Arquivo mensal: novembro 2010

>COP-16: Só mesmo com ajuda do céu (JC)

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JC e-mail 4147, de 30 de Novembro de 2010.

Clima mata 21 mil em 2010 e ministra pede ajuda aos deuses na Cúpula de Cancun

Desastres climáticos registrados nos primeiros nove meses deste ano foram responsáveis por 21 mil mortes – o dobro do número confirmado no mesmo período do ano passado, segundo dados divulgados pela organização humanitária Oxfam.

O relatório cita as enchentes no Paquistão, as ondas de calor na Rússia e a elevação do nível do mar em Tuvalu, como exemplos das letais conseqüências das mudanças climáticas. E o futuro não é nada promissor: um outro estudo revela que em 50 anos, o mundo estará 4 graus Celsius mais quente, o que vai impor severas alterações climáticas.

Os dados foram divulgados na segunda-feira (29/11), dia de abertura da 16ª Convenção da ONU sobre Mudanças Climáticas (COP-16), em Cancún, no México. A cerimônia de abertura foi marcada por discursos para forçar um novo engajamento dos países em torno de um acordo para conter o aquecimento global.

A secretária-executiva da convenção, Christiana Figueres, chegou a apelar para os deuses, pedindo que a deusa maia da Lua, Ixchel, inspire os negociadores dos 194 países que participam do evento.

– Bem-vindos à terra da deusa maia da Lua, Ixchel, que também era deusa da razão, da criatividade e da liderança – afirmou ela. – Que ela inspire a todos vocês, porque hoje (segunda-feira) vocês estão reunidos aqui em Cancún para chegar a uma sólida resposta às mudanças climáticas, usando razão e criatividade. Estou convencida de que daqui a 20 anos vamos admirar a tapeçaria que nos tecemos juntos e lembrar com carinho de Cancún e da inspiração da deusa Ixchel.

“Bem-vindos à terra da deusa maia da Lua, Ixchel, que também era deusa da razão, da criatividade e da liderança. Que ela inspire a todos vocês, porque hoje vocês estão reunidos aqui em Cancún para chegar a uma sólida resposta às mudanças climáticas, usando razão e criatividade. Estou convencida de que daqui a 20 anos vamos admirar a tapeçaria que nos tecemos juntos e lembrar com carinho de Cancún e da inspiração da deusa Ixchel”

Segundo o documento da Oxfam, as enchentes no Paquistão inundaram um quinto do país, matando 2 mil pessoas e afetando 20 milhões em razão da destruição de casas, escolas, rodovias e cultivos e da disseminação de doenças. Um prejuízo estimado em US$ 9,7 bilhões.

Na Rússia, as temperaturas excederam a média de julho e agosto em 7,8 graus Celsius, o que fez a taxa diária de óbitos em Moscou dobrar, alcançando 700. Pelo menos 26 mil focos de incêndio destruíram um quarto das plantações de trigo, gerando um problema nas exportações.

Os moradores da nação insular Tuvalu, no Pacífico, onde a elevação do nível do mar é de 5 a 6 milímetros ao ano, enfrentam cada vez mais dificuldades para manter cultivos, uma vez que a água salobra está invadindo as plantações.

E o futuro será muito pior, como apontam dados climáticos. As crianças de hoje vão alcançar a velhice num mundo 4 graus Celsius mais quente, onde certezas climáticas que valeram para os últimos dez mil anos não serão mais referência. Secas, enchentes e migrações em massa serão parte da vida diária já a partir de 2060.

Será provavelmente a década a partir da qual, pela primeira vez desde o fim da Idade do Gelo, a Humanidade terá que lidar com um clima global bastante instável e imprevisível. As previsões fazem parte de uma série de estudos científicos publicados na segunda-feira (29/11) sobre o mundo 4 graus Celsius mais quente.

As negociações em Cancún ainda giram em torno de tentar manter a elevação das temperaturas em, no máximo, 2 graus Celsius. Segundo muitos cientistas, no entanto, as atuais tendências revelam que um aumento de 3 a 4 graus é “muito mais provável”.

A maior preocupação é que uma elevação de 4 graus Celsius na temperatura média global – uma diferença tão grande quanto a que separa o clima atual daquele registrado na última Idade do Gelo – geraria transformações dramáticas no mundo, levando a secas, colapso da agricultura em regiões semiáridas e a um catastrófico aumento do nível do mar em áreas costeiras.

O anfitrião da COP-16, o presidente mexicano Felipe Calderon, fez um apelo para que os negociadores cheguem a um acordo para mudar os rumos da crise climática.

Ele disse que as futuras gerações irão cobrar, caso eles falhem em alcançar um resultado.

– Será uma tragédia que nossa incapacidade nos leve a falhar – afirmou, citando que em seu país só este ano 60 pessoas morreram por desastres causados pelo aquecimento da Terra.

(Catarina Alencastro, O Globo, 30/11/2010)

Anúncios

>Scientists and Journalists on ‘Lessons Learned’ (Pts. 1 & 2 – Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media)

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Scientists’ ‘Lessons Learned’

Scientists and Journalists on ‘Lessons Learned’ (Pt. 1)

November 18, 2010

By any account, it’s been a challenging 12 months for climate science, for climate scientists, and for the ever-changing face of journalism as its practitioners struggle, or not, to keep their audiences adequately informed and knowledgeable.

From the November 19, 2009, New York Times and Washington Post front-page initial news reports of hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia (a place up until then unlikely to find itself on American newspaper’s front pages) … to subsequent findings of a silly factual mistake in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment forecasting disappearing Himalayan glaciers just 25 years from now … to the disappointments of last December’s international negotiations in Copenhagen … to data pointing to growing uncertainty and confusion on the climate change issue in the minds of many Americans and their public officials ….

The list could go on, but why bother? It’s been a tough period, notwithstanding repeated subsequent independent investigations finding, by and large, no damage to the underlying science itself.

A tough year. And, no doubt, not the last one. An increasingly challenging political environment promises more interesting times ahead, both for the science and for the scientists who devote their lives to the subject. What’s more, who’s to say the hacked e-mails brouhaha (the term “climategate” only lends it a status and importance it really does not deserve) is the last controversy, or perhaps even the most serious one, to arise in the field?

So what have “they” learned from it all, those scientists who best know the climate change science disciplines and the reporters whose responsibility it is to share and help evaluate their findings? Will they, scientists and media alike, be better off next time for having had the learning experiences the past year has given them? Are they actually learning the lessons each field could and should learn from those experiences, and putting them to practice?

Those are questions Yale Forum Editor Bud Ward and regular contributor John Wihbey put to leading climate scientists and journalists covering the issue. Their responses are posted separately in a two-part series, dated November 18 and 23, 2010 (see Part 2).

What lessons has the climate science community learned from the experiences of the past year or so?

Anthony J. Broccoli – Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences. Director, Center for Environmental Prediction and Climate and Environmental Change Initiative, Rutgers University

The climate science community was reminded that the policy implications of climate science make it more than just an academic pursuit. As a consequence, higher profile climate scientists may find themselves subjected to a similar level of personal scrutiny as public figures receive. I worry that this will make some scientists more reluctant to interact with policymakers or publicly communicate their science.

Peter H. Gleick – President, Pacific Institute

… there is an improved realization of how impossible it is to keep the climate science questions and debates separate from the political and ideological debates. And I hope we’ve learned the importance of communicating accurately and constantly. Being passive in the face of political repression, ideological misuse of science, and policy ignorance moves us in the wrong direction. I would like to think the community has learned that depending on the “honesty” and “impartiality” of journalism is not enough … that without strong input from climate scientists, the wrong stories get reported, with bad information, and ideological bias.

Michael Oppenheimer – Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Princeton University

I imagine that my colleagues’ views on this are rather diverse, and those I hear from are not necessarily representative. But one conclusion that seems common is the realization that climate science and scientists operate in a fishbowl, whether they stick to basic research or venture into policy applications. Like it or not, we are always “on the record.”

A second conclusion, bizarre as it may seem, is that mistakes like the Himalayan glacier episode have the potential to resemble airplane crashes: in some circumstances, almost perfect is not good enough.

Both of these realizations could have the unfortunate consequence of causing scientists, particularly younger ones, to avoid areas of research, like climate change, which are associated with public controversy due to the political process which parallels the science; or to avoid interacting with government, media, or the general public at all, even to explain the significance of their own research. I have not seen compelling evidence of such a trend but the possibility worries me.

Kerry A. Emanuel – Professor of Atmospheric Science, MIT

I do not feel I have my “ear to the wall” enough to provide a meaningful answer to this question. I would guess that at the very least everyone will be much more cautious about what they say in e-mail correspondence with other scientists, and that they will be more reluctant to interact with journalists who have behaved on the whole rather badly.

Malcolm K Hughes – Regents’ Professor, The University of Arizona

A number of climate scientists have learned that simply trying to do a good, responsible, and honest job of climate research according to established standards of professional conduct can lead to their becoming objects of suspicion, derision, disdain, and even hate. Some have already been subject to this for several years.

Many climate scientists are also learning that this surging assault on their integrity and that of their field is not a coincidence, but is the consequence of organized campaigns of disinformation. These have been originated by ideological, political and economic interests, and amplified by the technique of inciting what can only be described as mob behavior on the Internet and over the airwaves.

As a clearly intended consequence of the organized campaigns of disinformation, this “climate science is a hoax” propaganda has spread widely in the political arena. So, more of us than before fall 2009 have learned that we must work in a very different environment than existed when nobody outside the field cared much about climate science.

Benjamin D. Santer – Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison, Lawrence Livermore, National Laboratory

In the past year, we have seen ample evidence of the activities of powerful “forces of unreason.”

These forces of unreason seek to establish the scientific equivalent of what were once called “no-go” areas in Northern Ireland. Their actions send a clear warning to the scientific community:

This is the new reality of climate science in the 21st century.

Donald J. Wuebbles – The Harry E. Preble Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois

1. Be careful with what you write in emails or say over the phone. We all have a tendency to say things that can be misconstrued.

2. We have learned that data access and archival of climate observation and modeling results needs to be better communicated and more transparent. This does not mean the scientists should have to provide every single piece of interim analysis products like the deniers are currently hassling the community for — that is aimed at harassment not science transparency.

3. We acknowledge that occasional mistakes will happen (we are human), but we should aim at eliminating errors from the assessments (not a big issue when one can only find one error of any real significance in almost 3,000 pages of an assessment).

4. We need to strengthen the communication of the science.

5. We should make the expression of uncertainties more transparent.

Richard C. J. Somerville – Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego

The climate science community has learned that it is in the cross-hairs of a ruthless disinformation campaign. The campaign is run by economic, political, and ideological interests opposed to many proposed policies that might deal meaningfully with the threat of climate disruption. This disinformation campaign is professional, well-funded, and highly effective. Its purpose is to destroy the credibility of mainstream climate science.

Polling data show that this campaign has already been successful in many ways. The public is confused and distrustful of reputable climate scientists. The public thinks that the science is controversial and does not understand the degree to which the expert community is in agreement on the reality and seriousness of man-made climate change.

John M. Wallace – Professor, Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington

We’ve witnessed the lengths to which political activists will go in an effort to manipulate public opinion. Yet it seems to me that for all its notoriety, “climategate” has had only a very limited impact on public opinion. It may have served to widen the divide between climate change believers and naysayers, but it doesn’t seem to me that it has caused many believers to switch sides.

What lessons should it learn?

Kerry Emanuel

In my somewhat pessimistic view, there is very little a small community of scientists can do when up against a much larger and far better funded disinformation campaign involving a curious, symbiotic relationship between agenda-driven interests and journalists. It is clear that any mis-step, however innocent, or any less-than-tightly-worded statement can and will be used against the climate science community or to further someone’s political agenda.

There are a few concrete steps that I think scientists can and should take:

1. Campaign vigorously and unceasingly to get governments around the world to treat government-funded environmental data as a public good. This used to be the case and is still the case in some civilized countries like the United States, but other countries with a less well developed sense of public interest, such as England and France, hold environmental data as proprietary. This has caused much grief and has tangibly slowed the progress of science. It also played a role in “climategate” by forcing East Anglia scientists to withhold certain data sets that they had acquired under Europe’s unjustified and labyrinth data distribution policies.

2. Recognize that just as certain European governments view themselves more as money-making enterprises than as entities that serve the public interest, journalists are in business to make money, not to serve the public interest. If scientists would learn to speak with journalists with this in mind, rather than treating them as fellow scientists interested primarily in advancing knowledge, then many evils could be avoided. Remember that controversy sells while consensus makes extremely dull copy. Always treat maverick scientists with respect while making it clear that they are indeed mavericks.

3. Recognize that the IPCC process may be reaching the end of its useful life and may even start being counterproductive. It is not likely that the uncertainty in climate projections will be much reduced by adhering to the current paradigm of running ever more complex global climate models, and the desire to have a consensus may be discouraging new approaches.

Anthony J. Broccoli

The community should recognize that having a public face carries additional responsibilities, including the need to not only act properly, but also avoid the appearance of improper behavior. Good scientists have been defamed by having off-the-cuff remarks publicly disclosed.

To avoid future problems of this kind, perhaps scientists who are involved in international assessments should be provided with staffing to help them perform this civic duty efficiently and judiciously without compromising their effectiveness as scientists.

Peter Gleick

Climate scientists must learn that there is a committed band (both organized and unorganized) of climate deniers, with diverse often unclear motivations, determined to do and say anything to confuse the public and policymakers about science in order to avoid the policy debates. Climate scientists must learn that sticking with science and ignoring policy, when the science says something bad is going to happen, does nothing to move policymakers — there MUST be coordinated, consistent, and ongoing communication from climate scientists to the public and policymakers.

I HOPE that the climate science community has learned that we must ensure that our science is good, transparent, adequately reviewed, open source, and not based on ideology. And, of course, I hope that every climate scientist (we’re supposed to be smart, eh?) has learned that e-mails must always be assumed to be completely public!

Michael Oppenheimer

For me, the key lessons of the episodes of the past year are: Healthy skepticism in the media and the general public toward experts is easily manipulated and blown out of proportion by narrow political interests and died-in-the-wool contrarians. That’s the sea we all swim in, so scientists working on important problems that bear implications for policy can’t avoid it.

The only effective weapon against this is for scientists to increase trust by increasing transparency, not only toward their colleagues but toward the general public. Institutions like IPCC need to continually learn from past experience and remake themselves to improve their degree of openness and their overall performance, even when the latter is already exceptional.

Malcolm K. Hughes

It is always vital to improve how we work and how we communicate data, methods, and results. The artificial scandal based on the theft of material from the University of East Anglia has no bearing on this. It is essential that we not be intimidated, seduced, or diverted from doing good science in a careful and deliberative manner.

To this end we need to learn to do a better job of communicating to the public how we actually work and the “rules of the game” under which we operate. Much has been written about data availability, but misapprehensions abound among academic colleagues as well as media professionals. I have been asked the question “why will you people not release your data?” when the data have been available in the public domain for years.

Finally, true friends of science are needed to develop ways of providing support, including legal and media advice, to colleagues under attack from ideological, political, or economic forces. Just as happened with other science unwelcome to powerful interests, the attacks will continue as long as the issues of society’s response to climate change remain unresolved, and we need to learn how to better the practice of science.

Ben Santer

As climate scientists, we have to decide how to deal with this new reality. We can ignore it, and hope that it eventually goes away. We can try to find some “place of refuge,” where (if we are lucky) we may be able to isolate and insulate ourselves from these forces of unreason, and concentrate on our own research. We can remain silent, and hope that our professional societies and funding agencies will defend us, and will defend our ability to conduct research in the public and national interest. We can hope that the media will recognize the crucial importance of “getting the science right,” and will show the same assiduousness in pursuing true understanding of complex climate science issues as they did in reporting on non-existent conspiracies to fool the global population.

Or we can recognize that we have to adapt to this new reality; we can recognize that:

Our responsibility to funding agencies and society does not end with the publication of X papers in the peer-reviewed literature;

We have a larger, open-ended responsibility to speak truth to power, and to tell the public and policymakers, in plain English, why they should care about the science of climate change, and what this science tells us;

We have a responsibility to debunk myths and misconceptions about climate science. We cannot ignore ignorance;

We have a responsibility to defend friends and colleagues who are unjustly accused of serious professional misbehaviour;

Our ability to do research in the public interest is a precious privilege, not an inalienable right. If we do not fight to retain and protect this privilege, it may be in jeopardy;

We do not have the luxury of remaining silent.

