Tuesday, January 17, 2012

.Canadian Native Leaders and Activists Oppose Tar Sands Pipeline / The Real News Network / Common Dreams

Canadian Native Leaders and Activists Oppose Tar Sands Pipeline

180 protestors arrested as protest condemns PM Harper tar sands plans

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Decline of the Public Good / Robert Reich Blog

The Decline of the Public Good

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 Meryl Streep’s eery reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” brings to mind Thatcher’s most famous quip, “there is no such thing as ‘society.’” None of the dwindling herd of Republican candidates has quoted her yet but they might as well considering their unremitting bashing of everything public.
What defines a society is a set of mutual benefits and duties embodied most visibly in public institutions — public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public hospitals, public parks, public museums, public recreation, public universities, and so on.
Public institutions are supported by all taxpayers, and are available to all. If the tax system is progressive, those who better off (and who, presumably, have benefitted from many of these same public institutions) help pay for everyone else.
“Privatiize” means pay-for-it-yourself. The practical consequence of this in an economy whose wealth and income are now more concentrated than any time in 90 years is to make high-quality public goods available to fewer and fewer.
In fact, much of what’s called “public” is increasingly a private good paid for by users — ever-higher tolls on public highways and public bridges, higher tuitions at so-called public universities, higher admission fees at public parks and public museums.
Much of the rest of what’s considered “public” has become so shoddy that those who can afford to do so find private alternatives. As public schools deteriorate, the upper-middle class and wealthy send their kids to private ones. As public pools and playgrounds decay, the better off buy memberships in private tennis and swimming clubs. As public hospitals decline, they pay premium rates for private care.
Gated communities and office parks now come with their own manicured lawns and walkways, security guards, and backup power systems.
Why the decline of public institutions? The financial squeeze on government at all levels since 2008 explains only part of it. The slide really started more than three decades ago with so-called “tax revolts” by a middle class whose earnings had stopped advancing even though the economy continued to grow. Most families still wanted good public services and institutions but could no longer afford the tab.
Since the late 1970s, almost all the gains from growth have gone to the top. But as the upper middle class and the rich began shifting to private institutions, they withdrew political support for public ones. In consequence, their marginal tax rates dropped — setting off a vicious cycle of diminishing revenues and deteriorating quality, spurring more flight from public institutions. Tax revenues from corporations also dropped as big companies went global — keeping their profits overseas and their tax bills to a minimum.
But that’s not the whole story. America no longer values public goods as we did decades ago.
The great expansion of public institutions in America began in the early years of 20th century when progressive reformers championed the idea that we all benefit from public goods. Excellent schools, roads, parks, playgrounds, and transit systems would knit the new industrial society together, create better citizens, and generate widespread prosperity. Education, for example, was less a personal investment than a public good — improving the entire community and ultimately the nation.
In subsequent decades — through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War — this logic was expanded upon. Strong public institutions were seen as bulwarks against, in turn, mass poverty, fascism, and then communism. The public good was palpable: We were very much a society bound together by mutual needs and common threats. (It was no coincidence that the greatest extensions of higher education after World War II were the GI Bill and the National Defense Education Act, and the largest public works project in history called the National Defense Interstate Highway Act.)
But in a post-Cold War America distended by global capital, distorted by concentrated income and wealth, undermined by unlimited campaign donations, and rocked by a wave of new immigrants easily cast by demagogues as “them,” the notion of the public good has faded. Not even Democrats any longer use the phrase “the public good.” Public goods are now, at best, “public investments.” Public institutions have morphed into “public-private partnerships;” or, for Republicans, simply “vouchers.”
Mitt Romney’s speaks derisively of what he terms the Democrats’ “entitlement” society in contrast to his “opportunity” society. At least he still envisions a society.  But he hasn’t explained how ordinary Americans will be able to take advantage of good opportunities without good public schools, affordable higher education, good roads, and adequate health care.
His “entitlements” are mostly a mirage anyway. Medicare is the only entitlement growing faster than the GDP but that’s because the costs of health care are growing faster than the economy. That means any attempt to turn Medicare into a voucher — without either raising the voucher in tandem with those costs or somehow taming  them — will just reduce the elderly’s access to health care. Social Security hasn’t contributed to the budget deficit; it’s had surpluses for years.
Other safety nets are in tatters. Unemployment insurance reaches just 40 percent of the jobless these days (largely because eligibility requires having had a steady full-time job for a number of years rather than, as with most people, a string of jobs or part-time work).
What could Mitt be talking about? Outside of defense, domestic discretionary spending is down sharply as a percent of the economy. Add in declines in state and local spending, and total public spending on education, infrastructure, and basic research has dropped from 12 percent of GDP in the 1970s to less than 3 percent by 2011.
Only in one respect is Romney right. America has created a whopping entitlement for the biggest Wall Street banks and their top executives — who, unlike most of the rest of us, are no longer allowed to fail. They can also borrow from the Fed at almost no cost, then lend the money out at 3 to 6 percent.
All told, Wall Street’s entitlement is the biggest offered by the federal government, even though it doesn’t show up in the budget. And it’s not even a public good. It’s just private gain.
We’re losing public goods available to all, supported by the tax payments of all and especially the better off. In its place we have private goods available to the very rich, supported by the rest of us.

