Arquivo mensal: junho 2015

following the unwritten rules -human zoo

synthetic zerø

“How do we know about the unwritten rules that govern us? And why does it cause such outrage when we get them wrong?
Michael Blastland investigates with resident Zoo psychologist Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick University, and roving reporter Timandra Harkness. Special guests include Richard Holton, Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, Digital Human presenter Aleks Krotoski, psychologist Dr Kate Cross, as well as writer and broadcaster Simon Fanshawe on how his mother started a bread roll fight with a Lord.”

Ver o post original

Anúncios

New articles related to Pope Francis, climate change, and the environment (The Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale)

June 21, 2015

Catholic Moral Traditions and Energy Ethics of the Twenty-First Century
By Erin Lothes Biviano, David Cloutier, Elaine Padilla, Christiana Z. Peppard, and Jame Schaefer
Journal of Moral Theology, Vol. 5, No. 2 (pp. 1-36)
June 2016
http://msmary.edu/College_of_liberal_arts/department-of-theology/jmt-files/Energy%20Ethics.pdf

The pope’s effect on politics
By Barrie Dunsmore
Rutland Herald
June 21, 2015
http://www.rutlandherald.com/article/20150621/OPINION06/706219971

Tell Us How Your Church Addressed the Pope’s Encyclical
New York Times
June 21, 2015
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/22/world/europe/tell-us-how-your-church-addressed-the-popes-encyclical.html

For Faithful, Social Justice Goals Demand Action on Environment
By Justin Gillis
New York Times
June 20, 2015
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/science/earth/for-faithful-social-justice-goals-demand-action-on-environment.html

Francis’ Momentous Encyclical: On Care for Our Common Home
By Dave Pruett
Huffington Post
June 19, 2015
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-pruett/francis-momentous-encycli_b_7620554.html

Francis’ Momentous Encyclical: On Care for Our Common Home
By Dave Pruett
Huffington Post
June 19, 2015
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-pruett/francis-momentous-encycli_b_7620554.html

Pope Francis sounds the alarm on the environment and he wants everyone to listen
By Matthew Bell
PRI’s The World
June 18, 2015
http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-06-18/pope-francis-sounds-alarm-environment-and-he-wants-everyone-listen

World View of Global Warming: The Photographic Documentation of Climate Change
By Gary Braasch
World View of Global Warming
June 2015
http://worldviewofglobalwarming.org/

Pope Francis: The Cry of the Earth
By Bill McKibben
The New York Review of Books
June 18, 2015
http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2015/jun/18/pope-francis-encyclical-cry-of-earth/

Top Ten Takeaways from ‘Laudato Si”
By James Martin, S.J.
America Magazine
June 18, 2015
http://americamagazine.org/issue/top-ten-takeaways-laudato-si

Anglican environmental network chair welcomes Papal climate encyclical
Anglican Communion News Service
June 18, 2015
http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2015/06/anglican-environmental-network-chair-welcomes-papal-climate-encyclical.aspx

Church of England Welcomes Climate Encyclical
Church of England
June 18, 2015
https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2015/06/church-of-england-welcomes-climate-encyclical.aspx

Operation Noah welcomes ‘timely’ climate encyclical
Independent Catholic News
June 18, 2015
http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=27727

How to Read Pope Francis on the Environment
Interviewee: Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim
Interviewer: Robert McMahon
Council on Foreign Relations
June 18, 2015
http://www.cfr.org/holy-seevatican/read-pope-francis-environment/p36665

Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change
By Jim Yardley and Laurie Goodstein
New York Times
June 18, 2015
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/world/europe/pope-francis-in-sweeping-encyclical-calls-for-swift-action-on-climate-change.html?_r=1

Pope Calls for Moral Campaign on Climate Crisis
By Kieran Cooke
Climate News Network
June 17, 2015
http://www.climatenewsnetwork.net/pope-calls-for-moral-campaign-on-climate-crisis/

Theology, Ecology, and the Word: Notes from Halki Summit
By George Handley
Home Waters
June 2015
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/homewaters/

Will Pope’s Much-Anticipated Encyclical Be A Clarion Call On Climate Change?
By Sylvia Poggioli
NPR
June 16, 2015
http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/06/16/414666357/popes-missive-on-environment-poverty-could-affect-habits-of-millions

Pope Francis warns of destruction of world’s ecosystem in leaked encyclical
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner and John Hooper in Rome
The Guardian
June 15, 2015
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/15/pope-francis-destruction-ecosystem-leaked-encyclical

“Protecting the Whole of Creation”
A service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out
La Civiltà Cattolica 2015 II 537-551 | 3960
http://www.laciviltacattolica.it/articoli_download/extra/Editorial-ENG.pdf

Pope Francis’ encyclical: PIK-scientists to speak in the Vatican and in Berlin
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)
June 12, 2015
https://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/in-short/pope-francis-encyclical-pik-scientists-to-speak-in-the-vatican-and-in-berlin?set_language=en

Torah, Pope Francis, & Crisis Inspire 300+ Rabbis to Call for Climate Action
Religion News Service
June 10, 2015
https://theshalomcenter.org/torah-pope-crisis-inspire-300-rabbis-call-vigorous-climate-action

Climate encyclical expected to send strong moral message to the world
By Barbara Fraser
National Catholic Reporter
June 8, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/climate-encyclical-expected-send-strong-moral-message-world

5 Reasons Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment Matters
By Reynard Loki
AlterNet
June 7, 2015
http://www.alternet.org/environment/5-reasons-pope-franciss-encyclical-environment-matters

About Pope Francis’ Encyclical, “Laudato sii”
By Terri MacKenzie
Ecospirituality Resources
June 5, 2015
http://ecospiritualityresources.com/2015/06/05/popes-encyclical-laudato-sii/

All children deserve a healthy climate
By Mitchell C. Hescox
National Catholic Reporter
June 3, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/all-children-deserve-healthy-climate

“Cultivating and Caring for Creation,” 12 new on-line videos and study guides in anticipation of Pope Francis’ coming encyclical, “Praised Be,” on the environment
Green Spirit Television
June 2, 2015
http://fore.yale.edu/files/Cultivating_and_Caring_for_Creation.pdf