Richard Somerville

The climate science community should learn that it is poorly equipped to confront this disinformation campaign. It should recognize that excellent scientific researchers are often poor science communicators. Scientists should realize that IPCC assessments, National Academy of Science reports, and statements by scientific societies often are difficult for non-scientists to read and understand. Scientists should acknowledge that the research community taken as a whole generally lacks communications skills in dealing with media, with the political world, and with the public at large.

Improving this situation will not be easy or quick. The climate science community must understand that it needs to work closely with professionals in communications, media, public relations, and many other fields. It should understand that this close collaboration must be sustained and will be expensive. It should seek financial and political support for this effort.

John M. Wallace

Surviving “climategate” is not enough. Those of us in the scientific community need to learn how to reach across that wide divide to engage our friends and neighbors who are not now and perhaps never will become deeply concerned about climate change for its own sake and convince them to support progressive policies on energy, resources, fresh water, food security, and environmental protection.

And is it moving effectively to put those lessons-learned into practice?

Anthony J. Broccoli

That remains to be seen. Most of us became scientists out of a desire to understand how the world works — and that’s what we’re good at. We’re not always as good at engaging in public discourse.

John M. Wallace

I fear that as long as we continue to use climate change as the sole (or even the main) justification for policy decisions, we never will be able to reach out across that divide to bring many of our friends and neighbors on board. To move forward effectively, I think we need to have a broader discussion of the scientific issues that will have a bearing on national and international policy over the next few decades.

Don Wuebbles

Data access and archival is the subject of a lot of discussion. I have been working with the American Geological Union to see if there should be a special committee, perhaps jointly with other science societies, on this issue. Various government agencies in the U.S. (e.g., NOAA, Department of Energy) and Europe have also been discussing this.

[In addition,] IPCC is putting even stronger attempts into the AR5 assessment [Fifth Assessment Report] to try to prevent errors.

Communication has not only received a lot of discussion, but there is an ever increasing set of analyses on how to do this (e.g., two recent papers / reports on the psychology of climate science). Also, many new efforts and several new organizations are aimed at better communication, including faster better organized, responses to the “scandals”. Several professional organizations, e.g., the American Meteorological Society, AGU, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, are also taking this on as a special activity.

[Finally, there are] several recent papers/reports on representing confidence levels and uncertainties. I am in charge of the chapter for IPCC AR5 that will be considering how to respond for the next assessment.

Peter Gleick

I would love to see some serious effort to improve science reporting in the climate area. Even the best aren’t very good, or consistently good. But there is also growing confusion about what “reporting” actually is, and what venues for climate news still exist.

Michael Oppenheimer

Due to the relative ease of creating access to electronic data bases, a long term trend has been under way toward making data more available to colleagues since long before these episodes; and in several respects, IPCC has progressively “opened up” over time. In other ways, the jury is still out.

Malcolm K. Hughes

I’m aware of scattered efforts but I believe we need urgently to do a better job of preparing young scientists for the new conditions we face. This is a situation where powerful interests seek to discredit climate science and scientists, and where there is an internet mob ready to respond to every incitement.

We need more widespread and systematic training of young scientists on legal and ethical aspects of scientific work — intellectual property, privacy, ethics of authorship and of data exchange, and so on. There should also be widely available training in dealing with the media. Climate scientists in general do a very good job of sharing methods and data but get little credit for this. Somebody’s purported difficulties in getting data may be more newsworthy than the fact that huge volumes of data are freely available, including the great majority of those featured in the anti-climate science propaganda. A much better job needs to be done of making this known.

At the institutional level, IPCC continues to evolve to meet these challenges. One important aspect of the changes IPCC is making concerns the need to respond more flexibly and rapidly when issues of public controversy arise.

Kerry Emanuel

I have no idea.

Richard Somerville

While some individual scientists have clearly taken these lessons to heart, I see very little sign that attitudes in the broad climate science community have changed.

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A Yale Forum Two-Part Special Feature:

Scientists and Journalists on ‘Lessons Learned’ (Pt. 2)

November 23, 2010

Climate science and climate scientists aren’t the only ones who have come under some withering scrutiny over the past 12 months. The controversies — or were they “pseudo-controversies”? — stemming from the hacked e-mails at a British university put the media also under the microscope for their handling of the breaking news and its aftermath. Why, some scientists wondered, were the media focusing on the “what” message of carefully cherry-picked “private” e-mail messages, and seemingly under-playing the “who” and “why” … as in who released the e-mails in the first place and why, if not to purposefully disrupt and derail last December’s Copenhagen climate negotiations?

For reporters, the slow and incremental ooze of the climate science news story overnight had become, with the first headlines of the e-mails release, a breaking news story. Widely criticized for injecting a “faux balance” standard in much of its earlier coverage of climate science, many news reports on climate science in recent years had moved away from that traditional news approach — too far away in the opinion of some. Climate science “skeptics,” by whatever name, had been garnering less and less of the science reporting news hole, as a critical mass of journalists increasingly came to accept basic aspects of climate science — Earth is indeed warming, and human activities play a significant part in that warming — as something approaching “settled” science. Pretty much along the lines that the sun rises in the east, tobacco smoking causes cancer, those sort of things.

For this second part of a Yale Forum special report on “lessons learned,” freelance writer John Wihbey asked respected science writers and journalism experts questions along the lines of those posed in Part I to leading climate science researchers: For the journalism community, what are the key “lessons learned” from the experiences and controversies of the past 12 months? What lessons should the media learn from those experiences? And are there any signs that those lessons learned are actually being put into practice in the newsroom?

What lessons has the climate journalism community learned from the experiences of the past year or so?

Richard Harris, NPR

We’re not really a community, but individually we strive to get to the bottom of the story — to get at the facts and present them to the public. We’ve learned that we have less and less influence on public discourse relating to climate change. The “climategate” story was not a product of journalism, but activism. The storyline was crafted by people with a desired objective; it was not an effort to weigh facts and reach a dispassionate conclusion. Many journalists made a serious effort to examine the facts and report what we found, but our voices were joined by many others who were not attempting to be dispassionate.

Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review

That’s a very difficult question to answer. I’d say that most journalists didn’t learn anything from the “climategate” and IPCC-errors pseudo-scandals. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Rather than providing a teaching moment for the climate journalism community, those events only served to confuse editors and reporters.

In the U.S., journalists didn’t seem to know what to make of the revelations, so they basically took a pass on trying to explain what was going on. When outlets such as The New York Times finally weighed in, their stories tended to confuse climate politics (the debate over what to do about GW) and climate science (that debate over what we know about the Earth and our influence upon it). That trend continued into the winter. When skeptics seized upon heavy snows in the eastern U.S. as a refutation of global warming, the Times attempted to rebut their arguments in a front-page article. Rather than quoting scientists to set the record straight, however, the story devolved into an unresolved argument between non-scientist political partisans. To its credit, the Times covered a string of reviews released in mid-summer that reaffirmed the integrity of the work of the IPCC and the scientists involved in the “climategate” affair, but most reporters ignored them, as they did the InterAcademy Council’s review of the IPCC, which was released a month or so later. The only real high point in climate journalism in the last year was the coverage of the summer’s extreme weather, including heat waves in the U.S., wildfires in Russia, and floods in Pakistan. The press actually produced quite a bit of nuanced coverage, which explained that while it’s impossible to peg any single weather event to climate change, many scientists felt that summer’s extremes would not have been possible without humanity’s influence on the climate system.

The trend seems to have been somewhat different in the U.K. press. It was British reporters that really led the charge vis-à-vis “climategate” and the IPCC-errors controversies. Clearly, reporters on the other side of the Atlantic learned not to put so much trust in scientists, which might be a somewhat valid lesson, if not for the fact that they got carried away with it. While they brought a few legitimate errors in the IPCC’s fourth assessment report to light — such as the overestimate of the melt rate of Himalayan glaciers — they often overplayed the significance of these errors and trumpeted other errors that weren’t errors at all. In July, for example, The Sunday Times was forced to retract an article that accused the IPCC of flubbing a statement about the Amazon rainforest’s sensitivity to climate change.

So, what has the climate journalism community learned from the events of the past year? Not much, unfortunately. I haven’t seen a marked improvement in the coverage. In fact, the amount of climate coverage has been in precipitous decline for the last year or so. One might be tempted to say that the events of the last year spooked editors and reporters, who are not unsure where to go with the climate story or what to make of the latest research. I’m sure that’s true to some extent, but other factors may have played a more important role. The global recession has, more than anything else, called attention away from global warming. In addition, political shortcomings such as the failure to produce an emissions-reduction treaty at COP15 in Copenhagen and the death of climate legislation in the U.S. Congress have both served to take the wind out of climate story’s sails.

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

For science journalists — and that’s different from political and other journalists — the answer goes back to the old Russian proverb that Ronald Reagan made famous: Trust but verify. Starting with the hacked e-mails. Much of the initial coverage of the purloined e-mails was based on pre-digested e-mails leaked to the media and they looked sensational in and of themselves.

But context is key here. At the AP, we spent a week and five reporters pouring over one-million words to read them in context and found no grand conspiracy, but lots of cranky scientists (and ones who really could use a good editor themselves). On the flip side, we in the media have a tendency to read summaries and skim in a speedy manner through the main text. Some of the handful of errors in the IPCC reports, especially the Himalayan ones, on the face of them should have been noticed by reviewers and eagle-eyed science writers. In addition, reporters should have delved into the millions of details more and asked more questions. I fear the non-science journalists don’t look as much in the science details, don’t have the time or leadership that we have at AP, and thus didn’t learn the lessons that science journalists have.

Eric Pooley, Bloomberg Businessweek

Climate journalists have spent too much time preaching to the choir while there’s a riot going on outside the church. It’s important to report on, and debate, policies for mitigation, adaptation, and clean-energy acceleration, but these conversations occupy a parallel universe to the one in which the 2010 elections [were] unfolding, the elections where 19 of the top 20 Republican candidates for U.S. Senate are either climate skeptics or proud, aggressive deniers. Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina blames his loss in the Republican primary on his public assertions that climate change is real. Joe Manchin, a Senate candidate in West Virginia, has a TV spot in which he shoots a rifle bullet through a cap-and-trade bill — and he’s a Democrat. Can climate journalists do anything to counter this profoundly skeptical atmosphere?

We can try — and of course many of us have been trying. I saw some of my colleagues get a wake-up call last December in the big COP 15 media center in Copenhagen. I was talking with some climate journalists after Senator James Inhofe, the famously skeptical Oklahoman, came through the room. Some journalists began joking about Inhofe, so-called “climategate,” and the absurdity of those who claimed that the hacked e-mails were proof that climate scientists had cooked their data. The journalists were right — those claims were absurd — but they were also missing the point. Inhofe had just predicted that a U.S. climate bill was “not going to happen,” and he was right. While climate journalists in Copenhagen were studying the fine points of the latest REDD proposal, “climategate” was going viral on the internet and in the mainstream media. Soon CNN was hosting a debate on the validity of climate science, and I was pulling out my calendar to remind myself what year it was. Surely we couldn’t still be arguing the basic science in 2009 and 2010.

Andrew Revkin, “DotEarth“

I guess my first response is, what climate journalism community? There’s a variegated array of journalists and commentators who approached the developments of the past year or two with completely different responses and output. A batch of (mainly British) reporters and outlets did epic reportage on “climategate” that appeared to be stimulated in part out of a sense of betrayal, perhaps. Some of the overheated coverage got rolled back with corrections and apologies. American media covered the incident with far less intensity, perhaps better reflecting its marginal significance. Science blogs of all stripes dove deepest, but the incident, in the end, was notable mainly for reminding the public that science is — shocking news to some — an ugly process at times, particularly when its findings relate to very consequential issues facing society.

Media coverage of problems revealed in the workings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was similarly variegated, with some overheated accusations not holding up but a decent learning experience for everyone on the fallibility of such vast group exercises. My guess is there’ve been few lessons learned out of coverage of the international climate treaty negotiations and the domestic battle over climate legislation.

David Biello, Scientific American

I’m not sure the climate journalism community has learned any lessons. In my view, we all continually repeat the mistakes of the past, either because of turnover that is bringing many “new” to the beat into the coverage scheme who are trained in the classic he said/she said style. Or because us old-timers are set in our ways and continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. One example, from my own magazine, is a recent profile of Judith Curry.

Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

I’m not sure there is a climate journalism community, so it’s hard for me to answer this question. There are a bunch of people who write fairly regularly about climate science and climate policy in the mainstream media, but as you point out there are many more writing about it in the blogosphere. I expect that ratio is only going to grow more lopsided as time goes on.

What lessons should it learn?

Andrew Revkin, “DotEarth”

If science media tried to sustain coverage of science (including climate science) as a process, including the ugly parts, the public might be less apt to be surprised by occasional revelations of conflict like those illuminated through the batch of hacked/liberated (pick your adjective depending on your worldview) e-mails and files.

Beware the lure of the front-page thought in gauging developments in complicated science pointing to a rising human influence on climate, lest you end up giving readers whiplash. Try rigorously to include context on the overall state of knowledge when framing stories on science around conflict, given that conflict is a constant in science.

Develop patience. The story of humanity’s entwined climate and energy challenges will outlive you. No single treaty, meeting, e-mail hack, IPCC report, or climate bill is a keystone.

Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

The obvious lesson of faux scandals like “climategate” is that they tend to be created by groups or individuals with their own agendas, and journalists ought to be very wary about covering them. The notion that there is some huge scientific conspiracy going on, involving dozens of researchers at different institutions, is pretty implausible on its face. This goes for climate science as for all other scientific disciplines. I’m not saying it can’t happen; it’s just hard to imagine how it would work. Conversely, it’s very easy to imagine why an individual or a group with an economic or political interest would want to claim that such a conspiracy existed. The burden of proof ought to be very high. Instead, it seems the bar was placed ridiculously low.

Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review

First and foremost, reporters should have learned that they need to do a better job of delineating the various questions that climate science seeks to answer. There is a tendency to treat climate science as one monolithic question — are humans heating up the world or not — rather than as a series of questions, each with its own level certainty/uncertainty. When that happens, uncertainty related to the timing, scale, and geographic distribution of impacts (advanced science) tends to be reflected as uncertainty about whether or not the world is warming and whether or not human industry is driving that warming (basic science). Or, as we saw with “climategate” and the IPCC errors, minor flaws in the research and/or minor behavioral flaws in individual scientists cast aspersions on every other area of climate science. So, following these events, reporters should have learned that they must be very careful, in each and every story, to specify what which parts of the science they are addressing and which parts they aren’t addressing.

Along these lines, the other lesson is that reporters do, in fact, need to be more aggressive and skeptical. As the various reviews and investigations of “climategate” and the IPCC have shown, the fundamental conclusions of climate science remain untarnished. However, the IPCC did make a couple legitimate errors, and these reports also found that the IPCC and some individual climate scientists need to be more transparent and open to alternative viewpoints. Reporters need to actively ferret out these problems on a weekly basis rather than waiting until climate skeptics and blogs discover them and blow their significance out of proportion. If journalists wrote more stories about where uncertainty exists in the science, and if they were more aggressive about challenging scientists on transparency issues, we wouldn’t have these pseudo-scandals erupt every time a climate scientist missteps.

The corollary to this is that, at the same time, reporters must defend those scientists that need defending because many, such as Ben Santer, have had to endure unreasonable challenges to their credibility in addition to overt threats of violence.

Delineating the various questions of climate science and being more aggressive and skeptical will help with the third lesson: the need to separate climate science from climate politics. The narrative of climate change tends to get boiled down into one of two false generalizations: it is totally certain (we have five years to save the planet!) or totally uncertain (it’s all a hoax!). When that happens, it becomes very easy for political partisans to invoke scientific disagreements in support of their own policy objectives, just as they did in media coverage following the “climategate” and the IPCC-errors controversies. In reality, however, those events had no bearing whatsoever on political debate, and therein lies the lesson for journalists. Science cannot settle all arguments about how the world should respond to global warming, because the answer to that question involves values, varying perceptions of risk, and political ideology, in addition to what we know (and don’t know) about the climate system. So, if a reporter is simply trying to cover what scientists know, or don’t know, about the climate system, politicians should be excluded. Conversely, if a reporter is trying to cover climate politics, he or she must not let sources stake their claims on oversimplified reductions of climate science.

Eric Pooley, Bloomberg Businessweek

Now climate journalists are getting back to basics — connecting climate change to people’s lives and showing how it is already affecting our weather and our economy. Instead of getting hung up on whether a particular extreme weather event was ’caused’ by climate change — an unanswerable question — we’re explaining that extreme weather events are already happening more frequently, and that the scientists say we’ll be suffering through more of these events in a warmer world. We’re connecting the dots in a careful, responsible way. Some local coverage of the Nashville flood did this, for example. The magazine and website where I work, Bloomberg Businessweek, is doing this as well, through regular reporting on how business copes with climate risk (here’s one example). A website sponsored by Environment Canada connects the dots in a different but also effective way. There are many other angles on this story, and I hope news organizations will explore all of them.

