, Jani Benjamins, and Quincy Saul.  The topic of discussion is “The Theory of One-Dimensional Society, the Specter of Climate Collapse, and Prospects for Social Transformation.”

Appropriately, the overall theme for this year’s Left Forum is “Mobilizing for Economical/Ecological Transformation.”

Please share and considering coming through, if you would like.

Abstract: Following the presentation of theories of reification advanced by György Lukács in his History and Class Consciousness (1923), and continuing his colleagues’ investigations into the “culture industry” of late capitalism (Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1944), German critical theorist Herbert Marcuse famously came to declare advanced-industrial society as being one-dimensional (One-Dimensional Man, 1964): a world marked by the absence of opposition to prevailing trends, with the stipulated integration of the Marxian proletariat into capitalism and generalized social conformity. This panel will examine the contemporary relevance of Marcuse’s analysis of one-dimensionality, particularly as regards the ever-worsening climatic and environmental crises, driven as they are by the exigencies of the capitalist machine and, crucially, its seemingly widespread acceptance among the U.S. populace at large (the U.S. being the single largest contributor to this problem historically). Dialectically, though, this panel will also attempt to explore the chances for a sustained “ecological general strike,” as is being currently formulated by the I.W.W., prosecuted by the masses residing within the world-system’s imperialist core, in accordance with their responsibilities, as theorized by tendencies like autonomous Marxism. Panelists will also seek to examine the contributions permaculture can provide in the struggle for a decentralized, anti-authoritarian resolution to the climate crisis.

Please also see the full list of panels for the weekend here.

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One Year On: Under Empire, All Life is Imperiled

May 24, 2013

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This is my latest published writing, and my first appearance in CounterpunchI wrote it for the one-year anniversary of the publication of Imperiled Life.

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“After the catastrophes that have happened, and in view of the catastrophes to come, it would be cynical to say that a plan for a better world is manifested in history and unites it.” – Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics

Channeling Adorno, it would I think prove difficult today to characterize the prevailing world-situation as anything other than highly negative.  Such an interpretation is arguably seen most readily in reflection on environmental matters—specifically, the ever-worsening climate emergency, not to mention other worrying signs of the ecological devastation wrought by the capitalist system.

Perhaps a short summary of key recent findings on the state of the environment is here in order.  Less than two weeks ago, the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawai’i confirmed that the average global carbon dioxide concentration had reached 400 parts per million (ppm)—more than 50 ppm higher than James Hansen and the eponymous 350.org movement claim to be a safe level, and approximately 120 ppm higher than pre-industrial (or pre-capitalist) concentrations.  According to the Guardian, such CO2 concentrations have not been seen on Earth for the last 3-5 million years, during the Pliocene geological era, which saw an ice-free Arctic, savannahs in northern Africa (where currently the Sahara resides), and sea levels between 25 and 40 meters higher than those which obtain today.  In Professor Andrew Glikson’s estimation, the annual rise of 3 ppm in atmospheric CO2 seen last year (2012-2013) is entirely unprecedented during the past 65 million years; as he writes, “regular river flow conditions such as allowed cultivation and along river valleys since about 7000 years ago, and temperate Mediterranean-type climates allowing extensive farming, could hardly exist under the intense hydrological cycle and heat wave conditions of the Pliocene.”  This should hardly be surprising, given that such atmospheric CO2 levels as those we suffer today have never been seen in the entire history (and prehistory) of Homo sapiens sapiens, though our ancestral Homo habilis arguably did endure them.  Indeed, the Earth’s current average global temperature—a slightly different matter than the atmospheric CO2 level, given lags in the latter’s contribution to the former, in addition to the masking effect of aerosols (SO2 et al.) emitted by industry—has recently been found to surpass 90% of all average global temperatures experienced since the emergence of agriculture some 12,000 years ago—and hence also of “civilization.”  Arguably most worrying is Nafeez Ahmad’s recent citation of a 2011 Science paper which projects that, given the current, unprecedented rate of increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, global average temperatures could rise a full 16°C by the end of the century—that is to say, nearly three times  the worst-case scenario considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 report (a 6°C increase).