Pope Francis’ climate change encyclical expected to make global impact
By Ed Stannard
New Haven Register
May 30, 2015
http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20150530/pope-francis-climate-change-encyclical-expected-to-make-global-impact

Pope Francis’ Integral Ecology
By Dave Pruett
Huffington Post
May 28, 2015
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-pruett/pope-francis-integral-eco_b_7460058.html

Awaiting ecology encyclical, Catholic groups prepare for pope’s message
By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service
May 27, 2015
http://cnstopstories.com/2015/05/27/awaiting-ecology-encyclical-catholic-groups-prepare-for-popes-message/

Encyclical on environment sparks hope among academics, activists
By Thomas Reese
National Catholic Reporter
May 26, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/encyclical-environment-sparks-hope-among-academics-activists

Catholics organize to promote pope’s climate change message
USA Today
May 25, 2015
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/05/24/catholics-sierra-club-pope-francis-climate-change/27896225/

Catholics prepare for pope’s climate stance
By Rachel Zoll, Associated Press
The Columbian
May 23, 2015
http://www.columbian.com/news/2015/may/23/catholics-prepare-for-popes-climate-stance/

The Catholic Case for Tackling Climate Change
By Stephen Seufert
The Huffington Post
May 21, 2015
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-seufert/the-catholic-case-for-tackling-climate-change-_b_7363650.html

Nuclear weapons: the greatest threat to the environment
By Thomas C. Fox
National Catholic Reporter
May 20, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/nuclear-weapons-greatest-threat-environment

Pope Francis endorses climate action petition
By Brian Roewe
National Catholic Reporter
May 15, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/pope-francis-endorses-climate-action-petition

How will the world react to Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change?
By Neil Thorns
The Guardian
May 14, 2015
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/14/how-will-the-world-react-to-pope-franciss-encyclical-on-climate-change

Key advisor blasts US criticism to pope’s environmental stance
By Inés San Martín, Vatican correspondent
Crux
May 12, 2015
http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2015/05/12/key-advisor-blasts-us-blowback-to-popes-environmental-stance/

Pope says environmental sinners will face God’s judgment for world hunger
AFP in Vatican City
The Guardian
May 12, 2015
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/12/pope-environmental-sinners-will-face-god-judgment

A papal statement on climate change could lead to greener Britain
By Soli Salgado
National Catholic Reporter
May 8, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/papal-statement-climate-change-could-lead-greener-britain

Pope Francis: ‘If We Destroy Creation, Creation Will Destroy Us’
By Kieran Cooke
EcoWatch
May 6, 2015
https://ecowatch.com/2015/05/06/pope-francis-moral-dimensions-climate-change/

Blessed Are the Climate Advocates
By Michael Shank
May 1, 2015
Slate
http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/05/pope_francis_ban_ki_moon_climate_change_talks_renewed_faith_from_vatican.html

Pope Francis Unlikely to Sway Catholic Republicans on Climate Change
By Katherine Bagley
InsideClimate News
May 1, 2015
http://insideclimatenews.org/news/01052015/pope-francis-unlikely-sway-catholic-republicans-climate-change

Pope Francis has given the climate movement just what it needed — faith
By Chris Mooney
Washington Post
April 30, 2015
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/04/30/pope-francis-has-given-the-climate-movement-just-what-it-needed-faith/

Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Global Warming
By Henry Auer
Global Warming Blog
April 30, 2015
http://warmgloblog.blogspot.com/2015/04/pope-francis-encyclical-on-global.html

Climate Change and the Common Good: A Statement of the Problem and the Demand for Transformative Solutions
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences
April 29, 2015
http://www.casinapioiv.va/content/dam/accademia/pdf/protect/climate_change_common_good.pdf

Declaration of Religious Leaders, Political Leaders, Business Leaders, Scientists and Development Practitioners
Pontifical Academy of Sciences
April 28, 2015
http://www.casinapioiv.va/content/dam/accademia/pdf/protect/declaration.pdf

Vatican presses politicians on climate change
By Roger Harrabin, BBC environment analyst
BBC
April 28, 2015
http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-32487874

Pope Francis Steps Up Campaign on Climate Change, to Conservatives’ Alarm
By Coral Davenport and Laurie Goodstein
New York Times
April 27, 2015
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/28/world/europe/pope-francis-steps-up-campaign-on-climate-change-to-conservatives-alarm.html?emc=eta1&_r=1

Pope Francis poised to weigh in on climate change with major document
By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post
April 27, 2015
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/pope-francis-poised-to-weigh-in-on-climate-change-with-major-document/2015/04/27/d5c268b2-df81-11e4-a500-1c5bb1d8ff6a_story.html

Panel contemplates why the papal encyclical on the environment will matter
By Jamie Manson
April 15, 2015
National Catholic Reporter
http://ncronline.org/blogs/grace-margins/panel-contemplates-why-papal-encyclical-environment-will-matter

Pope Francis throws the weight of his office behind tackling climate change
By David Gibson
Religion News Service
April 15, 2015
http://www.religionnews.com/2015/04/15/pope-francis-throws-weight-office-behind-tackling-climate-change/

Catholics prep for Pope Francis to tackle climate in upcoming encyclical
By Marianne Lavelle
The Daily Climate
April 2, 2015
http://www.dailyclimate.org/tdc-newsroom/2015/03/pope-encyclical-climate-change-green-religion

The Greening of Pope Francis
By Charles J. Reid, Jr.
The Huffington Post
March 31, 2015
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-j-reid-jr/the-greening-of-pope-fran_b_6971366.html

Papal ecology: Protecting all God’s creatures, respecting God’s plan
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
March 26, 2015
http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1501313.htm

Pope: Future of humanity depends on protecting, sharing water
By Carol Glatz
National Catholic Reporter
March 23, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/pope-future-humanity-depends-protecting-sharing-water

Pope puts climate heat on GOP
By Tom Krattenmaker
USA Today
March 23, 2015
http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/03/22/pope-climate-change-gop-column/25192839/