Richard Harris, NPR

I think we still need to do our best to dig into the science — as well as into allegations of misconduct. It’s still important for us to present what we find to our audiences, even knowing that there are many competing voices. The “climategate” e-mails, for example, did not undercut the science of climate change, but it did lay bare some less than noble behavior on the part of certain scientists. It’s important to air that out. Likewise it’s important to set the record straight on broadly repeated misconceptions, such as the rate of demise of the Himalayan glaciers.

David Biello, Scientific American

The lesson that should be learned is two-fold: one, we must always retain our skepticism. Don’t trust anyone. Verify everything. In cases where you can’t verify, triangulate (i.e., use multiple sources to get closer to the truth). Two, sometimes smoke doesn’t mean fire. There is a lot of politicking going on in this area, both in the academic sense and in the broader social sense. That makes for a lot of smoke, which would seem to suggest a major conflagration. Such a fire does not exist, unless it’s the one embedded in the hundreds of coal plants around the world.

And is it moving effectively to put those lessons-learned into practice?

Eric Pooley, Bloomberg Businessweek

When the next climate scandalette comes along, some news organizations will surely play to hype and get carried away with their coverage — in effect, becoming a handy transmission belt for the professional deniers. That’s why serious climate journalists need to investigate charges rapidly and communicate their findings widely — explaining what’s real and what’s not, clarifying what the scandal does and doesn’t say about climate science, and fact-checking any false claims that may be in the air. Inevitably, the multiple investigations exonerating the climategate scientists got far less attention than the wild initial allegations against them. If more experienced climate journalists jump into the fray early, they could help tip the balance toward honest reporting and away from hype.

Richard Harris, NPR

Journalism still takes its role very seriously, but of course there are fewer of us out there every day. Those of us with big platforms and credibility with our audience are putting the lessons leaned into practice — that is, we are still reporting the stories carefully and thoroughly as they emerge. But it is naïve to think that crisis management, through even the best journalism, will overwhelm deliberate efforts to color the facts in order to achieve philosophical or economic objectives.

David Biello, Scientific American

… Old-timers seem to make the same mistakes over and over (including me, darnit). Newcomers fall into the same trap of “he said, she said” that they then must laboriously climb out of over years of on-the-job training.

Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review

No, I don’t see journalists putting the lessons learned into practice because I’m not sure if they really learned them in the first place. There are a few reassuring signs, however.

The Sunday Times retracted its fallacious “Amazongate” article. Another positive development was the American Geophysical Union’s decision to award its Excellence in Science Journalism award to Pallava Bagla, an Indian journalist who broke and unraveled the story about how the IPCC overestimated the melt-rate of Himalayan glaciers. So, to some extent, the bad journalism is being condemned and the good journalism is being recognized.

There have also been a couple other good articles recently. Shortly before the midterm election, The New York Times had a great front-page story about climate denial being an “article of faith” for the Tea Party, which made it clear that the group’s climate politics are not synonymous with climate science.

There was also a long feature in Scientific American about Judith Curry, who studies hurricanes at Georgia Tech and has ruffled the feathers of her fellow climate scientists by engaging with skeptics. A lot of climate scientists were really unhappy with the piece, arguing that Curry is wrong and that the media attention should have gone to somebody who is making real progress with their research. Personally, though, I thought it was an excellent attempt to be more aggressive and skeptical with scientists and show that climate science is (as Andrew Revkin once put it) a very “herky-jerky” process. I get the feeling that if more people were exposed to that type of journalism they would begin to understand the scientists and science are not infallible.

For the most part, though, I don’t think climate coverage, on the whole, has gotten any better or any worse in the last year. In fact, I think the “climategate” and IPCC-errors controversies has had far less of an impact on public opinion and on journalism than a lot of people have assumed. What’s really plaguing coverage are the same things that have been plaguing it for years: a declining number of specialized reporters in newsrooms, less time and fewer resources for reporting, and all the “noise” created by blogs and the 24/7 cable news.

Andrew Revkin, “DotEarth”

Too soon to tell.

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

Any signs that they are moving to put those lessons-learned into practice? This is much like natural disasters. People who have lived through a major hurricane tend to prepare better for the next one and take it more seriously. Those who haven’t, don’t. Science journalists and others who well reported the issue this past year will do a better job, those who didn’t or just skimmed the surface or parroted ideologues won’t. The trouble is — much like in disasters — the people who really need to learn are usually the ones who don’t. And those who work hard to be even better prepared next time were not the problem cases to begin with.

>Pessimismo global atinge a Conferência do Clima (JC)

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JC e-mail 4142, de 23 de Novembro de 2010

COP-16 começa no próximo dia 29, em Cancún, México

Um ano após a grande frustração que foi a Convenção das Nações Unidas sobre Mudanças Climáticas em Copenhague (COP-15), a nova edição da convenção, em Cancún (COP-16), começa no próximo dia 29 sem expectativas de grandes resultados

Prova disso é que são esperados apenas entre 20 e 30 chefes de estado no México, contra 118 que estiveram presentes em Copenhague. O presidente Lula, uma das grandes estrelas do último encontro, já confirmou sua ida, mas a delegação brasileira encolheu de 900 pessoas, no ano passado, para 250 este ano.

Não se espera o fechamento de um grande acordo vinculante com metas significativas de redução de emissão de CO2 para o segundo período de compromisso do Protocolo de Kyoto, que vence em 2012, e é uma obrigação dos países desenvolvidos que assinaram o documento. Tampouco deverá haver resultados importantes na área de financiamento, outro ponto-chave da negociação.

Este é mais um compromisso firmado pelos países desenvolvidos: prover recursos financeiros para que países em desenvolvimento possam prevenir os efeitos das mudanças climáticas (mitigação) e se adaptar àqueles que já podem ser sentidos nos países mais vulneráveis, como pequenas ilhas do pacífico e nações africanas.

– Você chega a Cancún sem aquela comoção com que se chegou em Copenhague e com as mesmas dificuldades. As expectativas agora são mais modestas – avalia o embaixador Luiz Figueiredo, negociador-chefe do Brasil na Convenção do Clima da ONU.

O Brasil tem ganhado um papel protagonista na convenção e vai levar para Cancún dois trunfos na bagagem: a apresentação do último balanço sobre o desmatamento da Amazônia e a explicação dos planos setoriais que vêm sendo elaborados para que o país cumpra as metas voluntárias de redução de emissões.

Sobre a Amazônia, deve ser anunciado um novo recorde histórico, no qual “somente” cerca de 5 mil km2 teriam sido destruídos entre 2009 e 2010. Já sobre as emissões, o governo brasileiro vai mostrar como pretende reduzir de 36% a 39% de suas emissões, com relação ao que o país calculou que vai emitir em 2020. Na prática, significaria emitir 1,7 giga toneladas de CO2 daqui a dez anos, quando o esperado era a emissão de 2,7 giga toneladas de CO2.

– Lula terá um papel muito destacado em Cancún. Com a proposta ambiciosa que apresentou em Copenhague, ele foi o chefe de Estado que mais chamou a atenção – diz o secretário-executivo do Fórum Brasilieiro de Mudanças Climáticas, Luiz Pinguelli Rosa.

O principal plano brasileiro é reduzir a derrubada da Amazônia em 80% até 2020 e do Cerrado em 40%. As duas medidas, se alcançadas, evitarão a emissão de 668 milhões de toneladas de CO2. O desmatamento responde por 61% das emissões brasileiras.

A agricultura, dona de 22% das emissões, também sofrerá alterações. Uma das ações previstas é a recuperação de 15 milhões de hectares de pastagens degradadas, de um total de 60 milhões que o país possui, e a implementação de um programa de agricultura de baixo carbono. Com isso seriam cortadas pelo menos 183 milhões de toneladas de CO2.

No setor energético, que gera 15% de nossas emissões, o governo prepara um pacote para aumentar o uso de biocombustíveis, reduzindo entre 48 e 60 milhões de toneladas de CO2. E na siderurgia, setor ainda bastante dependente de carvão produzido com madeira de desmatamento, a ideia é justamente substituí-lo por carvão vegetal de florestas plantadas. A ação pode gerar o corte de entre 8 e 10 toneladas de CO2. As carvoarias emitem 31% do total registrado no setor energético.

Além desses cinco setores, o governo vai incluir outras sete áreas para as quais também serão criados planos setoriais. A principal delas é o transporte. Listado dentro da seção “energia”, o transporte rodoviário responde por 38% dessas emissões.

– O transporte será uma área decisiva para o Brasil no futuro, pois passará a contribuir cada vez mais para o nível de emissões, principalmente por conta da ineficiência do transporte de carga. O Brasil tem, há 15 anos, o pior desempenho do mundo em transporte de cargas – aponta Eduardo Viola, professor de Relações Internacionais da UnB.

Ele critica também o transporte público brasileiro que receberia incentivos para o aumento no número de carros nas ruas, quando deveria ocorrer justamente o contrário. Ele sugere que o país monte um programa para penalizar o uso de carros (como taxas para quem roda nos centros das grandes cidades), o que geraria pressão para estimular investimentos em transporte público de alta capacidade para passageiros, como trens e metrôs. No caso do transporte de suprimentos, a saída, segundo o professor, é ampliar a rede ferroviária e hidroviária.

O pacote que o Brasil apresentará vai esbarrar com a dura realidade que vigora nas negociações climáticas. Com relação às metas de redução dos países desenvolvidos, até agora apenas 15 nações manifestaram suas intenções, a maioria condicionando números mais ambiciosos a um acordo global, o que ainda não aconteceu.

Por enquanto, o que se tem é uma redução que varia de 16% a 18% com relação às emissões de 1990. Isso seria insuficiente para evitar um aumento da temperatura da Terra de mais de 2 graus Celsius, conforme concordaram os 140 países que assinaram o Acordo de Copenhague – documento fechado na COP-15, mas que não tem validade jurídica. Ou seja: é um texto de intenções.

A questão do financiamento também está em aberto. Na última reunião, os países concordaram com a criação de um Fundo de Início Rápido (Fast Track Fund), que proveria US$ 30 bilhões em três anos para que os países mais necessitados pudessem começar a agir contra o aquecimento global.

A fonte de recursos já foi identificada, mas esbarra em um problema: alguns dizem que o dinheiro de que se fala não é novo e configuraria um desvio de finalidade de recursos já comprometidos em outras áreas da cooperação internacional, como saúde e educação. O resultado é que, até agora, nenhum projeto foi contemplado com tal verba.

Um outro mecanismo acordado, mas que também não saiu do papel é o Fundo Verde Climático, para o qual seriam doados US$ 100 bilhões anuais até 2020. Esse dinheiro poderia ajudar países a criar mecanismos de eficiência energética, instalar aterros sanitários e manter florestas preservadas.

As regras são as mesmas: países ricos pagariam e países em desenvolvimento, como Brasil e África do Sul, implantariam localmente tais iniciativas. Como o aporte de dinheiro é alto, há divergências sobre de onde sairia. Dificilmente essa questão será solucionada em Cancún. Mas a ONG ambientalista WWF acredita que será possível avançar na estruturação do fundo, como o conselho que definirá prioridades a serem seguidas e os fiadores do sistema.

– Seria uma grande forma de reconstruir a confiança e demonstrar que os países industrializados estão tratando a mudança do clima com seriedade – pondera Mark Lutes, coordenador de políticas financeiras da Iniciativa Climática Global da WWF.

Para tentar solucionar o impasse sobre a fonte de recursos que abastecerá o Fundo Verde, o Grupo de Alto Nível em Financiamento de Mudanças Climáticas da ONU (AGF) elaborou um estudo apontando algumas alternativas, como a taxação de viagens internacionais no setor aéreo e de navegação, o que geraria potencialmente US$ 10 bilhões anuais. O setor, embora represente apenas 2% das emissões globais, é o que vem aumentando mais rapidamente sua fatia.

Apesar do clima de pessimismo que cerca o início da COP-16, em algumas áreas há chances reais de se chegar a algum acordo positivo. O anfitrião da convenção, o presidente mexicano Felipe Calderón, deposita todas as suas fichas na criação do REDD (Redução de Emissões por Desmatamento e Degradação). Iniciativas nessa área são consideradas ações de mitigação e, portanto, podem ser contempladas com recursos do Fundo Verde e do Fast Track Fund.

– Provavelmente o avanço mais importante que se fará em Cancún será em REDD, sobre as emissões florestais reguladas. Por isso me sinto otimista sobre este lado da equação – disse Calderón durante sua participação na última reunião do G-20, na Coreia do Sul.

O mecanismo, que inicialmente previa somente ações de combate ao desmatamento, ganhou um sobrenome: plus. Isso significou a inclusão de ações de conservação (como a criação de parques e reservas naturais) e técnicas de manejo florestal (nas quais madeira pode ser explorada de forma seletiva e ao longo de várias décadas para permitir a reposição das árvores cortadas). Segundo a pesquisadora do Instituto Alberto Luiz Coimbra de Pós-graduação e Pesquisa de Engenharia (Coppe) da UFRJ, Thelma Krug, as duas primeiras fases do REDD deverão ser implementadas ainda em Cancún.

A primeira fase diz respeito à preparação dos países ricos em floresta – como Brasil, Indonésia, Congo e Papua Nova Guiné – para monitorar o desmatamento. Nesta etapa, serão elaborados planos nacionais para reduzir o desflorestamento e montada uma rede para acompanhar os resultados. A capacitação de pessoal para trabalhar nessas atividades também é fundamental

A segunda fase prevê a implementação de projetos pilotos e o pagamento de serviços florestais. Em ambos os casos o Brasil dificilmente receberia recursos estrangeiros. Isso porque o país já possui um Plano Nacional para a Prevenção e Controle do Desmatamento da Amazônia e monitora por satélite a destruição do bioma há duas décadas.

– Acho que o Brasil não vai ver a cor desse dinheiro. Vai ser difícil convencer doadores a colocar recursos num país que já está conseguindo reduzir significativamente o desmatamento sozinho – pondera Thelma, uma das negociadoras brasileiras na convenção.

Por outro lado, os brasileiros têm muito a contribuir com os países mais atrasados. O governo assinou um acordo com a Organização das Nações Unidas para Agricultura e Alimentação (FAO) para transmitir tecnologia. Doadores pagarão para que técnicos de outros países venham aprender com os profissionais do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe) as ferramentas de monitoramento em tempo real. A primeira turma, de africanos, virá no início do próximo ano.

Além disso, há chances de ser criado um comitê para coordenar as ações de adaptação, aquelas voltadas para minimizar as consequências da mudança do clima. Um Fundo de Adaptação já está em vigor, com recursos do Mecanismo de Desenvolvimento Limpo (MDL) – pelo qual os países desenvolvidos podem cumprir suas metas de redução de emissões bancando, em nações pobres, projetos que resultem em menos emissões.

Dois temas, entretanto, deverão aquecer os debates da COP-16: o primeiro é o fortalecimento do Protocolo de Kyoto, documento assinado em 1997, e que prevê a fixação, por parte dos países ricos, de cortes mensuráveis de emissões. Caso não sejam definidas metas para um segundo período do protocolo, a partir de 2013, ele pode se tornar ineficaz. Isso vai ser um problema porque a União Europeia, por exemplo, fez leis com base no protocolo.

Assim como em Copenhague, o X da questão continua sendo os Estados Unidos, que são os maiores poluidores do planeta, mas não assinaram Kyoto. Uma lei estipulando o corte de 17% das emissões americanas até 2020 com relação às de 2005 está empacada no Congresso com poucas chances de ser aprovada. A Europa também começou a recuar quanto à adoção de metas significativas de corte de emissões. Segundo negociadores brasileiros, os europeus vêm fazendo o jogo dos americanos para esticar até 2012 o impasse sobre metas.

O segundo problema são as ações de mitigação a serem adotadas pelos países em desenvolvimento, as chamadas Namas (Ações de Mitigação Nacionalmente Adequadas). Embora os emergentes não sejam obrigados a se comprometer com metas, foi estabelecido na convenção que adotarão medidas voluntárias.

O embaraço, nesse caso, se dá no acompanhamento dessas ações. A maioria dos países só aceita o monitoramento internacional das ações financiadas por dinheiro estrangeiro. A China é a principal opositora à possibilidade de outros países interferirem em medidas que estão sendo adotadas em seu território.