Such considerations are no doubt horrific; they are nonetheless reality.  Some other truths manifested of late that can be associated with these trends include the following climatological news and reports: the 260,000 persons, half of them young children, who the UN recently announced to have perished during the 2011 famine in Somalia, itself catalyzed by the region’s worst drought in the past 7 decades; the hundreds of millions who Lord Stern has recently reported can soon be expected to be forcibly displaced from their homelands due to unchecked global warming; the millions who will face starvation in Africa and Asia as agriculture withers under unprecedented heat; the numerous people of Bangladesh who are losing access to freshwater as rising sea levels cause saltwater to intrude into aquifers, or the millions of Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Burmese, and Rohingya threatened by cyclones like Mahasen; the innumerable species, plant and animal, that face destruction and extinction under the projected average global temperature increases promised by climate catastrophe…  The nauseating list goes on indefinitely.

Consideration of these problematics is the focus of my Imperiled Life: Revolution against Climate Catastrophe, published a year ago now by AK Press in collaboration with the Institute for Anarchist Studies.  Strangely enough, this one-year anniversary of publication is, unlike the case with more joyous occasions, hardly one to be celebrated, for the problems considered within the volume unsurprisingly have only worsened over that time, in keeping with the laws of physics and chemistry.  I would nonetheless continue to vouch for the work’s conclusions: its “diagnosis, prognosis, and remedies,” as mentioned in the preface by my editor Paul Messersmith-Glavin, stem from a social anarchist, anti-systemic perspective on the ecological crisis that I believe to be rational and helpful—insofar as such standards have a place today within political and environmental thought, as I should hope they might.

In structural terms, it should be clear to all honest observers that the climate crisis is the result of the dominance of the capitalist mode of production over the entirety of planet Earth; basing itself fundamentally on ceaseless expansion, the imperatives of capital profoundly contradict the modes of living—cooperative and competitive—observed throughout the world’s various ecosystems.  Capital’s “grow-or-die” maxim resembles that of the cancer cell or a deadly virus more than it does human, animal, or plant life, as theorists from Murray Bookchin to John McMurtry have rightly noted.  As against liberal analyses, then, the State has proved itself to be a mere facilitator of capital’s ecocidal project: consider Obama’s recent profession of enthusiasm for the “development” of the substantial hydrocarbon resources that are believed to reside below the Arctic ice cap, once capitalism has melted that away entirely.  In this vein, David Schwartman is right to cite Michael Klare in his formulation of the U.S. military as constituting the “oil protection service” of transnational capital: imperialism’s long and sordid history of accommodation with its autocratic Gulf petrol-enablers—and its various intrigues and interventions targeting those, from Mossadegh to Qadhafi, who might seek alternative uses of such resources—is well-known.  Recall the Iraq War.

So we cannot look to the State for meaningful assistance in the struggle to overturn the trends which are delivering humanity and Earth’s systems into ruin—as John Holloway notes rightly, the State is “their organization,” referring to the capitalist class.  What of the putative non-governmental organizations which espouse environmental concerns?  Clearly, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and company rightly merit the label of “Gang Green,” in light of their toxic incrementalism and their related willingness to accommodate the very structures which are perpetuating environmental destruction.  Similarly, Cory Morningstar has recently written a legitimate denunciation of Bill McKibben and 350.org on these pages, declaring McKibben’s world-famous yet entirely reformist and thus inadequate organization to represent little more than the “soma of the 21st century,” given its papering over of any critique of capitalism, productivism, militarism, or imperialism.  Essentially, then, what we are faced with is the omnicidal steamroll of the capitalist machine as oiled by the world’s rich and their State, and then the anemic responses from the official “opposition” which has taken it upon itself to attempt to resolve the various environmental crises by doing essentially nothing of substance to achieve those ends.