World Peace Must Start with Environmental Justice by Kumi Naidoo / Vancouver Sun / Common Dreams

World Peace Must Start with Environmental Justice

For the past week, the world has reflected on the tragedy of 9/11 and the consequences of that fateful day. To my mind, we talk more about security than peace now. And we ignore the role that environmental justice can play in achieving world peace.
It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that climate change will exacerbate global conflicts. And our reliance on fossil fuels and unconventional oil deposits - like those in the oilsands or the Arctic - will only accelerate climate change.
Just look at Darfur and Somalia where resource wars are already underway as a result of climate change; and sadly those that are suffering first and most brutally are those that have been least responsible for the climate chaos we find ourselves in.
Choosing clean energy alternatives and a green economy offers a multiplicity of solutions for the planet. In turning away from fossil fuels and burning less carbon dioxide, we save the environment, we create jobs, and we save lives.
Forty years after it was founded, Greenpeace is as relevant as ever in drawing the links between peace and environment. In 2007, United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon said, "We need you, Greenpeace, to mobilize public opinion and enable politicians to do the right thing."
In Canada, we are working with industry, government and first nations to create sustainable forestry practices.
The landmark Great Bear Rainforest Agreement in British Columbia is seen as a "greenprint" for successful forest conservation worldwide. It will preserve close to three million hectares of rainforest - an area larger than Prince Edward Island - from logging.
Similarly, the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement signed last year includes an immediate moratorium on logging in 28 million hectares of forest. This isn't just trees either, but wildlife habitat and the lungs of the planet.
These agreements demonstrate that environment and economy can be highly compatible under the right conditions. We can have economic prosperity and environmental protection at the same time.
In 1990, Greenpeace founder Bob Hunter wrote: "The idea exists that the ecology movement is a late-blooming fad, something to do with hippies; a fad, moreover, that will vanish the moment serious jobs-versus-nature battles come down after the first macro waves of recession."
And yet, here we are. While political and economic crises ebb and flow, the environmental movement has kept pace with reality. The movement continues to grow, and so does Greenpeace.
From its humble roots in Vancouver, Greenpeace now has offices in more than 40 countries on every continent and three million members worldwide. We started with the hope of ending nuclear testing (green) and proliferation (peace) - a campaign we're still fighting, primarily in the energy sector - and we're still promoting practical solutions for the planet.
We're an organization of big ideas and ideals. We don't accept government or corporation money. And we're always ready and willing to stand up for our convictions and tackle big problems with big solutions.
Over the last 40 years, Greenpeace has helped to end nuclear testing, introduce a ban on the dumping of radioactive waste at sea, protect the ozone layer by introducing technology like "Greenfreeze" refrigeration, establish a treaty to protect the Antarctic from mineral exploration and put an end to commercial whale hunting.
We are renown for our famous, high profile demonstrations. But, most of our work is focused on promoting real-life, practical solutions for people and the environment.
And we're making it a global effort, in every sense of the word. We employ scientists, lawyers, engineers and researchers. We have the most dedicated activists and volunteers on the planet - and they are young, old, and everything in between.
Not bad for an organization that began with a daring mission to end nuclear testing on Amchitka, Alaska. Fittingly, Greenpeace doesn't celebrate its birthday on the occasion of a meeting, the writing of a charter or the raising of its first funds. We celebrate the day a group of visionaries set sail to make a difference, and as Bill Darnell quipped, to make a "green peace."
This week, we'll pause to celebrate our successes and then get back to the meaningful change Greenpeace has always stood for, and which is more urgently needed now more than ever before.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