(Catarina Alencastro, O Globo, 23/11/2010)

>Economia de baixo carbono trará riscos, diz economista (JC)

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JC e-mail 4142, de 23 de Novembro de 2010

Sergio Besserman falou a executivos em SP

O aquecimento global, na visão do economista Sergio Besserman, desenha um amplo horizonte de oportunidades de negócios – o problema está no outro lado da moeda. “Estamos falando de altíssimo risco”, disse na segunda-feira (22/11) a uma plateia de executivos de grandes empresas, em São Paulo. “Sofrerão os mais pobres, infelizmente, e os empresários”, prosseguiu. “Empresas vão nascer e morrer aos borbotões. Terão que se reinventar.”

Segundo ele, a transição para uma economia de baixo carbono “virá, é inevitável, só não se sabe quando.” É nesse caminho de incerteza que terão que ser feitas as apostas de negócios, continuou, durante palestra no seminário Mudanças Climáticas – O Papel das Empresas. “Estamos falando de mudar os paradigmas de consumo, da mais acelerada transformação tecnológica de toda a história da Humanidade, de mudar todas as estruturas da civilização calcada em combustíveis fósseis. Não será uma transição suave.” O desafio, disse, é o de reordenar o mundo.

Branca Americano, secretária nacional de Mudanças Climáticas do Ministério do Meio Ambiente falou sobre a próxima rodada de negociações do acordo climático, em Cancún, no México, a partir da segunda-feira. “Ficou claro que todo mundo tem medo deste monstro chamado acordo legalmente vinculante”, disse. “Os Estados Unidos não entram nele, a China também não. O jeito, então, será fazer avanços graduais.”

Branca lembrou que a conferência de Copenhague terminou com um “acordo fraco que criou um vácuo nas negociações.” A estratégia para Cancún, a CoP-16, é tentar acordar um pacote de decisões. Fala-se em adaptação, tecnologia, financiamento e Redd+, o mecanismo para redução de emissões de desmatamento e degradação.

Trata-se do primeiro passo para dar valor às florestas. É possível que seja aprovado o primeiro estágio para projetos do gênero. Para isto, países com florestas começariam a realizar inventários florestais, a conhecer suas florestas e seus estoques de carbono, a fazer monitoramento por satélite – um contexto já dominado pelo Brasil. “O carbono das florestas é um bem tangível. Tem que haver um reconhecimento sobre este valor”, diz.

Branca lançou a ideia de um “selo Brasil” para produtos de baixo carbono feitos em uma economia à base de energia renovável e limpa. Os empresários pareceram gostar da sugestão. “A marca Brasil pode ser interessante para todos”, disse Sergio Leão, diretor de sustentabilidade da Odebrecht.

(Daniela Chiaretti, Valor Econômico, 23/11/2010)

>Planeta passa longe de meta do clima (JC)

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JC e-mail 4142, de 23 de Novembro de 2010

Mesmo que todos os países cortem muito suas emissões de CO2, a Terra ainda aquecerá mais que 2ºC, diz ONU

Se tudo der certo e todos os países fizerem o máximo para conter emissões de carbono nos próximos anos, o mundo ainda estará longe de cumprir a meta de limitar o aquecimento global a 2ºC.

O quão longe acaba de ser calculado por um grupo internacional de cientistas: 5 bilhões de toneladas de gás carbônico estarão “sobrando” na atmosfera em 2020.

Ou seja, para cumprir o que se comprometeram a fazer na conferência do clima de Copenhague e evitar um possível aquecimento descontrolado da Terra, os países não apenas teriam de endurecer suas metas de corte de emissão como ainda precisariam desligar todo o sistema de transporte do globo.

O recado foi dado hoje pelo Pnuma (Programa das Nações Unidas para o Meio Ambiente), num relatório intitulado “The Emissions Gap” (“A Lacuna das Emissões”).

O documento será entregue em Helsinque à chefe da Convenção do Clima da ONU, Cristiana Figueres.

Seus autores passaram seis meses avaliando 223 cenários de emissões de CO2 construídos a partir das metas voluntárias de corte de carbono propostas por vários países no Acordo de Copenhague, o pífio documento que resultou da conferência.

O resumo da ópera é que, se a humanidade quiser ter 66% de chance de manter o aquecimento global abaixo de 2ºC no fim deste século, o nível global de emissões em 2020 terá de ser de 44 bilhões de toneladas de CO2 equivalente- ou seja, a soma de todos os gases-estufa “convertidos” no potencial de aquecimento do CO2.

Se nada for feito, as emissões podem chegar a 56 bilhões de toneladas em 2020. “Isso elimina a chance dos 2ºC, e pode nos colocar no caminho de 5ºC de aquecimento em 2100”, disse à Folha Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, pesquisadora da Coppe-UFRJ, uma das autoras do relatório.

A implementação estrita do acordo também não resolve: as emissões globais cairiam para 52 bilhões de toneladas, ainda uma China de distância da meta de 2ºC.

Por “implementação estrita” os pesquisadores querem dizer duas coisas. Primeiro, as nações estão contando duas vezes emissões cortadas na área florestal. Se um país pobre planta florestas para vender créditos de carbono a um país rico, a dedução deveria estar apenas na conta do país rico. Mas costuma estar na de ambos.

“Na própria lei brasileira do clima está escrito que as reduções de emissão podem ser obtidas por MDL [venda de créditos de carbono para nações ricas]”, diz Ribeiro.
Outro ponto espinhoso é a venda de créditos em excesso por países como a Rússia, cujas emissões já são menores que as metas de Kyoto. O país ficou com créditos sobrando.

Conta só fecha com sequestro de carbono

Para chegar mais perto do almejado teto de 2ºC no aquecimento global, os países terão de adotar o que o relatório chama de “cumprimento estrito de metas condicionais”.

Ou seja, das reduções que alguns países dizem que farão se outros fizerem- a UE, por exemplo, se compromete a passar de 20% para 30% de corte em relação a 1990 se os EUA também avançarem nas suas metas.

O “gap”, neste caso, seria de “apenas” 5 bilhões de toneladas.

Segundo Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, a única forma de fechar o buraco é aumentar não só a ambição, como também as chamadas “emissões negativas”, ou seja, o sequestro maciço de carbono para compensar emissões industriais e também de energia.

Ela vê nisso uma oportunidade para o Brasil, no setor de plásticos verdes (produzidos a partir de biomassa), por exemplo.

Apesar da mensagem desalentadora, a ONU deverá usar o documento para enxergar a metade cheia do copo: afinal, o cumprimento estrito dos compromissos deixaria o planeta com 60% do caminho andado para evitar o aquecimento exagerado.

(Claudio Ângelo, Folha de SP, 23/11/2010)

>How to beat the media in the climate street fight (Nature)

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Published online 3 November 2010 | Nature 468, 7 (2010)

Researchers must take a more aggressive approach to counter shoddy journalism and set the scientific record straight, says Simon L. Lewis.

Simon L. Lewis

When science hits the news, researchers often moan about the quality of the coverage. A sharp reminder of the issue rolls round this month — the anniversary of the global media frenzy over the release of e-mails from climate researchers at the University of East Anglia, UK. So what should scientists do when reporting quality falls off a cliff? Earlier this year, I was seriously misrepresented by a newspaper and thrown into a political storm. Rather than take it lying down, I set the record straight. It has been an odd journey, and I think there are lessons for how we scientists should deal with the media.

In January, the absurd claim from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 launched a hunt to find other exaggerated risks of climate change. A British blogger, Richard North, found an IPCC statement that part of the Amazon rainforest may be at risk from droughts, referenced to an environment group’s report, not the scientific literature. North dubbed it Amazongate, and told the world that the IPCC view “seems to be a complete fabrication”.

As a tropical-forest expert, I found my telephone ringing for three days. Journalists asked me to comment on the IPCC line that “up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation”. My short answer was that in context, the statement was broadly correct; but the wording was not careful, and the IPCC should have cited the primary literature. My comments were broadcast across the BBC, but for most news outlets it was a non-story.

The Sunday Times saw it differently. Its reporter, Jonathan Leake, asked both leading and genuinely inquisitive questions. I sent him scientific papers, and we discussed them. He agreed to read the finished piece to me over the telephone before publication. It stated, correctly, that the future of the Amazon is very uncertain, because the available data are limited. I was quietly pleased that I had ‘spun’ what I saw as a blogger’s anti-IPCC tirade into a story about the science. Yet I was wrong. The newspaper headline was “UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim”, and worse, I was the expert quoted to support it. The article had been completely rewritten, essentially parroting North’s blog, to include new quotes from me (genuine, but heavily edited and misleadingly taken out of context), and fabricated assertions about my views. An accompanying editorial called for the IPCC chairman to resign.

I was furious. Worse, the two conflicting versions of my views — on the BBC and in The Sunday Times — constituted a serious affront to my professional credibility. But what could I do? I added a comment under the online version of the article that my views were not accurately reported, and sent a letter for publication to The Sunday Times.

Weeks later the misleading article had been reproduced over 20,000 times on the Internet. My letter had been ignored and website comment deleted. Furthermore, my words and standing as an expert were being used by other newspapers to allege widespread corruption by IPCC scientists. As an Editorial on climate disinformation in this journal said at the time: “Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.” I needed to fight back.

“Closing the newspaper with a sigh is not enough.”

After advice from a friend in public relations and press officers at scientific organizations, I filed an official complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, the UK media watchdog. The commission could order the newspaper to print a correction, but would that happen and was it enough? I needed to make the complaint itself a story.

I contacted The Guardian newspaper, which published an article about my complaint. To reach the US audience, I handed the full complaint as an exclusive to perhaps the world’s most influential political climate-change blog, Joe Romm’s http://climateprogress.org.

For a scientist to take such an active media role was unorthodox, but it felt good. And it worked. It was widely recognized that the story was wrong and I had been badly treated. The New York Times featured me in a front-page article.

The Sunday Times offered to publish a single-line apology. I knew others had extracted greater concessions and kicked harder. It eventually agreed to remove the article from its website, and replace it with a formal correction and apology, also printed prominently in the newspaper. The retraction was reported around the world.

Environmental commentators hailed the apology as vindication for the IPCC (which it wasn’t quite, as its statements were not faultless). Climate sceptics launched a counter-attack by claiming that no apology was due because the IPCC statement was not perfect. But for me the storm had passed.

What lessons are there for scientists in politically charged areas who find themselves in a similar position? Do your research. What is the reporter’s track record? Anticipate that every sentence you say or write may be dissected and interpreted in the least charitable manner possible. And if things go wrong, seek advice from public-relations experts, and where necessary, media lawyers. In my experience, science-media professionals are almost as lost as scientists themselves, when dealing with topics as emotive as climate change.

The media dictate what most people know about contemporary scientific debates. Given the need for informed policy, scientists need to learn to better read and engage with this media landscape. Closing the newspaper with a sigh is not enough.

Simon L. Lewis is a Royal Society research fellow and reader in global change science at the University of Leeds. e-mail:s.l.lewis@leeds.ac.uk

>Time to Take Action on Climate Communication (Science)

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LETTERS

According to broad international agreement, a global warming increase beyond 2°C is unacceptable (1). Because of the physics of the climate system, we must ensure that global emissions of greenhouse gases peak and start to decline rapidly within a decade in order to have a reasonable chance of meeting the 2°C goal (2). Humankind has waffled and delayed for decades; further delay risks serious consequences for people and the ecosystems on which we rely.

Because the potential consequences of climate change are so high, the science community has an obligation to help people, organizations, and governments make informed decisions. Yet existing institutions are not well suited to this task. Therefore, we call for the science community to develop, implement, and sustain an independent initiative with a singular mandate: to actively and effectively share information about climate change risks and potential solutions with the public, particularly decision-makers in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Moreover, we call on philanthropic funding institutions to endorse and provide sustained support for the initiative.

The initiative must make concerted efforts to provide people, organizations, and governments with critical information, to address misperceptions, and to counter misinformation and deception. In doing so, it will have to overcome psychological and cultural barriers to learning and engagement (3–5).

The initiative should be judged against two critical outcomes: (i) improved understanding of risks and potential solutions by people, organizations, and governments, and (ii) more informed decision-making—and less avoidance of decision-making—about how to manage those risks. The initiative should be an embodiment of what Fischhoff calls “non-persuasive communication.” It should not advocate specific policy decisions; good decision-making involves weighing the best available information with the values of the decision-makers and those affected by the decisions.

The initiative should recruit a full range of climate scientists, decision scientists, and communication professionals into the effort (6, 7) to ensure both sound scientific information and effective communication. In addition, it should build bridges to other communities of experts—such as clergy, financial managers, business managers, and insurers—who help people, organizations, and governments assess and express their values. Scientists and nonscientists alike inevitably interpret climate science information in the context of other information and values; the initiative should mobilize experts who can facilitate appropriate and useful interpretations.

Despite the politically contentious nature of climate change policy, the initiative must be strictly nonpartisan. In the face of efforts to undermine public confidence in science, it must become a trusted broker of un biased information for people on all sides of the issue.

At this potentially critical moment for human civilization, it is imperative that people, organizations, and governments be given the resources they need to participate in constructive civic, commercial, and personal decision-making about climate change risks and solutions.

Thomas E. Bowman1,*, Edward Maibach2, Michael E. Mann3, Richard C. J. Somerville4, Barry J. Seltser5, Baruch Fischhoff6, Stephen M. Gardiner7, Robert J. Gould8, Anthony Leiserowitz9 and Gary Yohe10

1Climate Solutions Project, Bowman Global Change, Signal Hill, CA 90755, USA.
2Center for Climate Change Communication, Department of Communication, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA.
3Department of Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.
4Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.
5(Retired) U.S. Government Accountability Office, Washington, DC 20001, USA.
6Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.
7Department of Philosophy and Program on Values in Society, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
8Partnership for Prevention, Washington, DC 20036, USA.
9Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.
10Department of Economics and College of the Environment, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459, USA.
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: tom@bowmanglobalchange.com

REFERENCES

(1) Group of 8, “Responsible leadership for a sustainable future” (G8 Summit, L’Aquila, Italy, 2009).
(2) M. Meinshausenet al., Nature 458, 1158 (2009). CrossRefMedlineWeb of Science
(3) National Research Council, Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program: Methods and Preliminary Results (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2007).
(4) National Research Council, Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2009).
(5) National Research Council, Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2010).
(6) B. Fischhoff, Environ. Sci. Technol. Online 41, 7207 (2007).
(7) T. E. Bowman, E. Maibach, M. E. Mann, S. C. Moser, R. C. J. Somerville, Science 324, 36-b (2009).

>The Economy Is Not Coming Back

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by Gilles d’Aymery

Part I: A Short History of the Maelstrom

(Swans – September 20, 2010) Another mid-term election is looming in the United States. Next November, the electorate will choose the political team that in the midst of a recession and widely-held fears about the future will carry the day. One side will win. It matters not though, because neither of the two contesting political parties is willing to face reality: The U.S. is not in a so-called great recession. It is in a latent depression. What has stopped it from becoming a full-fledged depression has been the willingness of the elites, both under the Bush II and Obama administrations, to resort to age-old Keynesian policies to stem the hemorrhage — soup kitchen lines have so far been substituted by government checks in the mail. Some argue that governments’ actions have not been enough to stem the recessionary times. Others claim that too much has been done, and time has come to cut spending and taxes in order to let the economy run to its natural ever-growing self. Again, it matters not, whatever position is taken. Do or don’t, the economy is not coming back, and it should not. The Republican plan to cut spending (an age-old endeavor) will only bring more pain and social devastation. The Democratic plan to pump up the economy through deficit spending will only delay the actuality that the bind we all are in is a Catch-22. The economy that we have been used to in the past half-century is simply not going to come back. This three-part analysis will attempt to show the historical making of the dire and deepening crisis we all face, then try to demonstrate why the past paradigm won’t and shouldn’t come back, and end with a few suggestions that hopefully will lead to a future that is not predicated on the dead end the few want the many to embrace.