Thankfully, of course, the story does not end there.  Humanity, as I write in the penultimate paragraph of Imperiled Life, cannot be reduced to the forms of capital and the State; these “do not have the final word.”  We are, then, on a desperate search for radical groupings among the subordinated, or l@s de abajo (“those from below”).  In strategic terms, it would seem that generally to diffuse anti-systemic ecological analyses—assuming these be tied together with humanistic, emancipatory concern for social oppression—remains a crucial task at the present juncture: the counter-hegemonic war of position today retains all of its relevance!  As should be self-evident, of course, efforts seeking merely to “raise consciousness” and metaphorically arm the populace with critical perspectives on the present multi-dimensional crisis should hardly be taken as the end of organizing; rather, such should serve as means to the “happy end” (Ernst Bloch) of a world freed from capitalist and State control, and the attendant looming risk of climate apocalypse.  How these two trends might inter-relate—and whether we can even theoretically hope that they will, this late in the game—is the question on everyone’s minds (or, at least, it should be).  As Allan Stoekl closes his recent review of Adrian Parr’s The Wrath of Capital: Neoliberalism and Climate Change Politics, summing up the struggle to achieve a post-capitalist ecological society: “But how to get from here to there?”  The question is a burning one.  In this vein, we can turn to Max Horkheimer’s obvious yet crucial point that “[t]he revolution is no good” insofar as it “is not victorious.”[1]

Horkheimer is right: it would indeed seem problematic for thought merely to appeal to airy philosophical abstractions amidst the decidedly pressing matter of capital’s destruction of the world—to speak of the promise of the Hegelian Geist, say, or the inevitable triumph of the proletariat, as managed by an enlightened Leninist vanguard—but I would argue that Hannah Arendt’s conception of natality could prove particularly useful at the present moment.  As I understand, she first introduces this idea at the close of her Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), when she counterposes the possibilities of birth to inherited tradition and history, particularly of the imperialist and fascist varieties: “With each new birth, a new beginning is born into the world, a new world has potentially come into being […].  Freedom as an inner capacity of [humanity] is identical with the capacity to begin.”[2]

Arendt expands upon these fragmentary comments on interruption and beginning in her 1958 magnus opus The Human Condition.  Largely repudiating the repressive, fatalistic philosophy of her former mentor Martin Heidegger, she writes the following: “If left to themselves, human affairs can only follow the law of mortality, which is the most certain and the only reliable law of a life spent between birth and death.  It is the faculty of action that interferes with this law because it interrupts the inexorable automatic course of daily life, which in its turn, as we saw, interrupted and interfered with the cycle of the biological life process.  The life span of man [sic] running toward death would inevitably carry everything human to ruin and destruction if it were not for the faculty of interrupting it and beginning something new, a faculty which is inherent in action like an ever-present reminder that [humans], though they must die, are not born in order to die but in order to begin.  Yet just as, from the standpoint of nature, the rectilinear movement of [humanity]‘s life-span between birth and death looks like a peculiar deviation from the common natural rule of cyclical movement, thus action, seen from the viewpoint of the automatic processes which seem to determine the course of the world, looks like a miracle […].  The miracle that saves the world, the realm of human affairs, from its normal, ‘natural’ ruin is ultimately the fact of natality, in which the faculty of action is ontologically rooted.  It is, in other words, the birth of new [people] and the new beginning, the action they are capable of by virtue of being born.  Only the full experience of this capacity can bestow upon human affairs faith and hope.”[3]

This hope for new beginnings—essentially, for a multiplicity of interventions which, à la Albert Camus and his Rebel, assert to power that it has transgressed vital brightlines, and hence cannot be allowed to continue on its path of destruction (“thus far, and no further”)—accords well with Walter Benjamin’s vision of a “leap into the open sky of history,” or Adorno’s contemplation of “a praxis which could explode the infamous continuum.”[4]  Each of us likely has similar visions, whether waking or unconscious—“fuck the police,” “world peace,” “fire to Babylon,” “there is no planet B.”  It is crucial that we somehow coalesce these anti-systemic passions into a generalized movement to overthrow the totalitarian systems that degrade and abuse humanity and, in a most final sense, threaten to destroy future human generations as well as much of the rest of life—millions of species—on the only planetary system that we know is amenable to its emergence and evolution.  Hope today, then, is not passivity and sedation (as with religion) but rather radical struggle (as in revolution).