.Expanding Deserts, Falling Water Tables and Toxins Driving People from Homesby Lester Brown / Inter Press Service

Expanding Deserts, Falling Water Tables and Toxins Driving People from Homes

WASHINGTON - People do not normally leave their homes, their families, and their communities unless they have no other option. Yet as environmental stresses mount, we can expect to see a growing number of environmental refugees. Rising seas and increasingly devastating storms grab headlines, but expanding deserts, falling water tables, and toxic waste and radiation are also forcing people from their homes.
Advancing deserts are now on the move almost everywhere. The Sahara desert, for example, is expanding in every direction. As it advances northward, it is squeezing the populations of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria against the Mediterranean coast.
Sahara 1 Aoujeft 0Advancing deserts are now on the move almost everywhere. The Sahara desert, for example, is expanding in every direction. (photo: John Spooner)
The Sahelian region of Africa - the vast swath of savannah that separates the southern Sahara desert from the tropical rainforests of central Africa - is shrinking as the desert moves southward. As the desert invades Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, from the north, farmers and herders are forced southward, squeezed into a shrinking area of productive land.
A 2006 U.N. conference on desertification in Tunisia projected that by 2020 up to 60 million people could migrate from sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa and Europe.
In Iran, villages abandoned because of spreading deserts or a lack of water number in the thousands. In Brazil, some 250,000 square miles of land are affected by desertification, much of it concentrated in the country's northeast.
In Mexico, many of the migrants who leave rural communities in arid and semiarid regions of the country each year are doing so because of desertification. Some of these environmental refugees end up in Mexican cities, others cross the northern border into the United States. U.S. analysts estimate that Mexico is forced to abandon 400 square miles of farmland to desertification each year.
In China, desert expansion has accelerated in each successive decade since 1950. Desert scholar Wang Tao reports that over the last half-century or so some 24,000 villages in northern and western China have been abandoned either entirely or partly because of desert expansion.
China is heading for a ‘Dust Bowl’ like the one that forced more than 2 million "Okies" to leave their land in the U.S. in the 1930s. But the dust bowl forming in China is much larger and so is the population: China’s migration may measure in the tens of millions. And as a U.S. embassy report entitled ‘Grapes of Wrath in Inner Mongolia’ noted, "unfortunately, China's twenty-first century ‘Okies’ have no California to escape to - at least not in China."
With the vast majority of the 2.3 billion people projected to be added to the world by 2050 being born in countries where water tables are falling, water refugees are likely to become commonplace. They will be most common in arid and semiarid regions where populations are outgrowing the water supply and sinking into hydrological poverty.
Villages in northwestern India are being abandoned as aquifers are depleted and people can no longer find water. Millions of villagers in northern and western China and in northern Mexico may have to move because of a lack of water.
Thus far the evacuations resulting from water shortages have been confined to villages, but eventually whole cities might have to be relocated, such as Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, and Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.
Sana’a, a fast-growing city of more than 2 million people, is literally running out of water. Quetta, originally designed for 50,000 people, now has a population exceeding 1 million - all of whom depend on 2,000 wells pumping water from what is believed to be a fossil aquifer. In the words of one study assessing its water prospect, Quetta will soon be "a dead city".
Two other semiarid Middle Eastern countries that are suffering from water shortages are Syria and Iraq. Both are beginning to reap the consequences of over-pumping their aquifers - namely irrigation wells going dry. In Syria, these trends have forced the abandonment of 160 villages. And a U.N. report estimates that more than 100,000 people in northern Iraq have been uprooted because of water shortages.
A final category of environmental refugee has appeared only in the last 50 years or so: people who are trying to escape toxic waste or dangerous radiation levels.
During the late 1970s, Love Canal - a small town in upstate New York, part of which was built on top of a toxic waste disposal site - made national and international headlines. Beginning in August 1978, families were relocated at government expense and reimbursed for their homes at market prices. By October 1980, a total of 950 families had been permanently relocated. A few years later, the federal government arranged for the permanent evacuation and relocation of all 2,000 residents of Times Beach, Missouri, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discovered dioxin levels well above the public health standards.
While the U.S. has relocated two communities because of health-damaging pollutants, the identification of more than 450 "cancer villages" in China suggests the need to evacuate hundreds of communities. China’s Ministry of Health statistics show that cancer is now the country’s leading cause of death, and with little pollution control, whole communities near chemical factories are suffering from unprecedented rates of cancer. Young people are leaving for the city in droves, for jobs and possibly for better health. Yet many others are too sick or too poor to leave.
Another infamous source of environmental refugees is the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Kiev, which exploded in April 1986. This started a powerful fire that lasted for 10 days. Massive amounts of radioactive material were spewed into the atmosphere, showering communities in the region with heavy doses of radiation. As a result, the residents of the nearby town of Pripyat and several other communities in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were evacuated - requiring the resettlement of 350,400 people.
In 1992, six years after the accident, Belarus was devoting 20 percent of its national budget to resettlement and the many other costs associated with the accident.
When a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March 2011, the ensuing nuclear crisis at the badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plant forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. Whether they will be able to return or will become permanently displaced is a question that remains unanswered.
Separating out the geneses of today’s refugees is not always easy. Often the environmental and economic stresses that drive migration are closely intertwined. But whatever the reason for leaving home, people are taking increasingly desperate measures. Some of their stories are heartrending beyond belief.
As a general matter, environmental refugees are migrating from poor countries to rich ones, from Africa, Asia, and Latin America to North America and Europe. Some of the largest flows will be across national borders and they are likely to be illegal. The potentially massive movement of people across national boundaries is already affecting some countries. The U.S. is erecting a fence along the border with Mexico. The Mediterranean Sea is now routinely patrolled by naval vessels trying to intercept the small boats of African migrants bound for Europe. India, with a steady stream of migrants from Bangladesh and the prospect of millions more to come, is building a 10-foot-high fence along their shared border.
Maybe it is time for governments to consider whether it might not be cheaper and far less painful in human terms to treat the causes of migration rather than merely respond to it. This means working with developing countries to restore their economy’s natural support systems - the soils, the water tables, the grasslands, the forests - and it means accelerating the shift to smaller families to help people break out of poverty.
Treating symptoms instead of causes is not good medicine. Nor is it good public policy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Foreshadowing of Another Oilpocalypse? Shell's Arctic Drilling Plans Move Forward / CommonDreams