To fully grasp the extent of the current crisis one needs to take a short and much abridged walk through history. Human relationships have long been a story of antagonisms among the haves and the have-nots. In the feudalism era sharecroppers and peasants were peons of landowners and the divine royalties. The rise of the entrepreneurial class with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and capitalism led to a (often violent) change in leadership. The bourgeoisie overthrew the old order and the working masses migrated from the land to the mines and the factories and the shipyards, etc. Working conditions were execrable and the exploitation of the laborers was so prevalent (1) that they benefited the happy few and led to la belle époque, the Gilded Age, for the moneyed class whose rate of profits was very high and to labor demands for more equitable sharing of the created wealth and humane working conditions — demands that were met with recurring violent and bloody repressions. The class struggles, which can be defined in layman’s terms as profits for the few vs. the well being of the many (and private property vs. collective ownership), became the order of the era, increasingly influenced by political economists and philosophers. (2) The 1917 Russian Revolution threatened the moneyed class more than ever even though their hold on power with its resulting excesses in the accumulation of wealth could not be tamed until the Great Depression hit. In its wake, reformists like FDR and socialist parties in Europe cut their feathers substantially. Progressive taxation on income, estate, and capital was put in place; salaries among the wealthiest and the average workers trimmed from a ratio of about 400:1 to 30:1; social programs instituted… It must be remembered that workers’ rights, unions, public education, health care, Social Security, public services, women’s rights, civil rights, secular regimes, etc., are all a legacy of the left, which shed so much blood and tears to achieve these gains (even though the record ought to be tempered by the same left’s avocation of the “civilizing mission” in far away lands — i.e., colonialism). Nonetheless, the moneyed class became so worried about the loss of their privileges and the spread of socialist ideas that they, in Europe and in the U.S., supported Mussolini’s Fascism and Hitler’s National Socialism until well into World War Two when Hitler, instead of focusing on their interests — the destruction of the Soviet Union and communist expansion in Europe — launched an attack on their own countries and interests.

In 1945, Europe lay in ruins, its infrastructure and industries devastated, its people impoverished, lacking food and services (like electricity and water). Communist parties, particularly in France and Italy, gained strong traction and the influence of the Soviet Union loomed large. Threatened by the advance of leftist ideas, the powers-that-be chose to join them half way. Western elites devised a reconstruction plan based on Keynesian-Fordism — state control and planning of the economy to varying degrees, mass post-Taylorism production, progressive taxation, collective bargaining through strong unions, and the transfer of gains in productivity to the salaried work force in the form of higher wages, which greased the wheel of demand for industrial production. The USA was an intimate participant in that process through the European Recovery Program (the Marshall Plan) passed by Congress in 1947, which was motivated by three objectives: First, to create new markets for American products (the U.S. was producing 55% of worldwide manufactured products in 1945 and feared a potential domestic recession could happen if new markets were not developed). Second, to neutralize and work against the growing influence of the Soviet Union and the Communist parties in Western Europe. Third, an altruistic desire to alleviate the dire conditions Europeans faced…which could lead to social unrest and bring on political developments that its second objective aimed to prevent (American idealism has always been mated with a heavy dose of pragmatic self-interest).

That political-economic plan was apt enough to generate what has been known, with some exaggeration as facts show, (3) by Jean Fourastié’s famous saying: les trente glorieuses (the “thirty glorious years”). By the late 1960s, Keynesian-Fordism was running out of steam and in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis stagflation became the order of the day. In the atmosphere of malaise that took over the Western world, long-time opponents of Keynesian-Fordism found ready followers. Free-market evangelists like the classical liberals Friedrich Hayek, the author of The Road to Serfdom (Routledge, 1944), Milton Friedman of the Chicago School of Economics, the Randian Ludwig von Mises, and others (Karl Popper comes to mind) (4) became the intellectual force behind post-Fordist globalization (5) as they advocated their ideology — low taxes, small government with minimal interference in the economy, little regulations if any, no redistributive policies that could lead to any kind of entitlements, individualism, free will, etc. By the early 1970s Keynesian-Fordism had by and large been nailed into the dustbin of history. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher became the British prime minister, and in 1981, Ronald Reagan the president of the United States.

Frédéric Lordon, a French economist and research director at the National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS) has called this historical reactionary watershed the reconquista of the moneyed class. (6) It must be noted that during that period — approximately 1965-1975 — the national corporations that were answering to and constrained by their respective governments turned into transnational entities (what was then called multinationals). Their allegiance was increasingly answering to the interests of their shareholders and no longer to the political whim or the demands of their workers. Coupled with the internationalization of the financial services, the moneyed class, les possédants (“those who possess”) as Lordon calls them, were now in a position to blackmail the political class — besides, concurrently, bribing it through campaign contributions. “If you do not lower our taxes we can move our headquarters to another country,” threatened the managerial class, adding, “if you do not allow working flexibility and deregulate industry, we’ll relocalize in more favorable climates.” Finally, they concluded in a crescendo, “you politicians have to get rid or substantially lower social services, those dreaded entitlements.”

Bought politicians and heedless governments relented. The age of detaxation and deregulation had begun in earnest. Taxes were smashed; (7) regulations were lessened; working flexibility — a neutral expression to mean the contraction of wages and hiring/firing at will — was instituted, and trade unions weakened. As Lordon reminds us, the goal was to starve the beast but the beast (the workers) was not willing to starve and kept fighting heartedly for the rights gained over a century of blood and tears. The result: public debt. What taxes did not finance any longer was substituted by national debt. Wealth was being transferred from the whole to the few though a simple mechanism — financial gains for the few, debt for the many.

How could the masses get on board with this scheme? It had little to do with the so-called unsophisticated and uneducated masses (the Mises/Rand paradigm) — though disinformation has been a part of the tragedy. Of late, a few mainstream economists and commentators (e.g., Robert Reich, Paul Krugman, Michael Hudson, Bob Herbert, et al.) have documented that wages have been remaining flat for about forty years (8) while, writes Reich, “In the late 1970s, the richest 1 percent of American families took in about 9 percent of the nation’s total income; by 2007, the top 1 percent took in 23.5 percent of total income.” (9) The facts are slowly seeping out. Yet, they appear to have not reached the consciousness of the overwhelming majority of the people. Why? Of course, there have been relentless PR campaigns vaunting trickle-down economics, the rising tide lifting all boats, the influence of the Laffer curve on the partisans of supply-side economists, and all other shibboleth lines, for example “freedom” and “greed is good.” But objective socioeconomic conditions have been in play, which served to hide reality from reaching consciousness.

What happened can be seen in how the American elites handled the reconquista. Let’s take a look at it in the United States. First, as Reich states, “women streamed into the paid work force. By the late 1990s, more than 60 percent of mothers with young children worked outside the home (in 1966, only 24 percent did).” Second, people started to work longer hours. However, these two factors were not enough to keep households ahead, and the elites were fully aware that a discontented populace tends to translate into social unrest. So, a devilishly smart scheme was devised, based on credit and real estate.

After a long decline that began in the mid 1960s the rate of profits bottomed out in the early 1980s before ascending again (see note #3), a result of stagnating wages and therefore wealth transfer to the rich. Yet, the economy was in recession with high inflation and unemployment (the latter reaching 10.8% in December 1982). The inflation was eventually tamed through the drastic policies enacted by the Fed under the chairmanship of Paul Volcker, which benefited creditors; further tax cuts were passed (1984 and ’87), which benefited the wealthy; and access to credit was vastly expanded, which permitted the vast majority of households to keep afloat — for a while. Credit cards multiplied like enzymes (10) as did consumer credits. Everything could be purchased on credit (vehicles, home appliances, students’ fees, etc.). Private debts skyrocketed. Still, it was not enough to keep the economy growing. Policies to help the value of real estate rising indefinitely and home ownership enlarged were deliberately put in place by both Republican and Democrat administrations. These policies can be traced back to the New Deal, but were widely expanded from the 1970s onward. Home ownership as part of economic security and the realization of the American Dream became the major engine of the economy. It was achieved through a mix of fiscal and monetary policies (11) and access to easy credit guaranteed and securitized by Government Sponsored Enterprises — the best known being Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — and governmental agencies such as the Federal Housing Administration, which is a part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and others (e.g. Ginnie Mae). These policies became increasingly financially “sophisticated” under the stewardship of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. (12) The end result has been exceptional, that is, out of the ordinary: The value of real estate in the USA has risen spectacularly for four decades (except for a short and slight downturn in the early 1990s) with returns on investment superior to those of financial services (13) — until the proverbial feces hit the fan in a combination of a series of perfect storms.

Let’s recapitulate this short history with a graphical helping hand.

Forty years of socioeconomic trends in the U.S. (14)

This graphic, developed in-house and certainly imperfect (for instance, it does not take into account the war economy that has been so dominant since WWII), brings together the various socioeconomic developments that have taken place in the U.S. and have led to the perfect multiple storms and the resulting wreckage to the world that will remain with us for years — if not decades. The olive line at the bottom illustrates how wages, after steadily rising in the wake of WWII, have remained flat. The green line shows how taxes have abruptly been reduced for the benefit of the wealthy, which, in turn, have raised public debt (the pink line) as conflicting interests could not allow the slashing of social services and thus forced the moneyed class and its political companions (often the same crowd) to delay — not forsake — “starving of the beast,” which they have relentlessly tried to accomplish for decades. (15) For the majority — at least 80% of the American people — the loss in wages was compensated by cheap credit and plastic debt (the red line), and since it was not enough to keep up with the Joneses and the PR, the very last recourse was to gamble on the rise of value in real estate (the blue line). Equity loans were taken out in abandon; mortgages refinanced not just once, but twice or more, in the belief that the value of property would keep rising forever. Much of the raised funds were spent on consumer products, vacations in exotic places, instant gratification, etc. A few borrowers attended to their children’s needs — the college tuitions that are bringing graduates to become debt peons even before they have entered productive life. Reich noted that “from 2002 to 2007, American households extracted $2.3 trillion from their homes.” Money was of no concern. It grew on trees. One president advocated going to Disneyland and driving to the mall and to shop. A vice president asserted that deficits didn’t matter. Any dissenter or skeptical observer was tagged un-American, thus ignored. Life was good, asserted the masters of the universe. People heard and wanted to believe the message and acted accordingly.

Sometime in 2005 cracks began to appear on Main Street. Households had maxed out their credit lines. The great wealth creation, it turned out, had been borrowed. The financial sector began to notice an increase in consumer defaults in 2006, which started to put a squeeze on their balance sheets. The burgeoning crisis moved to Wall Street. The meltdown took off in earnest with the Bear Sterns collapse in March 2008 and the FDIC seizure of IndyMac in July 2008. By the fourth quarter of that same year, Lehman Brothers was no more, AIG had to be rescued, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac taken over by the government, and the financial sector had to be bailed out through the Troubled Asset Relief Program and huge interventions by the Fed. By then the crisis had spread to the entire world. Economic activity came to a screeching halt and business embarked on an abrupt deleveraging of its work force, thus compounding the damage done to the economy. The latent depression was in full force. It carries on to this very day.

The consequence can be seen, for anyone who is not blindly following a dismal ideology, that for decades le beau monde has peddled over the voices of reason — and still does to this very day — arguing that laissez-faire would bring heaven to earth. The result is here for all to see. Many will ask for more of the same in the name of sheer ignorance and emotional convictions based on an ideology they do not master, to the benefit of a class to which they do not belong — not even considering the ecological bind that will bring us all to the realization that a paradigm change is not only required but needed if the survival of all species is a desired and chosen outcome.

Notes
1.  For an example among many, see the 1850 internal regulations of a company located in Chaumont, France.  (back)
2.  To cite but a few: Saint-Simon, Fourier, Proudhon, Owen, Engels, Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg, etc.  (back)
3.  The model began to fall apart in the early 1960s when the rate of profit flattened before taking a plunge until the early 1980s — a fact that is largely ignored by mainstream economists. For more on this topic, see “The causes of the post-war economic boom,” International Review,October 29, 2008. The rate of profit and the dynamic of capital accumulation in capitalism are best understood and explained by people who are rooted in the Marxist tradition and knowledgeable enough to make sense of them — a tradition and knowledge this author regrettably does not possess.  (back)
4.  George Soros’s hero, Karl Popper, was one of the founders in 1947 of the Mont Pelerin Society, a society that advocates classical liberalism. Other founders included Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and George Stigler.  (back)
5.  For a more extended review of this topic, please see “Flexible Relations and Post-Fordist Globalization,” by Taimur Rahman, chowk.com, April 23, 2003.  (back)
6.  “La dette publique, ou la reconquista des possédants,” by Frédéric Lordon, Blog of Le Monde Diplomatique, May 26, 2010. For readers who can read French, this is the clearest exposé of events that have taken place in the past 40 years, which have decimated the masses for the benefits of the few. Lordon is to my knowledge the only economist that has been able to undertake a serious contextual analysis with an impressive sense of humor. Highly recommended.  (back)
7.  The trend toward lower taxes began earlier in the U.S. under the Kennedy administration. In 1963, Kennedy proposed a plan to lower income taxes across the board. The plan was passed in 1964 by the Johnson administration. All marginal tax rates were cut, the top one from 91% to 77%., then 70% in 1965, 50% in 1982, 38.5% in 1987, 28% in 1988, up to 31% in 1991, 39.6% in 1993, and 35% in 2003. See U.S. Federal Individual Income Tax Rates History, 1913-2010 at the Web site of the Tax Foundation.  (back)
8.  They actually have contracted. The latest Census data shows that “the median household income fell 0.7% to $49,777 in 2009, down 4.2% since 2007, when the recession started.”  (back)
9.  “How to End the Great Recession,” by Robert Reich, The New York Times, September 2, 2010.  (back)
10.  “Between 1989 and 2006, the nation’s total credit card charges increased from about $69 billion a year to more than $1.8 trillion.” Seecreditcards.com for broad statistics on credit cards.  (back)
11.  With inflation kept in check due to downward pressures on wages and the growing import of ever-cheaper consumer products, the Fed has been able to keep the federal funds rate low, slashing it even more in times of recession (e.g., 1975, 1982, 1989, 2001, 2007) — see Fed Ratesand the actions taken by the Federal Open Market Committee.

Fiscal policies include the full deduction of interests paid on mortgages, and an entire panoply of tax credits that are offered to home buyers in various circumstances (first-time buyers, etc.).  (back)

12.  See “Bill Clinton’s drive to increase homeownership went way too far,” by Peter Coy, Business Week, February 27, 2008, and the remarks on homeownership by George W. Bush at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, June 18, 2002 (i.e., in the midst of a recession).  (back)
13.  For a very detailed analysis of the crisis in the U.S., I highly recommend the work of Onubre Einz published at criseusa.blog.lemonde.fr on the Web site of Le Monde. Regarding real estate policies, consumerism, private and public debts, and wages, please refer to “Faut-il dégrader la dette souveraine des USA ou des Trois Krash financiers?“, March 21, 2010. Einz’s research and analysis are quite comprehensive and comprehensible, even for people who have no economic background. His work would certainly deserve to be translated in English.  (back)
14.  This graph, developed by the author, is only an approximate representation of five trends that have taken place in the USA in the last 40 years. It is statistically researched but not statistically formulated — and the author does not profess to be a graphic designer! It is an aperçu of an historical period.  (back)
15.  Note that public debt began to explode under the Reagan administration and has grown even further after the public bailout of private financial interests (TARP). Note too that the debt grew commensurably with the tax cuts showered upon the wealthy, those people who needed those “breaks” the least.  (back)

Part II: The Reasons it Won’t

(Swans – October 18, 2010) The thinking in some quarters where so-called “experts” abound is that the road to recovery and the creation of much needed jobs ought to be driven by demand. Consumption spending, goes that thinking, will lead businesses to invest in productive assets, banks to lend again, and bring the unemployed masses back into the workforce. Since the private sector is unable or unwilling to do its part, it is then up to the government to pick up the tab and stimulate the economy. As an economic mini-commentator has put it, “[G]overnment spending must increase to make up for the slack in demand and reduce unemployment. That means larger budget deficits until households have patched their balance sheets and can spend again at pre-crisis levels.” (1) This is a perfectly reasonable Keynesian methodology that has worked in times past. However, it misses the fact that the economic crisis is the result of both over-production — a tremendous overhang of productive assets — and over-consumption fueled by cheap credit and ballooned household debt, compounded by the shenanigans of the financial sector (2) orchestrated at the highest levels of political power by “brilliant” men. (3) It also misses the point that this crisis is the “mother of all crises.” It has hit production, consumption, public and private debts, ecological disasters, all in the midst of a financial system that remains in shambles, as Raghuram Rajan clearly explains in an October 12, 2010, Der Spiegel interview. (4)

In the wake of these tsunamis, the Federal Reserve (Fed) and the US Treasury went to work and injected trillions of dollars in the financial sector through monetary and fiscal policies and in Main Street through an economic stimulus. Although some economists argue that the Obama stimulus package ($850 billion-plus) has been insufficient as it did not match the output gap — that it was, in the words of Larry Summers, only a tool to avoid “catastrophic failure” (real, deep, 1930s-like Depression), a sort of “insurance package” — these policies have served their purpose. Deep depression has so far been forestalled and unemployment kept in check, albeit at a hidden increasing rate. But recovery has not taken place. Why? And why won’t it?
As stated in Part I, the U.S. is in a latent depression. No public stimulus or austerity measures can overlook or change the actualities. The system is in a bind.