While there indeed have been positive signs in the past few years in the direction of the development of what dissident historian George Katsiaficas terms a “global people’s uprising,” clearly such developments have met with distressing limitations, many of them indeed emanating from constituted power—think of the police’s dismantling of the Occupy/Decolonize encampments in the U.S., or the various imperial manipulations of and interventions against the numerous uprisings in the Arab-majority world.  The preferred approach, in my view, remains what György Lukács saw as a “mass rising on behalf of reason,” an idea he took from the 500 million signatures to the 1950 Stockholm Agreement calling for unconditional nuclear disarmament—a tradition we have seen well-illustrated throughout the streets and squares of much of the world in recent memory.[5]

The point, in sum—as well as the hope—is to radicalize and intensify these encouraging social strides from below against the system, to help along the birth of the new—or, as Bloch termed it, the “Not-Yet.”  It is past time to sound the tocsin, whether physically like Jean Paul Marat did to defend the Great French Revolution, or musically like Dmitriy Shostakovich did in defense of the memory and future promise of the 1905 Russian Revolution (as well as other revolutions).  The alarm must be continuous, not so that we grow accustomed to it, but rather so that we never lose sight of the substantial tasks with which we are confronted today, and the anarchist means by which we would most likely best respond to these.  Positively and concretely, I would here reiterate some of the proposals for action made by my comrade Cristian Guerrero nearly a year ago in the run-up to planned counter-protests against the G-20 summit in Los Cabos, México: agitation, indignation, mobilization, direct action, occupation, blockade of capital, popular assembly.

Particularly promising, I would say, is the Industrial Workers of the World’s new conception of the ecological general strike, whereby environmental sanity is to be achieved through the disruption of capitalism’s colonization of the life-world and its replacement with participatory economic models.

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[1]   Max Horkheimer, Dawn and Decline: Notes, 1926-1931 and 1959-1969, trans. Michael Shaw (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), 39.

[2]   Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (San Diego: Harvest, 1968 [1951]), 465, 473.

[3]   Ibid, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 246-7.

[4]   Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms (trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1967), 117.

[5]   György Lukács, The Destruction of Reason (Torfaen, Wales: Merlin Press, 1980), 850.

Calle 13, “Latinoamérica”

May 24, 2013

 

Camels in the Arctic

May 24, 2013

An artist’s impression of the Arctic camel

Julius Csotonyi, Canadian Museum of Nature

Remains of camels have been found on Canada’s northernmost Ellesmere Island, located within the Arctic circle adjacent to Greenland.  These skeletons have been dated back to the Pliocene geological epoch of 3.5 million years ago–an era that saw a global atmospheric carbon concentration of about 400 parts per million (ppm), which is the level the current world has just surpassed.

Jean Paul Marat, Inciting Revolution

May 15, 2013

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This image, entitled “Jean Paul Marat Inciting Revolution,” was produced by Eugene Joseph Viollat.  It depicts the French revolutionary Jean Paul Marat addressing the National Convention for the first time on 25 September 1792, less than a year before Marat’s infamous murder.

It is taken from Clifford D. Conner’s Jean Paul Marat: Tribune of the French Revolution (London: Pluto Press, 2012), p. 113.

“Climate change ‘will make hundreds of millions homeless'”

May 13, 2013

Reposting this article from The Observer/The Guardian, which comes just a day after monitoring stations in Hawai’i confirmed the global atmospheric carbon concentration has surpassed 400 parts per million, corresponding to levels within the geological record that “ha[ve] not been seen on Earth for 3-5 million years, a period called the Pliocene. At that time, global average temperatures were 3 or 4C higher than today’s and 8C warmer at the poles. Reef corals suffered a major extinction while forests grew up to the northern edge of the Arctic Ocean, a region which is today bare tundra.”

 

By Robin McKie in The Guardian, 11 May 2013

“Carbon dioxide levels indicate rise in temperatures that could lead agriculture to fail on entire continents”

It is increasingly likely that hundreds of millions of people will be displaced from their homelands in the near future as a result of global warming. That is the stark warning of economist and climate change expert Lord Stern following the news last week that concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere had reached a level of 400 parts per million (ppm).

Massive movements of people are likely to occur over the rest of the century because global temperatures are likely to rise to by up to 5C because carbon dioxide levels have risen unabated for 50 years, said Stern, who is head of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change.