Cardinal hints at main themes in Pope’s climate change encyclical
By Ed King
RTCC
March 12, 2015
http://www.rtcc.org/2015/03/11/cardinal-hints-at-main-themes-in-popes-climate-change-encyclical/#.dpuf

Pope Francis and the Environment: Yale Examines Historic Climate Encyclical
By Kevin Dennehy
Yale School Forestry & Environmental Studies
March 11, 2015
https://environment.yale.edu/news/article/pope-francis-and-the-environment-why-his-new-climate-encyclical-matters

Hispanics Lead U.S. Catholics on Climate Change
By Katie Rose Quandt
Commonweal
March 11, 2015
https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/hispanics-lead-us-catholics-climate-change

Turkson talks papal encyclical, ‘integral ecology’ at Irish lecture
By Brian Roewe
National Catholic Reporter
March 10, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/turkson-talks-papal-encyclical-integral-ecology-irish-lecture

The Environment’s Pope
By John L. Allen Jr.
Time
March 7, 2015
http://time.com/3729925/francis-environment/

Papal envoy to UN: Climate change ‘an issue of justice for everyone’
By Brian Roewe
National Catholic Reporter
March 6, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/papal-envoy-un-climate-change-issue-justice-everyone

Cardinal Turkson sheds light on Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical
By Bob Gronski
Catholic Rural Life
March 6, 2015
https://catholicrurallife.org/cardinal-turkson-sheds-light-on-pope-franciss-environmental-encylical/

The Sacrament of Creation: What Can We Expect from Pope Francis’s Ecological Encyclical?
By Clive Hamilton
ABC Religion and Ethics
March 3, 2015
http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2015/03/03/4190521.htm

Religious leaders urge action to combat climate change
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
February 23, 2015
http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1500810.htm

Catholics Fast for Lent in Support of Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action
By Cole Mellino
EcoWatch
February 18, 2015
http://ecowatch.com/2015/02/18/catholics-fast-lent-support-pope-francis-climate-action/

Will the Vatican Become a New Leader Against Climate Change?
By Kevin Mathews
Care2
February 17, 2015
http://www.care2.com/causes/will-the-vatican-become-a-new-leader-against-climate-change.html

Tonga’s King talks climate change with Pope Francis
By Sophie Yeo
Responding to Climate Change
February 17, 2015
http://www.rtcc.org/2015/02/17/tongas-king-talks-climate-change-with-pope-francis/

Catholic group launches global climate-focused Lenten fast
By Brian Roewe
Eco Catholic
National Catholic Reporter
February 17, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/catholic-group-launches-global-climate-focused-lenten-fast

Historic Catholic Climate Lenten Fast To Be Held in 45 Countries
Global Catholic Climate Movement
February 16, 2015
http://www.scny.org/historic-catholic-climate-lenten-fast-to-be-held-in-45-countries/

Anticipation building for papal encyclical on environment
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
February 12, 2015
http://catholicphilly.com/2015/02/news/national-news/anticipation-building-for-papal-encyclical-on-environment/

Rediscovering the moral dimension of climate change
By Jonathon Porritt
The Ecologist
February 9, 2015
http://www.theecologist.org/ecologist_partners/2739744/rediscovering_the_moral_dimension_of_climate_change.html

Pope Francis: It’s Christian to protect the environment
By David Gibson, Religion News Service
USA Today
February 9, 2015
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/02/09/pope-francis-environment-creation-christian/23132703/

Pope Mass: Protecting Creation a Christian responsibility
Vatican Radio
February 9, 2015
http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-mass-protecting-creation-a-christian-responsi?fromt=yes

Pope Francis: cultivate and preserve Mother Earth
Vatican Radio
February 2, 2015
http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-cultivate-and-preserve-mother-earth?fromt=yes

Pope Francis and Climate Change: A Catholic Tradition
By Carolyn Woo
Huffington Post
February 2, 2015
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/catholic-relief-services/pope-francis-and-climate_b_6595036.html

EPA chief at Vatican: Obama ‘aligned’ with Francis on climate change
By Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
January 30, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/epa-chief-vatican-obama-aligned-francis-climate-change

A New Paradigm for Catholic Energy Ethics
By Erin Lothes Biviano
Catholic Moral Theology
January 28, 2015
http://catholicmoraltheology.com/a-new-paradigm-for-catholic-energy-ethics/

US to Enlist Pope Francis’ Help on Climate Change
Reuters
January 28, 2015
http://www.voanews.com/content/reu-us-enlist-pope-francis-help-climate-change/2617824.html

Pope Francis will visit New York City, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia during September visit to U.S.
By Sasha Goldstein
New York Daily News
January 19, 2015
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/pope-francis-visit-nyc-3-city-u-s-swing-report-article-1.2083682

Details of the proposal for Pope Francis’ US visit revealed
By Alan Holdren and Elise Harris
Catholic News Agency
January 18, 2015
http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/exclusive-details-of-the-proposal-for-pope-francis-us-visit-revealed-13383/

Church Authority and Assent: Clarifications Ahead of Pope Francis’s Encyclical
By Daniel DiLeo
Political Theology Today
January 16, 2015
http://www.politicaltheology.com/blog/church-authority-and-assent-clarifications-ahead-of-pope-franciss-encyclical/

Storm Warnings for Pope’s Climate Stop in the Philippines
By Andrew C. Revkin
Dot Earth
New York Times
January 16, 2015
http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/16/storm-warnings-for-popes-planned-climate-stop-in-the-philippines/

Pope Francis Hopes World Leaders Will Make the Environment a Priority
By Ashley Curtin
Nation of Change – Bullhorn
January 16, 2015
http://bullhorn.nationofchange.org/pope_francis_environment_a_priority

Pope to make moral case for action on climate change
By Andy Coghlan
New Scientist
January 14, 2015
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22530044.500-pope-to-make-moral-case-for-action-on-climate-change.html#.VLia8nvNdWx

Pope Francis, the climate activist
By Pia Ranada
Passig City Rappler
January 8, 2015
http://www.rappler.com/specials/pope-francis-ph/79824-pope-francis-climate-change-encyclical