First of all, the country is crippled by a staggering amount of household debt. According to the Fed, household debt amounted to almost $14 trillion in the second quarter of 2010, only $200 billion less than a year ago. Credit card liabilities declined to $832 billion from $915 billion for the same period, largely the result of bank write-offs (known as charge-offs).Defaulters, of course, lose their credit rating and won’t be able to borrow in the future, except at usurious rates. (Some homeowners stopped paying their mortgage in order to pay their revolving debts.) (5) Total student loan debt is a mere $830 billion. (“The cost of a college education has risen, in real dollars, by 250 to 300 percent over the past three decades,” according to Christopher Shea of The Boston Globe.) (6)

Secondly, these debts have been compounded by the residential real estate crash — the mother of all bubbles — in which some $8 trillion in equity have vanished. Median house prices have dropped between 20 and 30 percent (and even more in some states like Florida and California). Over six million households have already lost their homes to foreclosure. Another 4.2 million are in or near foreclosure. At the peak of the market in 2006, 69 percent of Americans “owned” (through their lenders) a home. It is now down to 65 percent, and notwithstanding the recent foreclosure moratorium there may be over 3 million other homes lost in the next couple of years. Which means that there is a huge oversupply of houses on the market. Note that this situation has a direct impact on job creation since people, unable to sell their homes without bearing a substantial loss, can hardly relocate (even if they could get a job elsewhere). In other words, the work force has lost its mobility due to the real estate freeze. Add to this dire state of affairs the soaring commercial vacancies (and defaults) that has also led to a huge oversupply of office buildings and stores, and it then becomes quite understandable that the construction sector, the major engine of the US economy, is going to remain in the doldrums for years to come. (7)

So, the U.S. is confronted with both an overhang of debt and an oversupply of depreciated or idle assets (which includes not only construction, but many other sectors, especially in transportation).

Thirdly, the country is also confronted with the Baby-Boom Generation that will begin retiring next year. According to Wikipedia, “The United States Census Bureau considers a baby boomer to be someone born during the demographic birth boom between 1946 and 1964.” That’s about seventy-six million people or close to 25 percent of the population. Over 4 million will be retiring every year until 2030. The boomer generation is also known as the spending generation. Boomers have kept the consuming pedal to the floor for the past 40 years, and, but for a minority, are utterly unprepared for retirement, many depending on their home equity (and Social Security) to make ends meet, and seeing that equity melt like an Alpine glacier. The few that managed to save see those savings being quickly eroded by the monetary policies enacted by the Fed (near-zero interest rates, rampant inflation that most probably will increase in the future due to, again, deliberate Fed actions). Older people do naturally spend less — except in health care — but older people who have lost a big chunk of their assets (both in equity and in cash) have to become by necessity a thrifty lot. Their spending is not coming back and there are no new spenders to replace them.

Fourthly, any increase in consumption spending directly leads to a rise in the US trade deficit, which for 2010 may reach $500 billion. (8) While about 47 percent of US importations are what is called “related party trading” — that is, US-funded companies that have moved their manufacturing facilities to low-wage countries and repatriated their vast profits for the benefit of their shareholders — imports have only a marginally positive effect on domestic employment (a few high-end engineering and some low-paid retail jobs), (9) except for dock workers and transportation. Simply put, foreign trade is not going to boost the economy. Manufacturing, or “reindustrialization” — that fetish of politicians and unions — won’t do the trick either, because as Jagdish Bhagwati, a professor of economics and law at Columbia University, has shown, “There is no proof that economic health depends on manufacturing.” The issue is nonetheless moot, for the manufacturing jobs that have been “relocalized” over the years will not come back anytime soon. Why would anyone want to pay, say, $1,000 for an iPod made in America with a tiny profit margin for Apple, when one can get the same device made in China for a fraction of the price (and a huge profit margin for Apple)? A manufacturing facility would be built in the U.S. and workers hired, but the device would no longer be affordable — a self-defeating proposition that would lead inevitably to layoffs and plant closing. One cannot escape the logic and the contradictions of the system — call it capitalistic or not.

One could throw into the mix the continued contraction of wages, which certainly won’t help consumers increase their spending, and the massive upsurge in government anti-poverty programs, (10) but enough depressing news for today!

To recap: Evident over-production and over-supplies worldwide, a crippling US-led debt burden, trade imbalances that may well turn into proactive protectionist policies (i.e., trade wars), an entire generation drifting toward graveyards (not just in the U.S.), unable to spend any longer, manufacturing dreams that cannot be realized as people are willing to work pennies on the dollar to desperately dig their way out of poverty, and a dearth of intellectual knowledge are not going to bring the economy back to what it should not have been in the first place.

However, since the USA is a gambling nation par excellence (and history), it appears that the elites are going to do a double-down bet.

Ben Bernanke, a so-called “expert” on the Great Depression and head of the Fed, who has been wrong every step of the way, (11) intends to further monetize the federal debt through a second round of quantitative easing. He may also recommend a more direct injection of liquidity targeted to consumers through a suspension of the payroll tax. Meanwhile, in an effort to help American exports (and weaken the exports of European competitors and emerging countries), he keeps weakening the dollar — an action that is creating new distortions in the global economy as Raghuram Rajan explains in theDer Spiegel interview, and could turn into an ugly global currency war and lead to a world of beggar-thy-neighbour policy.(12) (The US Congress, quick to blame China for America’s ills, is calling for the imposition of tariffs on Chinese products.)
As made plain above, American consumers who have kept the world economy growing through their irresponsible credit binge are not going to “spend again at pre-crisis levels” for a long time, if ever. They simply cannot afford the game anymore. No one can, and no one should. There are externalities that are much larger than daily life. Pre-crisis spending should be dwarfed in light of the ecological disasters humanity faces.

Notes

1. “Red Flags for the Economy”, by Mike Whitney, CounterPunch, July 6, 2010. (back)

2. The theoretical analysis by John Bellamy Foster on how money got disconnected from productive endeavors, and how the financial sector ended accounting for 40 percent of profits in the U.S. explains in great details this point. See, “The Financialization of Accumulation,” Monthly Review, October 2010. (back)

3. One sterling example is Larry Summers, who oversaw the repeal of Glass-Steagall, successfully helped engineer the deregulation of financial markets, blocked all attempts to regulate derivatives, etc. In 1999, Summers was a member of the triumvirate with Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan known as the “Committee that Saved the World” — neoliberal ideologues that have consistently been proven wrong and are directly responsible for the long-term socio-economic crisis that will carry on for many years. See Professor Bill Mitchell (University of Newcastle, NSW Australia) December 2009 blog entry “Being shamed and disgraced is not enough” for a pertinent analysis of their exploits. Mitchell cites Ayn Rand saying in 1959, “I am opposed to all forms of control. I am for an absolute laissez fair free unregulated economy. Let me put it briefly I am for the separation of state and economics.” (back)

4. Raghuram Rajan, currently an economics professor at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, used to be Economic Counsellor and Director of the IMF’s Research Department Financial Markets, Financial Fragility, and Central Banking (September 2003 – January 2007). On August 27, 2005, Rajan delivered a speech at A Symposium Sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, entitled, “The Greenspan Era: Lessons for the Future.” In that speech, which at this writing remains posted on the IMF Web site, Rajan warned in very diplomatic terms of the looming dangers of “a catastrophic financial crisis” and called for what he modestly called “Prudential supervision” of the financial sector. According to Charles Ferguson, the director and producer of the recently released documentary Inside Job, “When Rajan finished speaking, Summers rose up from the audience and attacked him, calling him a ‘Luddite,’ dismissing his concerns, and warning that increased regulation would reduce the productivity of the financial sector. (Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, and Alan Greenspan were also in the audience.)” — see “Larry Summers and the Subversion of Economics,” in The Chronicle Review,October 3, 2010. (back)

5. See “Bank Losses Lead to Drop in Credit Card Debt,” by Christine Hauser, The New York Times, September 24, 2010.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/25/business/25credit.html (back)

6. Christopher Shea: “The End of Tenure?” The New York Times Book Review, September 5, 2010, p.27. (back)

7. One could make the case that a means t o resolve the housing crisis would be to actually bulldoze all vacant homes and building development. It would create jobs in the short term for hordes of demolition crews and then, once the swamp is sanitized, construction workers would start building again — the good old creative destruction paradigm. Problem is that the banks would go the way of the Dodo and the Masters of the Universe tends to shy away from their own demise. (back)

8. As an example: This household had to rebuild a rotten deck from scratch: The pressure-treated wood and plywood came from Canada. The stainless steel screws (2,400 of them!) were made in Thailand. Only the composite boards (Trex) were made in the U.S. We also bought a LCD/DVD TV combo (a Toshiba 19″), which was made in Thailand. A small adjustable gate to keep the dogs on the deck was made in China, and four pair of socks were made in South Korea. One would think that a clay “Superstone” covered baker (to bake bread) by “Sassafras” — a small business located in Chicago — would have come from either Italy or France, but one would be wrong. It was made in Taiwan. We also had to put in place a new leach field for our recurring clogged septic tank. Here, at least, our hardship benefited the US economy, as the needed rocks and labor originated locally, though the pipes and the contractor’s backhoe may well have been manufactured abroad. (back)

9. For further exploration on the topic of trade (and manufacturing), see Bill Mitchell’s blog entry “What you consume or what you produce?”in which he refers to a 2009 UC Irvine study that examined the pros and cons of manufacturing Apple’s iPods in China, and found that “the iPod supports nearly twice as many jobs offshore as in the U.S., yet wages paid in the U.S. are over twice as much as those paid overseas.” (back)

10. Excerpted from “Record number in government anti-poverty programs,” by Richard Wolf, USA TODAY, August 31, 2010: More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, up 17 percent since December 2007. More than 40 million people get food stamps, up almost 50 percent in the same period. More than 4.4 million people are on welfare, an 18 percent increase. Close to 10 million receive unemployment insurance. Unemployment insurance trust funds in 30 states are insolvent. (back)

11. To grasp Bernanke’s real “expertise,” one has to only read the comments he made in 2005 and 2006:

July 1, 2005: Bernanke: “We’ve never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis. So, what I think what is more likely is that house prices will slow, maybe stabilize, might slow consumption spending a bit. I don’t think it’s going to drive the economy too far from its full employment path, though.” (We did have an actual decline in house prices in the early 1990s.)

February 15, 2006: Bernanke: “Housing markets are cooling a bit. Our expectation is that the decline in activity or the slowing in activity will be moderate, that house prices will probably continue to rise.” (The housing market was beginning to implode at the very time Bernanke made this statement…) (back)
12. Brazil’s finance minister Guido Mantega recently said, “We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.” See “Currencies clash in new age of beggar-my-neighbour,” by Martin Wolf, The Financial Times, September 28, 2010. (Free registration required.) (back)

Part III: The Reasons it Shouldn’t

“This meeting is part of the world’s efforts to address a very simple fact — we are destroying life on Earth.”

—Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program, Nagoya, Japan, October 18, 2010

“We are nearing a tipping point, or the point of no return for biodiversity loss. Unless proactive steps are taken for biodiversity, there is a risk that we will surpass that point in the next 10 years.”

—Ryu Matsumoto, Japanese Environment Minister, Nagoya, Japan, October 18, 2010 (1)

(Swans – November 15, 2010) The first part of this long essay presented an abridged history of the road to the current deep socioeconomic crisis that some observers had predicted, even though no one could pinpoint the exact timing of the implosion. The second part submitted that there are objective factors that explain why the economy is not going “to come back” any time soon. But, more importantly, profound and intensifying environmental and ecological crises militate in favor of not having the economy revert to the shape and form it had. Some of these crises are the object of this third part. In short, to return to business as usual will lead to collective suicide, which Mother Nature will trigger in the not so distant future.

According to the WWF (2) 2010 Living Planet Report, “human demand outstrips nature’s supply.” “In 2007,” the report states, “humanity’s Footprint exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity by 50%.” The Global Footprint Network (GFN) has calculated that on August 21, 2010, the world reached Earth Overshoot Day — that is, “the day of the year in which human demand on the biosphere exceeds what it can regenerate.” As GFN president Mathis Wackernagel stated: “If you spent your entire annual income in nine months, you would probably be extremely concerned. The situation is no less dire when it comes to our ecological budget. Climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, water and food shortages are all clear signs: We can no longer finance our consumption on credit. Nature is foreclosing.” Though these environmental organizations are promoting policies that are essentially based on demographic and increasingly economic Malthusianism — independent researcher Michael Barker has written in-depth analyses, particularly in regard to the WWF, in these pages (3) — they do acknowledge the gravity of the situation. As the WWF report states, “An overshoot of 50% means it would take 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the renewable resources that people used in 2007 and absorb CO2 waste. … CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are far more than ecosystems can absorb.” In other words, the world, or to be more precise, some parts of the world, over-produces and over-consumes natural resources that are being depleted at an exponential rate. That’s the main reason for not having US (and other rich nations’) households “spend again at pre-crisis levels.” (4) The socioeconomic paradigm built on capital accumulation, perpetual material growth, and financial profits for the infinitesimal few must be not just overhauled but buried, and replaced by an equitable new arrangement that takes into account all natural ecosystems.

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels have been feeding the materialistic economic paradigm, whether under capitalism or socialism, since the early 1800s. Their use increased moderately between 1850 and 1950, thereafter shooting up like a rocket. (5)

According to the US Energy Information Administration, “in 2007 primary sources of energy consisted of petroleum 36.0%, coal 27.4%, natural gas 23.0%, amounting to an 86.4% share for fossil fuels in primary energy consumption in the world.” Today, worldwide transportation depends on oil for 90 percent of its needs. There is not one sector of the economy that is independent of fossil fuels. From 1990 to 2008 the global consumption of fossil fuels has increased as follows: oil: 25 percent, with a stabilization since the beginning of the economic crisis; coal: 48 percent; and natural gas: 54 percent. (6)

With these few facts in mind, where does the world stand in regard to fossil fuels?

Petroleum

Since the beginning of the current latent depression, as oil consumption has flattened or slightly decreased, the topic of peak oil has by and large disappeared in the mainstream media. Were it not for the Blogosphere (7) that keeps bringing facts of oil depletion to the fore, one would believe that everything is fine and dandy — and, anyway, the alarmists are deemed radicals (right or left) and as such are discounted. However, what to make of Charles Maxwell, a senior energy analyst at Weeden & Co. — certainly not a “radical” — who has written and talked extensively about The Gathering Storm? (8)

Or what about Robert Hirsch? Swans readers may recall Hirsch’s 2005 report “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management” that was highlighted on January 29, 2007, in the dossier, “Energy Resources And Our Future,” by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. In that report, Hirsch, an oilman par excellence, showed the dire challenges the world faces and how to possibly mitigate them. What happened to that report is best explained by Hirsch himself, which he did in a potent interview (in English) with the French Le Monde on September 16, 2010 (the report was shelved by both the Bush and Obama administrations).

Still, Hirsch remains adamant. In The Impending World Energy Mess, co-authored with Roger Bezdek and Robert Wendling (Apogee Prime, October 2010), Hirsch makes the case that oil production is on the decline; that no quick fixes are available; and that societal priorities will have to change drastically.

The research done by the British Chatham House, the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security, the German military analysis, and other US military reports, like the “2010 Joint Operating Environment” (pdf) shows that oil-consuming countries are bracing themselves for the decline of oil and the risks of conflicts it will engender. But for a few scientists supported and financed by energy conglomerates and pro-growth lobbies, the scientific community has by and large reached the conclusion that the decline of oil was not reversible — a conclusion reached as early as 1998 by the Paris-based International Energy Agency though this crucial information was left out of its annual World Energy Outlook report under pressure from powerful players. (9) Keep in mind that peak oil does not mean the end of oil, as some doomsayers claim. It denotes the end of cheap oil on the one hand and on the other the physical (and economic) inability to find new reserves proportionately to the oil being consumed.

Peak oil deniers and advocates of abiogenic oil need to ponder why oil companies take so many risks to hunt for oil deep in the seas for poor and marginal results in oil supplies, all the while causing recurring ecological disasters, or engage in such environmentally-destructive projects as the Canadian oil sands — one of the worst ecological projects in the entire world that is bound to destroy the boreal forest in an area the size of Florida, devour hundreds of million cubic meters of fresh water and 600 million cubic feet of natural gas every day, and dramatically increase the emissions of carbon dioxide while yielding a relatively low energy return on investment (EROI), or energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) — that is, the amount of energy needed to produce energy. (10) In other words, the world is using more and more energy to produce less and less of it at an ever faster-growing financial and environmental cost.