“When temperatures rise to that level, we will have disrupted weather patterns and spreading deserts,” he said. “Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to leave their homelands because their crops and animals will have died. The trouble will come when they try to migrate into new lands, however. That will bring them into armed conflict with people already living there. Nor will it be an occasional occurrence. It could become a permanent feature of life on Earth.”

The news that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have reached 400ppm has been seized on by experts because that level brings the world close to the point where it becomes inevitable that it will experience a catastrophic rise in temperatures. Scientists have warned for decades of the danger of allowing industrial outputs of carbon dioxide to rise unchecked.

Instead, these outputs have accelerated. In the 1960s, carbon dioxide levels rose at a rate of 0.7ppm a year. Today, they rise at 2.1ppm, as more nations become industrialised and increase outputs from their factories and power plants. The last time the Earth’s atmosphere had 400ppm carbon dioxide, the Arctic was ice-free and sea levels were 40 metres higher.

The prospect of Earth returning to these climatic conditions is causing major alarm. As temperatures rise, deserts will spread and life-sustaining weather patterns such as the North Indian monsoon could be disrupted. Agriculture could fail on a continent-wide basis and hundreds of millions of people would be rendered homeless, triggering widespread conflict.

There are likely to be severe physical consequences for the planet. Rising temperatures will shrink polar ice caps – the Arctic’s is now at its lowest since records began – and so reduce the amount of solar heat they reflect back into space. Similarly, thawing of the permafrost lands of Alaska, Canada and Russia could release even more greenhouse gases, including methane, and further intensify global warming.

Noam Chomsky: “Palestinian Hopes, Regional Turmoil” for MECA’s 25th Anniversary

May 13, 2013

Anarchist theorist Avram Noam Chomsky spoke on Wednesday, May 8, at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California, on the subject of “Palestinian Hopes, Regional Turmoils.”  The eighty-four year old philosopher’s address, presented to a packed audience, marked the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance (MECA), with which Chomsky has long been associated–among other roles, he has served as a founding advisor for the organization.

Focusing, as the title of his talk would suggest, on the present situation for Palestine and the Palestinians, Chomsky drew parallels between Palestinians’ rejection of Israel’s legitimacy and Mexicans’ refusals to recognize U.S. territorial claims to its southwestern states, which of course were acquired by force during the Mexican-American War of 1846-8–this being a war that Ulysses S. Grant claimed to have been “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”

The professor pointed centrally to the role the U.S. government (as a Mafia Godfather, or “master”) has played in preventing the implementation of the international consensus in former Palestine: that is, a two-state solution, with Israel withdrawing to its pre-1967 borders.  Of course, Chomsky himself questioned whether any state can be considered legitimate ipso facto, but he insisted that a two-state solution would be an important step forward toward a more final, binational solution, a stateless resolution, or even the development of an anarcho-socialist federation in the region, based on solidarity among working-class Arabs and Jews (as his own youthful interpretation of Zionism advocated).  “Nothing need ever be an end,” he insisted.

Noting that the situation in Palestine would be one of the easiest contemporary global conflicts to resolve, Chomsky envisioned a sudden withdrawal of support for Israel on the part of the U.S. government, followed by a withdrawal of IDF/IOF forces from the West Bank and the voluntary forfeiting of territorial claims presently being made by the nearly half million Jewish settlers who now occupy a great deal of Cisjordan, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.  In closing, Chomsky observed that societal support for Israel comes overwhelmingly from settler-colonial societies (the U.S., Canada, Australia), both in terms of state policy as well as public opinion–this is likely the case as regards the latter, claimed Chomsky, particularly because Israel’s behavior mimics that undertaken historically by these genocidal colonial entities (“felling trees and Indians”).

Against all these trends, this rights-advocate stipulated that the oppression of the Palestinians proceeds with our complicity–“we let it happen.”  However, in his view, there is no reason for observers to accept this state of affairs as given, just as there is no reason to accept the putative legitimacy of prevailing power arrangements.  Prospects for hope can be found in the chance for the U.S. populace to force its state radically to alter its orientation to Israel.

In passing, Chomsky also observed that it was “not at all obvious” that there will shortly exist a future in which humans can continue considering these types of questions.