‘Rock-star pope’ intends to amplify his climate message
By Scott Detrow
ClimateWire
January 7, 2015
http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060011220

Pope Francis plants a flag in the ground on climate change
By John Abraham
The Guardian
January 6, 2015
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/jan/06/pope-francis-plants-flag-in-ground-on-climate-change

Pope Francis climate change call to action makes waves in faith communities
CBC/Radio–Canada
January 5, 2015
http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2015/01/05/pope-francis-climate-change-religion/

Why Pope Francis is going green in 2015
By Stephen Scharper
The Star
January 5, 2015
http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/01/05/why_pope_francis_is_going_green_in_2015_scharper.html

2015 could be the year we save the earth
By NCR Editorial Staff
National Catholic Reporter
January 2, 2015
http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/editorial-2015-could-be-year-we-save-earth

Tracing the Roots of Pope Francis’s Climate Plans for 2015
By Andrew C. Revkin
Dot Earth
New York Times
December 31, 2014
http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/31/tracing-the-roots-of-pope-franciss-climate-plans-for-2015/?_r=0

Pope Francis Calls for Action on Climate Change & Capitalism on a Planet “Exploited by Human Greed”
Democracy Now
December 31, 2014
http://www.democracynow.org/2014/12/31/pope_francis_calls_for_action_on

What Can a Popular Pope Do About Climate Change?
By Nicholas St. Fleur
The Atlantic
December 30, 2014
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/12/what-can-a-popular-pope-do-about-climate-change/384119/

Pope Francis’s edict on climate change will anger deniers and US churches
By John Vidal
The Guardian
December 27, 2014
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/27/pope-francis-edict-climate-change-us-rightwing

Pope Francis: climate evangelist?
By Virginia Gewin
Flux
December 19, 2014
https://www.beaconreader.com/flux/pope-francis-climate-evangelist

Preparing for the Storm: Anticipating and Countering the Likely Attacks on Pope Francis and His Environmental Encyclical
By Dan DiLeo
Millennial Journal
December 16, 2014
http://millennialjournal.com/2014/12/16/preparing-for-the-storm-anticipating-and-countering-the-likely-attacks-on-pope-francis-and-his-environmental-encyclical/

Pope Francis’s Ecology Encyclical – What Can We Expect?
By Henry Longbottom, SJ
The Jesuit Post
December 10, 2014
https://thejesuitpost.org/2014/12/pope-franciss-ecology-encyclical-what-can-we-expect/

Pope Francis renews attack on mafia in Italian region scarred by toxic waste
Reuters
July 27, 2014
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/07/27/world/social-issues-world/pope-francis-renews-attack-on-mafia-in-italian-region-scarred-by-toxic-waste/#.U9fTc7FuoUh

The Pope and the Sin of Environmental Degradation
Living on Earth
July 18, 2014
http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=14-P13-00029&segmentID=1

Pope Francis’s Radical Environmentalism
Exploiting the earth “is our sin,” the pontiff says.
By Tara Isabella Burton
The Atlantic
July 11, 2014
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/07/pope-franciss-radical-rethinking-of-environmentalism/374300/

Pope Francis: ‘We Are Custodians of Creation’
By Andrew C. Revkin
New York Times
May 22, 2014
http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/22/pope-francis-we-are-custodians-of-creation/?ref=science

Pope Francis wants to save the planet
By Michael Trimmer
Christian Today
May 9, 2014
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/pope.francis.wants.to.save.the.planet/37321.htm

UN to back Pope Francis statement on ‘human ecology’
By Sophie Yeo
Responding to Climate Change (RTCC)
May 8, 2014
http://www.rtcc.org/2014/05/08/un-to-back-pope-francis-statement-on-human-ecology/

Can a Pope Help Sustain Humanity and Ecology?
By Andrew C. Revkin
Dot Earth
May 6, 2014
http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/06/can-a-pope-help-sustain-humanity-and-ecology/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&src=rechp&_r=2

Pope Francis urged to back fossil fuel divestment campaign
By Graham Readfearn
The Guardian
April 16, 2014
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/16/pope-francis-back-fossil-fuel-divestment-campaign-religions-groups

‘The fragile world’: Church teaching on ecology before and by Pope Francis
By Donal Dorr
Thinking Faith
February 26, 2014
http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20140226_1.htm

Pope Francis preps tome on the environment
By Jonathan Easley
The Hill
January 25, 2014
http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/196419-pope-francis-preps-tome-on-the-environment

Pope Francis Opens Ministry: “Let Us Be Protectors”
By Nicole Winfield
NBC Bay Area
March 26, 2013
http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/national-international/NATL-Pope-Francis-Installation-Mass-Inauguration-Fernandez-Kirchner-198876051.html

Pope Francis Raises Hopes for an Ecological Church
By Marcela Valente
Inter Press Service
March 22, 2013
http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/pope-francis-raises-hopes-for-an-ecological-church/

Pope Francis Installation Mass Homily Text
NBC Bay Area
March 19, 2013
http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/national-international/Pope-Francis-Homily-Prepared-Remarks-198929021.html

Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood? (New York Times)

Eighteen vials were rocking back and forth on a squeaky mechanical device the shape of a butcher scale, and Mark Lyte was beside himself with excitement. ‘‘We actually got some fresh yesterday — freshly frozen,’’ Lyte said to a lab technician. Each vial contained a tiny nugget of monkey feces that were collected at the Harlow primate lab near Madison, Wis., the day before and shipped to Lyte’s lab on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus in Abilene, Tex.

Lyte’s interest was not in the feces per se but in the hidden form of life they harbor. The digestive tube of a monkey, like that of all vertebrates, contains vast quantities of what biologists call gut microbiota. The genetic material of these trillions of microbes, as well as others living elsewhere in and on the body, is collectively known as the microbiome. Taken together, these bacteria can weigh as much as six pounds, and they make up a sort of organ whose functions have only begun to reveal themselves to science. Lyte has spent his career trying to prove that gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain.