Foreshadowing of Another Oilpocalypse? Shell's Arctic Drilling Plans Move Forward

-CommonDreams staff
Shell's plans for drilling in the ecologically sensitive areas in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are one step closer to becoming reality.
Photograph: Subhankar Banerjee/AP As The Hill reports:
Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is a step closer to drilling in fragile waters off Alaska’s northern coast following an EPA appeals board’s Thursday denial of green group challenges to a pair of air pollution permits.

The agency’s independent Environmental Appeals Board denied review of Clean Air Act permits that EPA granted Shell for its controversial plans to drill in the ecologically fragile Beaufort and Chukchi Seas this summer.
The Houston Chronicle reports:
Shell received conditional federal approval last month to drill six exploratory wells in the Arctic offshore region but still must secure permits for individual wells.
Environmental groups are planning their next steps. The Associated Press reports:
Earthjustice attorney Colin O'Brien, who represented groups that filed one of four air permit appeals, said it an email response to questions that the decision could be appealed in federal court, but that it was too early to speculate about potential next steps.

He said EPA took shortcuts when it issued the permits and failed to fully protect Arctic air quality as required by the Clean Air Act.

"These permits pave the way for Shell to emit thousands of tons of harmful air pollution into the pristine Arctic environment, at levels that may be harmful to nearby communities and the environment for years to come," he said. "We are disappointed that the Environmental Appeals Board decided against us and allowed EPA's permit decisions to stand.
In October green groups appealed the EPA's decision to grant Shell Clean Air Act permits to shell.
“These permits mark the start of full-scale industrial oil exploitation of the extremely sensitive Arctic. Oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean comes with unacceptable risks of spills that could have catastrophic impacts on Arctic wildlife and the communities that rely on the Arctic environment,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Vera Pardee. “We witnessed devastating damage from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill; the turbulent, icy, dark and remote conditions of the Arctic would make cleanup there even harder — next to impossible. Drilling in Arctic waters is an extremely bad idea.”