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“UN says Somalia famine killed nearly 260,000”

May 7, 2013

Reprinted from AlJazeera English, 2 May 2013

somalia kenya

@ FAO Somalia

Almost 260,000 people, half of them young children, died of hunger during the last famine in Somalia, according to a UN report that admits the world body should have done more to prevent the tragedy.

The toll is much higher than was feared at the time of the 2010-2012 food crisis in the troubled Horn of Africa country and also exceeds the 220,000 who starved to death in a 1992 famine, according to the findings.

“The report confirms we should have done more before the famine was declared,” said Philippe Lazzarini, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.

“Warnings that began as far back as the drought in 2010 did not trigger sufficient early action,” he said in a statement.

Half of those who died were children under five, according to the joint report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

“Famine and severe food insecurity in Somalia claimed the lives of about 258,000 people between October 2010 and April 2012, including 133,000 children under five,” said the report, the first scientific estimate of how many people died.

Children toll

Somalia was the country hardest hit by extreme drought in 2011 that affected over 13 million people across the Horn of Africa.

“An estimated 4.6 percent of the total population and 10 percent of children under five died in southern and central Somalia,” the report said, saying the deaths were on top of 290,000 “baseline” deaths during the period, and double the average for sub-Saharan Africa.

Lazzarini said that about 2.7 million people are still in need of life-saving assistance and support to rebuild their livelihoods.

Famine was first declared in July 2011 in Somalia’s Southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions, but later spread to other areas, including Middle Shabelle, Afgoye and inside camps for displaced people in the war-ravaged capital Mogadishu.

In Lower Shabelle 18 percent of children under five died, the report said.

During the famine, it was feared that tens of thousands had died, whereas the report now shows more people died than in Somalia’s 1992 famine, when an estimated 220,000 people died over a year.

Famine implies that at least a fifth of households face extreme food shortages, with acute malnutrition in more than 30 percent of people, and two deaths per 10,000 people every day, according to the UN definition.

Mark Smulders, a senior economist for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and one of the authors of the report, said the area had suffered one of the worst droughts in over 50 years in the whole of Africa.

“Livestock were dying,” he told Al Jazeera. “People simply did not have access to food, and purchasing power went down.”

Somalia, ravaged by nearly uninterrupted civil war for the past two decades, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers and one of the regions that needs them most.

However, security has slowly improved in recent months, with fighters linked to al-Qaeda on the back foot despite launching a deadly bombing campaign.

At the time, most of the famine-hit areas were under their control, and the crisis was exacerbated by their ban on most foreign aid agencies.

‘Catastrophic political failures’

The aid agency Oxfam said the “deaths could and should have been prevented”.

“Famines are not natural phenomena, they are catastrophic political failures,” Oxfam’s Somalia director Senait Gebregziabher said in a statement.

“The world was too slow to respond to stark warnings of drought, exacerbated by conflict in Somalia and people paid with their lives.”

More than a million Somalis are refugees in surrounding nations, and another million are displaced inside the country.

Next Tuesday, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and British Prime Minister David Cameron will co-host a conference in London to discuss how the international community can support Somalia’s progress.

More than 50 countries and organisations are due to take part.

Oxfam said leaders should “ensure that this was Somalia’s last famine” by helping generate jobs and “ensuring trained, accountable security forces”.

The UN declared the famine over in February 2012.

“No Planet B: The global CO2cide 400 ppm milestone”

May 7, 2013

This is a reprint of Prof. Andrew Glickson’s 3 May 2013 article on Countercurrents (“No Planet B: The global CO2cide 400 ppm milestone”) that examines the recently surpassed global atmospheric carbon concentration of 400 parts per million.  For full references and figures, please consult the original PDF essay.

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On the 29 April, 2013, NOAA recorded a CO2 level of 399.50 ppm (Figures 1 and 2) (http://keelingcurve.ucsd.edu/), signifying a return to atmosphere conditions of the Pliocene (5.2 – 2.6 million years ago). This followed a rise from 394.45 ppm to 397.34 ppm (March 2012 – 2013) at a rate of 2.89 ppm per year, unprecedented in the recorded geological history of the last 65 million years (Figure 3).