Inside a closet-size room at his lab that afternoon, Lyte hunched over to inspect the vials, whose samples had been spun down in a centrifuge to a radiant, golden broth. Lyte, 60, spoke fast and emphatically. ‘‘You wouldn’t believe what we’re extracting out of poop,’’ he told me. ‘‘We found that the guys here in the gut make neurochemicals. We didn’t know that. Now, if they make this stuff here, does it have an influence there? Guess what? We make the same stuff. Maybe all this communication has an influence on our behavior.’’

Since 2007, when scientists announced plans for a Human Microbiome Project to catalog the micro-organisms living in our body, the profound appreciation for the influence of such organisms has grown rapidly with each passing year. Bacteria in the gut produce vitamins and break down our food; their presence or absence has been linked to obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and the toxic side effects of prescription drugs. Biologists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on microbial activity. The two million unique bacterial genes found in each human microbiome can make the 23,000 genes in our cells seem paltry, almost negligible, by comparison. ‘‘It has enormous implications for the sense of self,’’ Tom Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, told me. ‘‘We are, at least from the standpoint of DNA, more microbial than human. That’s a phenomenal insight and one that we have to take seriously when we think about human development.’’

Given the extent to which bacteria are now understood to influence human physiology, it is hardly surprising that scientists have turned their attention to how bacteria might affect the brain. Micro-organisms in our gut secrete a profound number of chemicals, and researchers like Lyte have found that among those chemicals are the same substances used by our neurons to communicate and regulate mood, like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These, in turn, appear to play a function in intestinal disorders, which coincide with high levels of major depression and anxiety. Last year, for example, a group in Norway examined feces from 55 people and found certain bacteria were more likely to be associated with depressive patients.

At the time of my visit to Lyte’s lab, he was nearly six months into an experiment that he hoped would better establish how certain gut microbes influenced the brain, functioning, in effect, as psychiatric drugs. He was currently compiling a list of the psychoactive compounds found in the feces of infant monkeys. Once that was established, he planned to transfer the microbes found in one newborn monkey’s feces into another’s intestine, so that the recipient would end up with a completely new set of microbes — and, if all went as predicted, change their neurodevelopment. The experiment reflected an intriguing hypothesis. Anxiety, depression and several pediatric disorders, including autism and hyperactivity, have been linked with gastrointestinal abnormalities. Microbial transplants were not invasive brain surgery, and that was the point: Changing a patient’s bacteria might be difficult but it still seemed more straightforward than altering his genes.

When Lyte began his work on the link between microbes and the brain three decades ago, it was dismissed as a curiosity. By contrast, last September, the National Institute of Mental Health awarded four grants worth up to $1 million each to spur new research on the gut microbiome’s role in mental disorders, affirming the legitimacy of a field that had long struggled to attract serious scientific credibility. Lyte and one of his longtime colleagues, Christopher Coe, at the Harlow primate lab, received one of the four. ‘‘What Mark proposed going back almost 25 years now has come to fruition,’’ Coe told me. ‘‘Now what we’re struggling to do is to figure out the logic of it.’’ It seems plausible, if not yet proved, that we might one day use microbes to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders, treat mental illnesses and perhaps even fix them in the brain.

In 2011, a team of researchers at University College Cork, in Ireland, and McMaster University, in Ontario, published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that has become one of the best-known experiments linking bacteria in the gut to the brain. Laboratory mice were dropped into tall, cylindrical columns of water in what is known as a forced-swim test, which measures over six minutes how long the mice swim before they realize that they can neither touch the bottom nor climb out, and instead collapse into a forlorn float. Researchers use the amount of time a mouse floats as a way to measure what they call ‘‘behavioral despair.’’ (Antidepressant drugs, like Zoloft and Prozac, were initially tested using this forced-swim test.)

For several weeks, the team, led by John Cryan, the neuroscientist who designed the study, fed a small group of healthy rodents a broth infused with Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a common bacterium that is found in humans and also used to ferment milk into probiotic yogurt. Lactobacilli are one of the dominant organisms babies ingest as they pass through the birth canal. Recent studies have shown that mice stressed during pregnancy pass on lowered levels of the bacterium to their pups. This type of bacteria is known to release immense quantities of GABA; as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA calms nervous activity, which explains why the most common anti-anxiety drugs, like Valium and Xanax, work by targeting GABA receptors.

Cryan found that the mice that had been fed the bacteria-laden broth kept swimming longer and spent less time in a state of immobilized woe. ‘‘They behaved as if they were on Prozac,’’ he said. ‘‘They were more chilled out and more relaxed.’’ The results suggested that the bacteria were somehow altering the neural chemistry of mice.

Until he joined his colleagues at Cork 10 years ago, Cryan thought about microbiology in terms of pathology: the neurological damage created by diseases like syphilis or H.I.V. ‘‘There are certain fields that just don’t seem to interact well,’’ he said. ‘‘Microbiology and neuroscience, as whole disciplines, don’t tend to have had much interaction, largely because the brain is somewhat protected.’’ He was referring to the fact that the brain is anatomically isolated, guarded by a blood-brain barrier that allows nutrients in but keeps out pathogens and inflammation, the immune system’s typical response to germs. Cryan’s study added to the growing evidence that signals from beneficial bacteria nonetheless find a way through the barrier. Somehow — though his 2011 paper could not pinpoint exactly how — micro-organisms in the gut tickle a sensory nerve ending in the fingerlike protrusion lining the intestine and carry that electrical impulse up the vagus nerve and into the deep-brain structures thought to be responsible for elemental emotions like anxiety. Soon after that, Cryan and a co-author, Ted Dinan, published a theory paper in Biological Psychiatry calling these potentially mind-altering microbes ‘‘psychobiotics.’’

It has long been known that much of our supply of neurochemicals — an estimated 50 percent of the dopamine, for example, and a vast majority of the serotonin — originate in the intestine, where these chemical signals regulate appetite, feelings of fullness and digestion. But only in recent years has mainstream psychiatric research given serious consideration to the role microbes might play in creating those chemicals. Lyte’s own interest in the question dates back to his time as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh in 1985, when he found himself immersed in an emerging field with an unwieldy name: psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI, for short. The central theory, quite controversial at the time, suggested that stress worsened disease by suppressing our immune system.