But since a picture is worth a thousand words, readers may want to look at the superb photographic work of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, which is exhibited on the Web site of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (11) Paul Roth, the curator of the exhibition, wrote in the catalog:

…..Edward Burtynsky shows the man-made world—the human ecosystem—that has risen up around the production, use, and dwindling availability of our paramount energy source. The mechanics and industry of extraction and refinement; the development, products, and activities associated with transportation and motor culture; and the wreckage, obsolescence, and human cost that lies at the End of Oil. These photographs are about man, and what he has made of the earth. (12)
In 1980 the worldwide production of petroleum (in thousand barrels per day) was 63,963.116. It went up to 66,217.937 in 1990, and reached 85,477.530 in 2008. (13)

Natural gas

Natural gas is generally seen as both abundant and less polluting than oil and coal, which is factually correct. However, what the proponents of natural gas do not mention is the huge environmental consequences of its extraction, especially when using hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, that take up huge amounts of water and chemicals and contaminate ground water. Fracking, as a June 2010 Vanity Fair report indicated, has become a “colossal mess.” The real environmental costs of extracting natural gas are widely underestimated or ignored by the proponents of using this fuel as a “bridge to the future.” (14)

Whatever T. Boone Pickens’s proselytizing and the lobbying of vested interests to expand the use of this “clean fuel,” we face, in the words of Professor Francis Shor, “a toxic cancer,” which will lead to “an unprecedented assault on the environment that may very well doom future generations of residents of the United States to a slow, but sure, toxic death.” (15)

In 1980 the worldwide production of natural gas (in billion cubic feet) was 53,375. It went up to 73,788 in 1990, and reached 109,789 in 2008.

Coal

According to Greenpeace (16) “coal is the largest driver of global warming pollution on the planet and a primary driver of toxic air pollutants like mercury and nitrogen oxide. But coal combustion also results in millions of tons of solid waste in the form of coal ash and scrubber sludge.” Whether through Mountaintop removal mining or traditional in situ extraction, the environmental impact on humans and natural ecosystems is ominous. China, the largest producer and consumer of coal for the country’s generation of electricity by a factor of 3:1 in relation to the USA (the second largest), is a case in point. (17)

A September 15, 2010, report (18) by Greenpeace, “The True Cost of Coal,” notes:

China depends on coal for more than 70 pct of its energy needs.

For the last 8 years China has added new coal plants once a week in average. It has 1,400 coal plants.

The combustion of 4 tons of coal produces 1 ton of ashes. China produces 375 million tons of ashes a year, 2.5 times more than in 2002.
Greenpeace estimates that only 30 percent of these ashes are recycled. Environmental accidents similar to the 2008 Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant spill in Tennessee (19) are prone to increasingly happen.

Coal, in a nutshell, is the most polluting fuel (air, water, soil, and animal species) that ought to be phased out as quickly as possible. Instead, production and consumption are increasing exponentially.

In 1980 the worldwide production of coal (in thousand short tons) was 4,181,850. It went up to 5,346,680 in 1990, and reached 7,271,749 in 2008.

What these fossil fuels have in common is their significant production/consumption growth over time, which brings to mind the Exponential Expiration Time that Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, popularized in his famous 1978 presentation, “Arithmetic, Population, and Energy” — a presentation he has revised and augmented over the years. Bartlett has often bemoaned human “inability to understand the exponential function” and the general ignorance of the “doubling time.” — “The growth in any doubling time is greater than the total of all the preceding growth!” (20)

Missing from his paper, however, is another trait that these fossil fuels share.

Emissions of carbon dioxide

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), China passed the U.S. to become the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2007. In 2008 (the year of reference for this article), China emitted 6,533.544 million metric tons of CO2 and the U.S. 5,832.819. However, these numbers are distorted, as they do not reflect the amount of CO2 the U.S. has “exported” toward China and other emerging economies through the relocalization of parts of its manufacturing sector (which this research has been unable to estimate). Neither are these figures taking into account the respective emissions per capita. In this latter case, the U.S. emits almost 4 times (3.92 to be precise) as much as China. (21) Still, these two countries emitted 40.7 percent of worldwide CO2 emissions in 2008.

More ominous is the worldwide growth of CO2 emissions in the past three decades. In 1980 (the farthest back the EIA statistics go), total emissions were 18,488.253 million metric tons. A decade later, in 1990, they were 21,677.327. By 2000, they had reached 23.876.592; and by 2008, 30,377.313. To put this growth in perspective, suffice it to note that in a mere 28 years the emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by a sheer 64.31 percent!

Climate change and global warming

According to an October 28, 2010, report by the French Sciences Academy, “Climate Change” (PDF, in French), (22) “the concentration of CO2 has been increasing continually since the middle of the 19th century, due principally to industrial activities, going from 280 parts per million around 1870 to 388 ppm in 2009. (Climatologists show that the safe upper limit is 350 ppm.) The rate of growth measured since 1970 is about 500 times higher than the slow growth observed in the last 5,000 years. … The origin of this growth is for more than half due to the burning of fossil fuels, and the rest is due to deforestation and in a small part the production of cement.” (p. 4) Sea levels, the report states, have risen 0.7 mm per year between 1870 and 1930, and began rising faster ever after, reaching a current 3.4 mm per year. Land glaciers and sea ice sheet, from Greenland to Antarctica, are all melting and receding rapidly. (23)

Correlated with the rise of carbon dioxide is the increasing acidification of the oceans that has taken place in the past 30 years or so. The depletion of oxygen in the seas is creating ever-larger ocean dead zones. More troubling yet, starting in 1950 phytoplankton, the very basis of the food chain, has declined by 40 percent, which will affect “everything up the food chain, including humans.”

Surely, the “merchants of doubt,” like Fred Singer, William Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Patrick Michaels, who are backed by some of the biggest polluters on the planet, will keep questioning and dismissing the science as they used to do for the ozone hole, acid rain, and even the dangers of smoking. Cordula Meyer calls them “The Traveling Salesmen of Climate Skepticism” in “Science as the Enemy” (Der Spiegel, October 8, 2010) (24) For these people more research must be done and no action is warranted — a message that is compliantly passed on in the MSM. (With a twinkle of irony, even rambunctious muckrakers join those professional skeptics!) (25) Like peak oil deniers, climate change Homo ignoramus are a species that are hard, if not impossible, to break, although one would wish they’d become extinct sooner rather than later. At the very least, one would hope that in the economic realm of this piece, they would acknowledge human-made destruction of the oceans, like plastic garbage and the depletion of fisheries.

Accumulation of plastic in the oceans

Last July, the Sea Education Association (SEA) of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, reported having found a huge plastic garbage patch, possibly the size of Texas, in the North Atlantic gyre that rivals the northern Pacific “superhighway of trash” that Charles Moore discovered in 1997. Another one has been found in the Indian Ocean, and according to SEA chief scientist Giora Proskurowski, the south Pacific and south Atlantic are affected as well. Scientists estimate that 200 species are put at risk by this plastic garbage and no one knows how long it will take to have humans affected through the food chain. But effects are there to be seen.

Here again, a picture is worth a thousand words. Chris Jordan, the Seattle-based photographer, has documented extensively in his “Message from the Gyre” the damages that our throwaway consumerist culture inflicts on the animal lives. In light of Jordan’s photographic documentation, no additional word is needed to depict the insanity of the current socioeconomic system.

The destruction of fisheries

If the scallops may become a past palate-endearing delight in relatively short order due to the acidification of the oceans, the heavily subsidized fishing industry is working against the clock to literally exterminate all fish stocks around the globe. As late as the nineteen nineties, fisheries were considered limitless. Meantime the stocks of halibut, cod, sole, yellowtail flounder, and hake have been utterly depleted. The bluefin tuna is getting closer and closer to extinction due to overfishing and “The Black Market in Bluefin.” In a fascinating, and must-read August 2, 2010, New Yorker essay, “The Scales Fall,” Elizabeth Kolbert tells how cods were once believed to be inexhaustible (they have essentially disappeared). Kolbert notes:

In 1964, the annual global catch totaled around fifty million tons; a U.S. Interior Department report from that year predicted that it could be “increased at least tenfold without endangering aquatic stocks.” Three years later, the department revised its estimate; the catch could be increased not by a factor of ten but by a factor of forty, to two billion tons a year.
“Peak fish,” Kolbert writes, took place in the late 1980s when “the total world catch topped out at around eighty-five million tons, which is to say, roughly 1.9 billion tons short of the Interior Department’s most lunatic estimate.” She adds: “For the past two decades, the global catch has been steadily declining. It is estimated that the total take is dropping by around five hundred thousand tons a year.”

Daniel Pauly, a professor at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia, warns that we are “[sliding] toward a marine dystopia.” He notes that “[I]n the past 50 years, we have reduced the populations of large commercial fish, such as bluefin tuna, cod, and other favorites, by a staggering 90 percent.” Pauly insists that the world is witnessing an “aquacalypse.” (26) He states that “[F]ish are in dire peril, and, if they are, then so are we”; and concludes that “governments [must free themselves] from their allegiance to the fishing-industrial complex.”

In guise of a conclusion

There is a direct relation between our neoliberal socioeconomic system based on capital accumulation and over-production and the destruction of the earth’s ecosystems. So the statement Mike Whitney made on July 6, 2010, (“Government spending must increase to make up for the slack in demand and reduce unemployment. That means larger budget deficits until households have patched their balance sheets and can spend again at pre-crisis levels.”) appears to be poorly thought out or particularly irresponsible in light of the damages the policy he advocates would inflict on the environment. From peak oil to peak fish, from CO2 emissions to the extinction of species, from global warming to climate change, all indicators point in the same direction. The pursuit of limitless growth as currently designed is nothing less than a suicidal pact that Mother Nature will in the not so distant future trigger.

It must be noted that the partisans of new-Keynesian demand stimulation through government spending — people like Dean Baker, Michael Hudson, Paul Krugman, et al. — rarely, if ever, take into consideration in their research and advocacy the natural world and the ecological consequences of the neoliberal order. Is it because they all reason from within, and are active supporters of that paradigm?

But again, the socioeconomic paradigm built on capital accumulation, perpetual material growth, and financial profits for the infinitesimal few must be not just overhauled but buried, and replaced by an equitable new arrangement that takes into account all natural ecosystems. Humanity needs to build a new socio-ecological paradigm. Such a transformation can only be attained through revolutionary thinking and processes.

Notes

1. Both statements were made at the opening session of the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan.

According to Der Spiegel, “20 percent of the planet’s 380,000 plant species are in danger of becoming extinct, primarily due to habitat destruction. […] Of 5,490 species of mammals, 1,130 are threatened and 70 percent of the world’s fish population is in danger from over-fishing.”

In a nutshell, Mother Earth is facing a mass extinction of natural species and habitats due to human activities that overwhelmingly originated in the materially rich Northern Hemisphere, which has been scarifying the biosphere ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. (back)

2. The WWF, which was formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund, was created in 1961 in Gland, Switzerland. It is one of the largest environmental NGOs with over “1,300 conservation projects around the world.” It promotes free-market corporate environmentalism and advocates neoliberal solutions to mitigate the many ecological crises that the world faces — what Michael Barker calls “eco-imperialism.” (back)

3. See Barker’s research on these organizations (and more), particularly “The Philanthropic Roots Of Corporate Environmentalism,” Swans Commentary, November 3, 2008. (back)

4. See Part II of “The Economy Is Not Coming Back,” Swans Commentary, October 18, 2010. (back)

5. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Global_Carbon_Emissions.svg (back)

6. See a picture on Der Spiegel to visualize the increase of fossil fuels consumption in only 18 years. (back)

7. E.g., the Energy Bulletin, The Oil Drum, Hubbert Peak of oil Production, etc. (back)

8. See his recent interview with Wally Forbes, of Forbes magazine (not a particularly leftist publication!), “Bracing For Peak Oil Production By Decade’s End.” Says Maxwell:

“The use of petroleum in the world is now up to about 30 billion barrels per year. The rate at which we have found new supplies of petroleum over the last 10 years has fallen to an average of only about 10 billion barrels per year.

“We’re obviously in an unsustainable situation. We are now using up a greater number of barrels that we have found in the recent past and that we have reserved in the ground. We are now beginning to use it up relatively quickly — with scary consequences for the future.” (back)

9. See “How the global oil watchdog failed its mission,” by Lionel Badal, Oil Man (a Blog from Le Monde), May 18, 2010. See also “Peak oil alarm revealed by secret official talks,” by Terry Macalister and Lionel Badal, The Observer, August 22, 2010. (back)

10. In the 1930s one barrel of oil yielded 100 barrels; that is, the EROI was 100:1. By the 1970s the EROI was down to 30:1. Today, it is closer to 11/18:1 (in the U.S.) and 20:1 worldwide. See the March 2010 report by the Oil Drum. In comparison, the Canadian oil sands’ EROI is about 5.2:1 (see http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3839). Worse, US ethanol based on corn yields an EROI of about 1.25:1 (one unit of energy consumed to produce 1.25 unit of energy — and the calculation does not even take into account the economic and environmental costs of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone generated by fertilizer run-off from corn-producing Midwest agribusiness through the Mississippi River, or the dramatic rise in the price of food stuff, which has so negatively impacted US neighbors in Mexico. (back)

11. Some of the pictures have also been published on the Web site of Foreign Policy. (One needs to log on to the site because the article and the pictures have been archived.) (back)

12. Oil, the catalog for the exhibition, was published by Steidl/Corcoran in 2009. Excerpts can be seen on the Web site of Edward Burtynsky where this excerpt was found.
See http://edwardburtynsky.com/Oil_Book_Gallery/

Furthermore, a 2006 documentary, Manufactured Landscapes, featured the work of Burtynsky. To learn more about this documentary and view more pictures, see http://pingmag.jp/2007/04/12/manufactured-landscapes/. (back)

13. Except where indicated all the figures used in this piece come from the US Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics — a very comprehensive set of worldwide statistics by country and geographical zones regarding production and consumption of fossil fuels, electricity, renewables, emission of carbon dioxide, and other key indicators.

Here are some 2008 stats worth keeping in mind:

(CO2 emissions are for year 2008; primary energy consumption is for year 2007.)

Total CO2 emissions for 2008: 30,377.313 (Million Metric Tons)

CO2 Emissions from the Consumption of Petroleum (Million Metric Tons)

USA: 2,435.952
All Europe: 2,193.769
Japan: 572.862
Russia: 373.394
All Africa: 455.341
China: 1,000.439
India: 384.390

C02 Emissions from the Consumption and Flaring of Natural Gas (Million Metric Tons)

USA: 1,271.699
All Europe: 1,119.080
Japan: 200.124
Russia: 908.287
All Africa: 261.741
China: 151.117
India: 84.943

CO2 Emissions from the Consumption of Coal (Million Metric Tons)

USA: 2,125.168
All Europe: 1,344.736
Japan: 441.203
Russia: 447.701
All Africa: 391.251
China: 5,381.998
India: 1,025.549

Total Primary Energy Consumption (Quadrillion Btu)

USA: 101.554
All Europe: 85.002
Japan: 22.473
Russia: 28.355
All Africa: 14.546
China: 73.219
India: 17.255

(For comparison: In 2000, the U.S. consumed 98.5 Quads: See “United States’ Gargantuan Energy Appetite,” by Gilles d’Aymery, Swans Dossier, October 21, 2002.) (back)
14. See the [T. Boone] PickensPlan. (back)

15. See “Frick-Fracking Away, Or Frackicide,” by Francis Shor, Swans Commentary, November 15, 2010. (back)

16. See “Coal ash is a global problem,” Greenpeace, September 15, 2010. (back)

17. While Greenpeace focuses its attention on China and in so doing may inadvertently (or willingly) add to the fashionable China-bashing that is currently taking place in Western political circles and media, it should not be forgotten that on a per capita basis, the U.S. consumes 3,460.5 thousand short tons versus 2,469.14 in China (2009) — and even the per capita consumption should be carefully examined since high and low consumptions are very dependent on social classes. (back)

18. “The True Cost of Coal – An Investigation into Coal Ash in China.” The full report in PDF format can be downloaded from
http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/Global/usa/planet3/publications/gwe/2010/coal-ash2010-ENG-RPT.pdf (back)

19. “On December 22, 2008, in the US state of Tennessee, the retaining wall of a five-hectare ash pond collapsed, spilling 500 million gallons (2 million cubic meters) of coal ash. The spill destroyed houses, polluted the earth, rivers, and air, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. According to the Tennessee Valley Authority, owner of the Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant, the ash covered more than 160 hectares of roads and lands, affecting an area greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.” The True Cost of Coal, p.5. (back)

20. While his presentation is most valuable and worth pondering, it has a major weakness: Professor Bartlett falls into the ideological trap of demographic Malthusian catastrophe — like so many Western ethnocentric scholars and others (politicians, pundits, etc.) do time and again. The ecological conundrum is not related or correlated to population growth — there is plenty of food, water, and land for the world to take in more people. It has to do with the ratio of production/consumption per capita. Evidently, the world cannot emulate the US model of “growth” — see the ecological footprint of national populations worldwide (The U.S. has an average ecological footprint of 8 global hectares per capita compared to 2 for China) — but the U.S. could and should develop a different model that would put needs before profits and embark on an entire retooling of its productive forces. China cannot be blamed for following a path to development that mimics that of the U.S. and other so-called wealthy nations (“so-called” because they are all essentially bankrupt). As said with some humor as early as 1996, get rid of the hypocrisy whereby the U.S. and other “advanced” nations want to keep their way of life all the while denying other nations to follow the same destructive path to “wealth” and China, as well as most countries in the world, will respond positively. (back)

21. While quite a telling indicator, CO2 emissions per capita is also a skewed indicator because it does not differentiate among energy users. For instance, the US armed forces’ emissions; or wealthy Americans (e.g., Bill Gates) with very large estates and constant traveling with private jets; or owners of suburban McMansions driving around in their gas-guzzler SUVs; or, again, more modest households. Still here are a few examples of per capita emissions of CO2 in million metric tons for 2008: USA: 19.2 — Russia: 12.3 — Germany: 10 — Japan: 9.5 — UK: 9.4 — France: 6.5 — China: 4.9 — India: 1.3 — All of Africa: 1.1.