Pliocene temperatures – about 2 – 3 degrees C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures, resulted in an intense hydrological cycle, ensuing in extensive rain forests, lush savannas (now occupied by deserts), small ice caps and sea levels about 25 meters higher than at present (Figure 4).

Life abounded during the Pliocene. However, regular river flow conditions such as allowed cultivation and along river valleys since about 7000 years ago, and temperate Mediterranean-type climates allowing extensive farming, could hardly exist under the intense hydrological cycle and heat wave conditions of the Pliocene.

Gradual to intermittent advents of Pleistocene ice ages over the last 2 million years allowed many species to adapt to changing conditions. Abrupt warming events, such as the Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles, occurred during glacial periods (Figure 3). Extreme shifts in state of the climate exceed the rate to which many species can adapt.

The basic laws of atmospheric physics and chemistry and the behavior of past atmospheres indicate changes in the level of atmospheric greenhouse gases constitute a key parameter determining the current trend of the terrestrial climate. Concomitant rates of SO2 release, mainly from coal burning, have regulated changes in temperature. Increases in SO2 release about 1950 and 2001 are responsible for slow-down of temperature rise (Figure 5).

The current CO2 ppm/year rise rate of ~3 ppm/year surpasses any recorded since the last 65 million years of Earth history. High CO2 and temperature rises occurred about ~55 Ma ago. At that stage release of methane drove a CO2 rise of near-1800 ppm and a temperature rise of about 5 degrees C over 10,000 years, namely a rate of 0.18 ppm/year and 0.0005 degrees C/year (Zachos et al. 2008; http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v451/n7176/full/nature06588.html).

The K-T asteroid impact of 65 Ma-ago resulted in a rise of more than 2000 ppm CO2 within about 10,000 years, namely ~0.2 ppm /year. This triggered a temperature rise of about 7.5 degrees C, namely 0.00075 degrees C per year (Beerling et al. 2002 http://www.pnas.org/content/99/12/7836.full) (Figure 3). Calculations by these authors suggest a release of approximately 4500 billion tons of carbon from impacted carbonates and shale, ignited bushfires and ocean warming.

The consequences of the current rise in greenhouse gases is manifested by enhancement of the hydrological cycle, with ensuing floods and of heat waves (http://www.ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/; http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/extreme_weather/index.htm).

Open-ended combustion of known fossil fuel reserves (Figure 6) would lead to atmospheric CO2 levels of ~800 to 1000 ppm CO2, high degree to total melting of the polar ice caps, sea level rise on the scale of tens of meters and disruption of the biosphere on a scale analogous to recorded mass extinctions (http://www.astrobio.net/interview/2553/under-a-green-sky).

Carbon emissions may be self-limiting. It is likely that, before atmospheric CO2 reach 500 ppm, disruption of fossil fuel-combusting systems by extreme weather events would result in reduction of emissions. On the other hand the extent to which amplifying feedback processes (methane release from permafrost and Arctic sediments, bushfires, warming oceans) would continue to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is uncertain.

Preoccupied with short-term economic forecast, daily A$ exchange rates, share market fluctuations and, sports results, with some exceptions (http://www.theage.com.au/national/greenhouse-gases-in-new-danger-zone-20130428-2imjm.html) the accelerating rate of atmospheric CO2 seems to hardly rate a mention on the pages of the global media.

There are few signs the extreme danger the terrestrial biosphere and the oceans are driving the global community to undertake the urgent large-scale measures required to attempt to arrest current trends.

In Australia the language has changed, from “the greatest moral issue of our generation”(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqZvpRjGtGM) to hit-pocket controversy over a “carbon tax”, a meningless 5 percent reduction in local emissions that overlook the export of hundreds of million tons of coal, ending up in the same atmosphere.

It is not clear whether the recent IPA anniversary celebration (http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/04/05/abbott-bolt-rinehart-fawn-in-the-ipa-court-of-king-murdoch/),attended by the likely next prime minister, the world’s media moguls and mining magnates, as well as an archbishop, was concerned with the future of the Earth’s climate.

In professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber’s words stated in Doha “overriding everything else the 1st Law of Humanity: Don’t kill your children!” (http://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/in-short/files/Schellnhuber-keynote-COP18-state-dinner-Doha.pdf).

 There is no planet B.

Relevant reading suggestions for April 2013

May 1, 2013

acratas marchan

Partly in honor of May Day, I have here compiled a number of recently published articles and essays that I find particularly compelling; with a few exceptions, most have been published in the last month of April 2013.  The list begins with perhaps the most frightening development, which is that the global atmospheric carbon concentration has now been calculated as surpassing 400 parts per million, thus threatening present and future calamity:

 

John Vidal, Global carbon dioxide level set to pass 400ppm milestone, The Guardian (29 April 2013)

Max Ajl, The Fall of Libya, Monthly Review (29 April 2013)

Memories of the Afro-Caribbean Left, Monthly Review (29 April 2013)

Peter Thompson, The Frankfurt school, part six: Ernst Bloch and the Principle of Hope, The Guardian (29 April 2013)

Bought, Sold, and Sedated: An Interview with John Stauber on the Impotence of the Progressive Movement, Counterpunch (26 April 2013)

Pepe Escobar, Pick Your Dystopia, Counterpunch (26 April 2013)

Glenn Greenwald, Bradley Manning is off limits at SF Gay Pride parade, but corporate sleaze is embraced, The Guardian (27 April 2013)

Vijay Prashad, The Terror of Capitalism, Counterpunch (26 April 2013)

Chernobyl at 27, Counterpunch (26 April 2013)

Steve Ongerth, Capital Blight – Green Illusions or Malthusian Miasma? Industrial Workers of the World (24 April 2013)

Death metal: tin mining in Indonesia, The Guardian (23 November 2012)

Robert Scheer, 277 Million Boston Bombings, Truthdig (23 April 2013)

What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know about the 2010 Gulf Spill, The Daily Beast (22 April 2013)

Peter Thompson, The Frankfurt School, part 5: Walter Benjamin, fascism, and the future, The Guardian (22 April 2013)

Pangioti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Chechnya, and Ecocidal Tendencies, Earth First! Newswire (20 April 2013)

Editorial: Palestine and the Left, Jacobin (April 2013)

Obama accused of nuclear U-turn as guided weapons plan emerges, The Guardian (21 April 2013)

Nile Bowie, The Doctrine of Kimilsungism, Counterpunch (15 April 2013)

Stephen Lerner, Hope, Love and Strategy in the time of the Zombie Apocalypse, Truthout (14 April 2013)

Dead dolphins and shrimp with no eyes found after BP clean-up, The Independent (14 April 2013)

Jake Blumgart, Whatever Happened to Left-Wing Domestic Terrorism? Alternet (12 April 2013)

Gar Alperovitz, The Question of Socialism (and Beyond!) Is About to Open Up in These United States, Truthout (12 April 2013)

Jeffrey St. Clair, Designer Protests and Vanity Arrests in DC, Counterpunch (12 April 2013)

A Letter from the Syrian Left Coalition to the Leftists in the Arab Countries and Around the World, Secours Rouge Arabe (8 April 2013)

Margaret Thatcher: no fond farewells from Africa, The Guardian (9 April 2013)

US navy laser shoots down planes, The Guardian (9 April 2013)

Cut Social Security and Veterans’ Benefits? Cut the Pentagon Instead, Truthout (9 April 2013)

Mathew Nashed, Growing Up in War: The Children of Syria, Counterpunch (9 April 2013)

Dave Lindorff, Audit the Rich!, Counterpunch (8 April 2013)

Horace Campbell, The Military Defeat of the South Africans in Angola, Monthly Review (15 April 2013, reprint from April 1989)

Ronnie Kaskrils, Cuito Cuanavale, Angola: 25th Anniversary of a Historic African Battle, Monthly Review (15 April 2013)

Graham Peeble, Corporate India Versus Indigenous People, Counterpunch (5-7 April 2013)

Christopher Shaw, What zombie films tell us about climate change: there’s no one happy ending, The Guardian (22 March 2013)

Tony Wood, The Case for Chechnya, New Left Review (November-December 2004)