By 1990, at a lab in Mankato, Minn., Lyte distilled the theory into three words, which he wrote on a chalkboard in his office: Stress->Immune->Disease. In the course of several experiments, he homed in on a paradox. When he dropped an intruder mouse in the cage of an animal that lived alone, the intruder ramped up its immune system — a boost, he suspected, intended to fight off germ-ridden bites or scratches. Surprisingly, though, this did not stop infections. It instead had the opposite effect: Stressed animals got sick. Lyte walked up to the board and scratched a line through the word ‘‘Immune.’’ Stress, he suspected, directly affected the bacterial bugs that caused infections.

To test how micro-organisms reacted to stress, he filled petri plates with a bovine-serum-based medium and laced the dishes with a strain of bacterium. In some, he dropped norepinephrine, a neurochemical that mammals produce when stressed. The next day, he snapped a Polaroid. The results were visible and obvious: The control plates were nearly barren, but those with the norepinephrine bloomed with bacteria that filigreed in frostlike patterns. Bacteria clearly responded to stress.

Then, to see if bacteria could induce stress, Lyte fed white mice a liquid solution of Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning in humans but generally doesn’t prompt an immune response in mice. To the trained eye, his treated mice were as healthy as the controls. But when he ran them through a plexiglass maze raised several feet above the lab floor, the bacteria-fed mice were less likely to venture out on the high, unprotected ledges of the maze. In human terms, they seemed anxious. Without the bacteria, they walked the narrow, elevated planks.

Credit: Illustration by Andrew Rae 

Each of these results was fascinating, but Lyte had a difficult time finding microbiology journals that would publish either. ‘‘It was so anathema to them,’’ he told me. When the mouse study finally appeared in the journal Physiology & Behavior in 1998, it garnered little attention. And yet as Stephen Collins, a gastroenterologist at McMaster University, told me, those first papers contained the seeds of an entire new field of research. ‘‘Mark showed, quite clearly, in elegant studies that are not often cited, that introducing a pathological bacterium into the gut will cause a change in behavior.’’

Lyte went on to show how stressful conditions for newborn cattle worsened deadly E. coli infections. In another experiment, he fed mice lean ground hamburger that appeared to improve memory and learning — a conceptual proof that by changing diet, he could change gut microbes and change behavior. After accumulating nearly a decade’s worth of evidence, in July 2008, he flew to Washington to present his research. He was a finalist for the National Institutes of Health’s Pioneer Award, a $2.5 million grant for so-called blue-sky biomedical research. Finally, it seemed, his time had come. When he got up to speak, Lyte described a dialogue between the bacterial organ and our central nervous system. At the two-minute mark, a prominent scientist in the audience did a spit take.

‘‘Dr. Lyte,’’ he later asked at a question-and-answer session, ‘‘if what you’re saying is right, then why is it when we give antibiotics to patients to kill bacteria, they are not running around crazy on the wards?’’

Lyte knew it was a dismissive question. And when he lost out on the grant, it confirmed to him that the scientific community was still unwilling to imagine that any part of our neural circuitry could be influenced by single-celled organisms. Lyte published his theory in Medical Hypotheses, a low-ranking journal that served as a forum for unconventional ideas. The response, predictably, was underwhelming. ‘‘I had people call me crazy,’’ he said.

But by 2011 — when he published a second theory paper in Bioessays, proposing that probiotic bacteria could be tailored to treat specific psychological diseases — the scientific community had become much more receptive to the idea. A Canadian team, led by Stephen Collins, had demonstrated that antibiotics could be linked to less cautious behavior in mice, and only a few months before Lyte, Sven Pettersson, a microbiologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, published a landmark paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that showed that mice raised without microbes spent far more time running around outside than healthy mice in a control group; without the microbes, the mice showed less apparent anxiety and were more daring. In Ireland, Cryan published his forced-swim-test study on psychobiotics. There was now a groundswell of new research. In short order, an implausible idea had become a hypothesis in need of serious validation.

Late last year, Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist at the California Institute of Technology, gave a presentation at the Society for Neuroscience, ‘‘Gut Microbes and the Brain: Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience.’’ Someone had inadvertently dropped a question mark from the end, so the speculation appeared to be a definitive statement of fact. But if anyone has a chance of delivering on that promise, it’s Mazmanian, whose research has moved beyond the basic neurochemicals to focus on a broader class of molecules called metabolites: small, equally druglike chemicals that are produced by micro-organisms. Using high-powered computational tools, he also hopes to move beyond the suggestive correlations that have typified psychobiotic research to date, and instead make decisive discoveries about the mechanisms by which microbes affect brain function.

Two years ago, Mazmanian published a study in the journal Cell with Elaine Hsiao, then a graduate student at his lab and now a neuroscientist at Caltech, that made a provocative link between a single molecule and behavior. Their research found that mice exhibiting abnormal communication and repetitive behaviors, like obsessively burying marbles, were mollified when they were given one of two strains of the bacterium Bacteroides fragilis.

The study added to a working hypothesis in the field that microbes don’t just affect the permeability of the barrier around the brain but also influence the intestinal lining, which normally prevents certain bacteria from leaking out and others from getting in. When the intestinal barrier was compromised in his model, normally ‘‘beneficial’’ bacteria and the toxins they produce seeped into the bloodstream and raised the possibility they could slip past the blood-brain barrier. As one of his colleagues, Michael Fischbach, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said: ‘‘The scientific community has a way of remaining skeptical until every last arrow has been drawn, until the entire picture is colored in. Other scientists drew the pencil outlines, and Sarkis is filling in a lot of the color.’’