This tends to demonstrate the erroneous advocacy of demographic Malthusians. Compare the emissions of CO2 by the African continent (967.8 million inhabitants in 2008) to India’s (1,140.6 million) and the U.S. (304 million). Once again, it’s not the number of people that drives the dire ecological and economic challenges the world must confront. It’s the ratio of production/consumption per capita. (back)

22. A summary of the report is available in a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation (also in French). (back)

23. “The Arctic is sending us perhaps the clearest message that climate change is occurring much more rapidly than scientists previously thought. In the summer of 2007, sea ice was roughly 39% below the summer average for 1979-2000, a loss of area equal to nearly five United Kingdoms.” See 350.org. (back)

24. As Meyer writes, “[T]he professional skeptics tend to use inconsistent arguments. Sometimes they say that there is no global warming. At other times, they point out that while global warming does exist, it is not the result of human activity. Some climate change deniers even concede that man could do something about the problem, but that it isn’t really much of a problem. There is only one common theme to all of their prognoses: Do nothing. Wait. We need more research.” (back)

25. For instance, Alexander Cockburn, the publisher and co-editor of the center-right-leaning libertarian newsletter and Web site CounterPunch, contends that the science is flawed and the results doctored by a bevy of scientists that are lining their pockets with ever-increasing grants from the government and private foundations. (back)

26. See “Aquacalypse Now: The End of Fish,” in The New Republic, September 28, 2009. (back)

© Gilles d’Aymery 2010. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Gilles d’Aymery on Swans — with bio. He is Swans’ publisher and co-editor.

FDA Wants Cigarette Packs to Include Images of Corpses, Diseased Lungs (ABC News)

Graphic Warnings on U.S. Cigarette Packs May Curb Smoking, Advocates Say

By LARA SALAHI, ABC News Medical Unit

Nov. 10, 2010

The modest one-liners of the dangers of smoking, now featured on cigarette packs, may soon turn into gory images and messages that will cover nearly half the pack.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration unveiled 36 jarring labels Wednesday aimed at escalating efforts to warn smokers of the fatal consequences of cigarette smoking. These labels represent the agency’s exercise of its new authority over tobacco products and the most significant change in cigarette warnings since companies were forced to add the mandatory Surgeon General’s warning in 1965.

Some of the proposed images include a man smoking from a tracheotomy hole, a cadaver labeled to show it died from lung disease, and a pained infant exposed to smoke.

For decades federal regulators and health experts have warned that cigarettes are deadly. But Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called the ramped-up measures “a timely and much-needed shot in the arm.”

“The current warnings are more than 25 years old, go unnoticed on the side of cigarette packs and fail to effectively communicate the serious health risks of smoking,” said Myers.

Although smoking rates have declined overall since the 1960s, health officials noted that rates have leveled off in the last decade. About 21 percent of U.S. adults, and nearly 20 percent of high school students smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency’s goal is to reduce the 443,000 deaths associated with tobacco use each year.

Previous studies suggest that graphic health warnings displayed in other countries worked better than text warnings to motivate smokers to quit, and nonsmokers not to start.

Images used on cigarette packs in countries like Canada are so disturbing that some smokers buy covers for their cigarette packs to block out the images.

“Having a coordinated policy, having these warnings, making them so visible, making them real is, in my opinion and in the opinion of the American Cancer Society, going to be a very positive step forward,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

Experts Say Fear Messages May Not Work for Long

But some experts wonder how long the proposed fear messages will work.

“The point of putting these pictures is the shock value, and research tells us shock value on its own rarely works,” said Timothy Edgar, associate professor and graduate program director of health communication at Emerson College in Boston, Mass.

Most Americans already know that smoking is dangerous — the message that the FDA is trying to convey, said Edgar. And while the campaign may dissuade some smokers at the start of the campaign, the communication tactic may not spur many to kick the habit for good, if at all.

“I think people are still going to have a hard time saying, yes that’s me on that label,” said Edgar. “There’s a physical addiction involved in this as well. It’s not an absolute choice for many who smoke.”

According to Joy Schmitz, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Texas medical school in Houston, the intended message will more likely reach younger adults, or those who may have just picked up the habit.

“It might give them pause for concern or contemplation as to their choice of smoking when they see the pretty dramatic scene on the packages,” said Schmitz.

But evidence suggests effective messages not only communicate the danger but also offer ways to help change behavior, said Edgar.

“There’s none of that here,” said Edgar, who suggested the campaign should also offer direct actions for people to take to quit smoking.

“Simply showing someone that there is a severe outcome or they’re personally responsible is not enough. They need to know there’s something they can do about it,” he said.

Schmitz agreed.

“It needs to be combined with the anti-smoking policies, restricting smoking in the environment, as well as promoting effective evidence-based smoking cessation treatments that are available,” she said.

The FDA will accept public comment on the proposed labels through January 2011, and will select nine to use by June 2011. The agency will then require all manufacturers to use the labels on all U.S. sold cigarettes by October 22, 2012.



>Scientists Scramble to Bridge the Uncertainty Gap in Climate Science (N.Y. Times)

>
By AMANDA PETERKA of Greenwire
November 9, 2010

Skeptics of climate change — a good number of them about to take seats in Congress — often point to uncertainties or holes in the science as reasons for delaying or not taking action.

But uncertainty is the modus operandi of science, as Vaughan Turekian, chief international officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, describes it. Scientists report not only what is known but to what degree it is known.

“Science is never an open and closed case,” Turekian said.

Still, there is a fundamental difference between the way the public and policymakers see uncertainty and the way scientists do, which creates a gap that needs constant bridging, scientists say.

“When scientists talk about results they rarely focus on the things they know with great certainty. It seems counterintuitive to people who are not scientists, talking so much about what we don’t know,” said James McCarthy, a professor of oceanography at Harvard University.

“If you were to hear someone say, ‘I know with 100 percent certainty that the Earth’s climate will change or not,’ that would be a statement to walk away from because you would know right away that a scientist hasn’t made that statement.”

There are several coordinated efforts under way to bridge the gap. John Abraham, an associate engineering professor at Minnesota’s St. Thomas University, is creating a “climate rapid response team” of scientists who are open to addressing the politics of global warming. The American Geophysical Union, separately, is establishing a bank of climate scientists to serve as experts on global warming.

It is probably no coincidence that policy debates involving environmental issues have often been long and contentious. A number of environmental debates, including those over acid rain and the depletion of the ozone layer, have centered on scientific uncertainties.

Judith Curry, chairwoman of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, blames climate scientists. She said the reason uncertainty has been especially played up in climate science is because “climate scientists were so vehement in their overconfidence, which just didn’t stand up given the complexity of the problem. … Trying to hide uncertainties just ends up compromising the scientists and confusing the policymaking process.”

Uncertainty, she said, should be used as information in the decisionmaking process. But for lawmakers, it is not easy to incorporate uncertainty into policy or to prove to constituents that an action is necessary. Moreover, the public is not well aware of how uncertainty is handled in science, according to Robert Costanza, director of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University In Oregon.

“That’s part of the problem, and that’s why the public opinion can be so easily manipulated because of that lack of basic understanding,” he said.

Government mechanisms

In the 1970s and 1980s, the United States had an Office of Technology Assessment, which analyzed complex scientific concepts, producing studies for Congress on subjects like the nation’s energy future and ecosystem management and giving advice on how to address issues. The office was defunded during the anti-big government wave that followed the release of the 1994 Republican document called “Contract with America” and the Republican takeover of the Senate during the first term of the Clinton administration.

Many other countries in Europe still have similar mechanisms, though, to assess the quality of scientific information. It is something the United States should consider again, said Thomas Dietz, vice chairman of the science panel in America’s Climate Choices, a study done by the National Academy of Sciences.

“We need to have a mechanism to take scientific understanding and make it available both to policymakers and to the public,” said Dietz, assistant vice president for environmental research at Michigan State University. “A lot of issues we don’t seem to have much space for a public discussion that doesn’t become heated and a matter of talking points and pundits.”

Scientists are waiting for integrity standards to come out of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, required by President Obama in a March 2009 executive order and a year-and-a-half overdue. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility recently filed a lawsuit to obtain documents relating to the overdue standards. Without them, it has been difficult for government agencies to agree on policies for transparency, collaboration and public participation in data gathering and decisionmaking based on that data.

With the lack of government mechanisms, boosting science education in the United States might help the public understand the state of science and how to make decisions in the face of uncertainty, Dietz said. The most recent World Economic Forum report ranked the United States 48th in math and science education.

Strengthening science education, agreed Turekian, would strength critical thinking. And that, he said, is necessary to understand the complexity around climate change because the better you understand how scientific information is gathered, the better you understand the information itself.

“When you think about critical thinking, you don’t take as given either facts or counterfacts that are just imposed on you,” he said. “Rather, you take the time to sort of critically assess which uncertainties are more important and which uncertainties have nothing to do with the broader trends.”

The broader trends, he said, are understood: If atmospheric carbon dioxide is increased, there will be certain increases in temperature. The uncertainties that need more understanding are the feedback effects from increasing temperature, such as what warming would do to the makeup of clouds, and if clouds would lead to even more warming if they change.

That level of detail does not need to be known to put in place measures akin to insurance policies to guard against the range of effects, scientists tend to agree, though they also tend to stay out of the policy debate.

Costanza has tried to combine a precautionary principle with a polluter-pays principle in incorporating uncertainty into policy. The concept can also apply to environmental disasters like oil spills.

In his idea, companies that pollute or emit carbon dioxide must take out bonds that cover worst-case scenarios that would be held until uncertainty is removed. This would create an incentive for emitters to reduce uncertainty by funding independent research or adopting cleaner practices.

“If they don’t see it in financial terms, they’re going to try to avoid it or manage or manipulate the uncertainty rather than reducing it,” he said. “All it takes is a little muddying of the water so there’s not a clear answer to delay action for years and years. It takes a lot less money and effort to muddy the water than it does to clear the water.”

Copyright 2010 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

>Repensar a esquizofrenia (Fapesp)

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11/11/2010

Agência FAPESP – Esquizofrenia é o assunto em destaque na capa da edição desta quinta-feira (11/11) da Nature, que avalia em editorial e em três artigos os avanços obtidos nos últimos cem anos na compreensão desse transtorno psíquico severo.
No editorial, a revista destaca que a pesquisa científica tem revelado as “complexidades assombrosas” da esquizofrenia, mas também tem mostrado novas rotas para o diagnóstico e o tratamento.

“Nos últimos anos, tem se avaliado que essa coleção de sintomas – que tipicamente se manifesta no início da vida adulta – representa um estágio posterior da enfermidade e que a própria enfermidade pode vir a ser uma coleção de síndromes, mais do que uma condição única”, destaca o editorial.

No primeiro artigo, Thomas Insel, do National Institute of Mental Health, nos Estados Unidos, faz uma revisão do conhecimento acumulado sobre o tema. Segundo ele, o futuro do assunto reside em “repensar” a esquizofrenia como um distúrbio do desenvolvimento neurológico.

“Esse novo foco poderá levar a novas oportunidades para a compreensão de mecanismos e para o desenvolvimento de tratamentos para o transtorno. Tratamentos têm sido experimentados há décadas, mas com pouca evolução e resultados na maioria das vezes insatisfatórios”, disse.

A esquizofrenia é uma desordem mental debilitante que afeta cerca de 1% da população mundial. No segundo artigo, Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, da Universidade de Heidelberg, na Alemanha, discute como as novas tecnologias de obtenção de imagens estão deixando os aspectos apenas funcionais e estruturais para focar também nos mecanismos dos riscos da enfermidade.

Para o cientista, essas novas estratégias, como o uso de imagens em genética, possibilitam uma visão muito importante do sistema neural mediado pelo risco hereditário e ligado a variantes comuns associadas à esquizofrenia.

O artigo sugere que a caracterização dos mecanismos do transtorno por meio do desenvolvimento de tais técnicas poderá somar forças com os atuais projetos de pesquisa que visam à busca de tratamentos.

No terceiro artigo, Jim van Os, da Universidade Maastricht, na Holanda, e colegas fazem uma revisão do conhecimento atual a respeito das influências ambientais na esquizofrenia e os desafios que essas relações abrem para a pesquisa na área.

Os autores argumentam que mais pesquisas são necessárias para tentar descobrir a interação entre genética e ambiente que determina como a expressão da vulnerabilidade na população geral pode dar origem a mais psicopatologias severas.

Os artigos Rethinking schizophrenia (doi:10.1038/nature09552), de Thomas R. Insel, The environment and schizophrenia (doi:10.1038/nature09563), de Jim van Os e outros, e From maps to mechanisms through neuroimaging of schizophrenia (doi:10.1038/nature09569), de Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, podem ser lidos por assinantes da Nature em http://www.nature.com.

Study of Facebook Users Connects Narcissism and Low Self-Esteem (Scientific American)

If your status update was “I’m so glamorous,” you might not really think much of yourself

By John H. Tucker November 2, 2010

Image: Dan Saelinger Getty Images

Are you a narcissist? Check your recent Facebook activity.

Social-networking sites offer users easy ways to present idealized images of themselves, even if those ideals don’t always square with their real-world personalities. Psychology researcher Soraya Mehdizadeh has discovered a way to poke through the offline-online curtain: she has used Facebook to predict a person’s level of narcissism and self-esteem.

Mehdizadeh, who conducted the study as an undergraduate at Toronto’s York University, gained access to the Facebook accounts of 100 college students and measured activities like photo sharing, wall postings and status updates; she also studied how frequently users logged on and how often they remained online during each session. Her findings were published recently in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

After measuring each subject using the Narcissism Personality Inventory and Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, Meh­dizadeh, who graduated from York this past spring, discovered narcissists and people with lower self-esteem were more likely to spend more than an hour a day on Facebook and were more prone to post self-promotional photos (striking a pose or using Photoshop, for example). Narcissists were also more likely to showcase themselves through status updates (using phrases like “I’m so glamorous I bleed glitter”) and wall activity (posting self-serving links like “My Celebrity Look-alikes”).

Self-esteem and narcissism are often interrelated but don’t always go hand in hand. Some psychologists believe that narcissists—those who have a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, as well as a lack of empathy—unconsciously inflate their sense of self-importance as a defense against feeling inadequate. Not enough empirical research has been produced to confirm that link, although Mehdizadeh’s study seems to support it. Because narcissists have less capacity to sustain intimate or long-term relationships, Mehdizadeh thinks that they would be more drawn to the online world of virtual friends and emotionally detached communication.

Although it seems that Facebook can be used by narcissists to fuel their inflated egos, Mehdizadeh stops short of proclaiming that excessive time spent on Facebook can turn regular users into narcissists. She also notes that social-networking sites might ultimately be found to have positive effects when used by people with low self-esteem or depression.

“If individuals with lower self-esteem are more prone to using Facebook,” she says, “the question becomes, ‘Can Facebook help raise self-esteem by allowing patients to talk to each other and help each other in a socially interactive environment?’ I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that people with low self-esteem use Facebook.”

Editor’s note: This article was published in the print issue with the title, “Status Update: ‘I’m So Glamorous’.”