Mazmanian knew the results offered only a provisional explanation for why restrictive diets and antibacterial treatments seemed to help some children with autism: Altering the microbial composition might be changing the permeability of the intestine. ‘‘The larger concept is, and this is pure speculation: Is a disease like autism really a disease of the brain or maybe a disease of the gut or some other aspect of physiology?’’ Mazmanian said. For any disease in which such a link could be proved, he saw a future in drugs derived from these small molecules found inside microbes. (A company he co-founded, Symbiotix Biotherapies, is developing a complex sugar called PSA, which is associated with Bacteroides fragilis, into treatments for intestinal disease and multiple sclerosis.) In his view, the prescriptive solutions probably involve more than increasing our exposure to environmental microbes in soil, dogs or even fermented foods; he believed there were wholesale failures in the way we shared our microbes and inoculated children with these bacteria. So far, though, the only conclusion he could draw was that disorders once thought to be conditions of the brain might be symptoms of microbial disruptions, and it was the careful defining of these disruptions that promised to be helpful in the coming decades.

The list of potential treatments incubating in labs around the world is startling. Several international groups have found that psychobiotics had subtle yet perceptible effects in healthy volunteers in a battery of brain-scanning and psychological tests. Another team in Arizona recently finished an open trial on fecal transplants in children with autism. (Simultaneously, at least two offshore clinics, in Australia and England, began offering fecal microbiota treatments to treat neurological disorders, like multiple sclerosis.) Mazmanian, however, cautions that this research is still in its infancy. ‘‘We’ve reached the stage where there’s a lot of, you know, ‘The microbiome is the cure for everything,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘I have a vested interest if it does. But I’d be shocked if it did.’’

Lyte issues the same caveat. ‘‘People are obviously desperate for solutions,’’ Lyte said when I visited him in Abilene. (He has since moved to Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.) ‘‘My main fear is the hype is running ahead of the science.’’ He knew that parents emailing him for answers meant they had exhausted every option offered by modern medicine. ‘‘It’s the Wild West out there,’’ he said. ‘‘You can go online and buy any amount of probiotics for any number of conditions now, and my paper is one of those cited. I never said go out and take probiotics.’’ He added, ‘‘We really need a lot more research done before we actually have people trying therapies out.’’

If the idea of psychobiotics had now, in some ways, eclipsed him, it was nevertheless a curious kind of affirmation, even redemption: an old-school microbiologist thrust into the midst of one of the most promising aspects of neuroscience. At the moment, he had a rough map in his head and a freezer full of monkey fecals that might translate, somehow, into telling differences between gregarious or shy monkeys later in life. I asked him if what amounted to a personality transplant still sounded a bit far-fetched. He seemed no closer to unlocking exactly what brain functions could be traced to the same organ that produced feces. ‘‘If you transfer the microbiota from one animal to another, you can transfer the behavior,’’ Lyte said. ‘‘What we’re trying to understand are the mechanisms by which the microbiota can influence the brain and development. If you believe that, are you now out on the precipice? The answer is yes. Do I think it’s the future? I think it’s a long way away.’’

Netherlands ordered to cut greenhouse gas emissions (BBC)

24 June 2015

A 2003 picture showing flooding in the town of Wilnis, the Netherlands

Low-lying Netherlands is vulnerable to flooding, which could worsen with rising sea levels

A Dutch court has ordered the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020, in a case environmentalists hope will set a precedent for other countries.

Campaigners brought the case on behalf of almost 900 Dutch citizens.

They argued the government had a legal obligation to protect its citizens from the dangers of climate change.

Government lawyers did not immediately comment on the ruling at the court in The Hague.

Jasper Teulings from Greenpeace called it a “landmark case”.

“It shifts the whole debate. Other cases are being brought in Belgium, the Philippines. This is the start of a wave of climate litigation.”

The court ruled that based on current policy, the Netherlands would only achieve a 17% reduction at most in 2020, which is less than other nations.

“The parties agree that the severity and magnitude of climate change make it necessary to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” it said.

The lawsuit was brought under human rights laws by the sustainability foundation Urgenda, which said – and the court agreed – that the Netherlands had a duty of care to its citizens and to improve the environment.

It argued that unless rapid action was taken, the next half of this century would see extreme weather, shrinking ice caps and shortages of food and water.

null

It was an emotional moment for activists when the ruling was announced

Low-lying Netherlands is especially vulnerable, and must now cut its emissions by a quarter compared with 1990 levels.

The targets will require tough action, says the BBC’s environment correspondent Helen Briggs.

Coal and gas provide much of the Netherlands’ energy needs, with the country lagging behind neighbours Denmark and Germany in the use of renewables, our correspondent adds.

The Dutch government can appeal to a higher court and it is not clear yet how the ruling will be enforced.

The European Union recently set a target of reducing emissions by 40% by 2030.

A major conference on climate change is due later this year, with negotiators aiming to strike a global deal limiting temperature increases to no more than two degrees over pre-industrial levels.

null

Analysis: Anna Holligan, BBC News, The Hague

The judgment was unprecedented in Europe, and unexpected. It pushes the Dutch government to honour its commitment to cut emissions.

In terms of the practical implementation, the government has already agreed to close coal plants, increase the use of windmills and solar energy and drastically reduce gas extractions in the north of the country.

The court case puts pressure on the government to speed up the process in order to meet the targets and become more energy efficient within the next five years.

The judgment is legally binding, and based on “Tort Law” – a general and universal concept which essentially refers to a duty to refrain from causing harm.

null

The Way Humans Get Electricity Is About to Change Forever (Bloomberg)

These six shifts will transform markets over the next 25 years

The renewable-energy boom is here. Trillions of dollars will be invested over the next 25 years, driving some of the most profound changes yet in how humans get their electricity. That’s according to a new forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance that plots out global power markets to 2040.

Here are six massive shifts coming soon to power markets near you:

1. Solar Prices Keep Crashing

The price of solar power will continue to fall, until it becomes the cheapest form of power in a rapidly expanding number of national markets. By 2026, utility-scale solar will be competitive for the majority of the world, according to BNEF. The lifetime cost of a photovoltaic solar-power plant will drop by almost half over the next 25 years, even as the prices of fossil fuels creep higher.

Solar power will eventually get so cheap that it will outcompete new fossil-fuel plants and even start to supplant some existing coal and gas plants, potentially stranding billions in fossil-fuel infrastructure. The industrial age was built on coal. The next 25 years will be the end of its dominance.

2. Solar Billions Become Solar Trillions

With solar power so cheap, investments will surge. Expect $3.7 trillion in solar investments between now and 2040, according to BNEF. Solar alone will account for more than a third of new power capacity worldwide. Here’s how that looks on a chart, with solar appropriately dressed in yellow and fossil fuels in pernicious gray:

Electricity capacity additions, in gigawatts
Source: BNEF


3. The Revolution Will Be Decentralized 

The biggest solar revolution will take place on rooftops. High electricity prices and cheap residential battery storage will make small-scale rooftop solar ever more attractive, driving a 17-fold increase in installations. By 2040, rooftop solar will be cheaper than electricity from the grid in every major economy, and almost 13 percent of electricity worldwide will be generated from small-scale solar systems.

$2.2 Trillion Goes to Rooftops by 2040

Rooftop (small-scale) solar in yellow. Renewables account for about two-thirds of investment over the next 25 years.

4. Global Demand Slows

Yes, the world is inundated with mobile phones, flat screen TVs, and air conditioners. But growth in demand for electricity is slowing. The reason: efficiency. To cram huge amounts of processing power into pocket-sized gadgets, engineers have had to focus on how to keep those gadgets from overheating. That’s meant huge advances in energy efficiency. Switching to an LED light bulb, for example, can reduce electricity consumption by more than 80 percent.

So even as people rise from poverty to middle class faster than ever, BNEF predicts that global electricity consumption will remain relatively flat. In the next 25 years, global demand will grow about 1.8 percent a year, compared with 3 percent a year from 1990 to 2012. In wealthy OECD countries, power demand will actually decline.

This watercolor chart compares economic growth to energy efficiency. Each color represents a country or region. As economies get richer, growth requires less power.

The Beauty of Efficiency

Source: BNEF

5. Natural Gas Burns Briefly

Natural gas won’t become the oft-idealized “bridge fuel” that transitions the world from coal to renewable energy, according to BNEF. The U.S. fracking boom will help bring global prices down some, but few countries outside the U.S. will replace coal plants with natural gas. Instead, developing countries will often opt for some combination of coal, gas, and renewables.

Even in the fracking-rich U.S., wind power will be cheaper than building new gas plants by 2023, and utility-scale solar will be cheaper than gas by 2036.

Fossil fuels aren’t going to suddenly disappear. They’ll retain a 44 percent share of total electricity generation in 2040 (down from two thirds today), much of which will come from legacy plants that are cheaper to run than shut down. Developing countries will be responsible for 99 percent of new coal plants and 86 percent of new gas-fired plants between now and 2040, according to BNEF. Coal is clearly on its way out, but in developing countries that need to add capacity quickly, coal-power additions will be roughly equivalent to utility-scale solar.

Source: BNEF

6. The Climate Is Still Screwed

The shift to renewables is happening shockingly fast, but not fast enough to prevent perilous levels of global warming.

About $8 trillion, or two thirds of the world’s spending on new power capacity over the next 25 years, will go toward renewables. Still, without additional policy action by governments, global carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector will continue to rise until 2029 and will remain 13 percent higher than today’s pollution levels in 2040.

That’s not enough to prevent the surface of the Earth from heating more than 2 degrees Celsius, according to BNEF. That’s considered the point-of-no-return for some worst consequences of climate change.

CO2 emissions from the power sector don’t peak until 2029
Source: BNEF

Brain Cells Break Their Own DNA to Allow Memories to Form (IFL Science)

June 22, 2015 | by Justine Alford

photo credit: Courtesy of MIT Researchers 

Given the fundamental importance of our DNA, it is logical to assume that damage to it is undesirable and spells bad news; after all, we know that cancer can be caused by mutations that arise from such injury. But a surprising new study is turning that idea on its head, with the discovery that brain cells actually break their own DNA to enable us to learn and form memories.

While that may sound counterintuitive, it turns out that the damage is necessary to allow the expression of a set of genes, called early-response genes, which regulate various processes that are critical in the creation of long-lasting memories. These lesions are rectified pronto by repair systems, but interestingly, it seems that this ability deteriorates during aging, leading to a buildup of damage that could ultimately result in the degeneration of our brain cells.

This idea is supported by earlier work conducted by the same group, headed by Li-Huei Tsai, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that discovered that the brains of mice engineered to develop a model of Alzheimer’s disease possessed a significant amount of DNA breaks, even before symptoms appeared. These lesions, which affected both strands of DNA, were observed in a region critical to learning and memory: the hippocampus.

To find out more about the possible consequences of such damage, the team grew neurons in a dish and exposed them to an agent that causes these so-called double strand breaks (DSBs), and then they monitored the gene expression levels. As described in Cellthey found that while the vast majority of genes that were affected by these breaks showed decreased expression, a small subset actually displayed increased expression levels. Importantly, these genes were involved in the regulation of neuronal activity, and included the early-response genes.

Since the early-response genes are known to be rapidly expressed following neuronal activity, the team was keen to find out whether normal neuronal stimulation could also be inducing DNA breaks. The scientists therefore applied a substance to the cells that is known to strengthen the tiny gap between neurons across which information flows – the synapse – mimicking what happens when an organism is exposed to a new experience.

“Sure enough, we found that the treatment very rapidly increased the expression of those early response genes, but it also caused DNA double strand breaks,” Tsai said in a statement.

So what is the connection between these breaks and the apparent boost in early-response gene expression? After using computers to scrutinize the DNA sequences neighboring these genes, the researchers found that they were enriched with a pattern targeted by an architectural protein that, upon binding, distorts the DNA strands by introducing kinks. By preventing crucial interactions between distant DNA regions, these bends therefore act as a barrier to gene expression. The breaks, however, resolve these constraints, allowing expression to ensue.

These findings could have important implications because earlier work has demonstrated that aging is associated with a decline in the expression of genes involved in the processes of learning and memory formation. It therefore seems likely that the DNA repair system deteriorates with age, but at this stage it is unclear how these changes occur, so the researchers plan to design further studies to find out more.

The Magna Carta of integral ecology: cry of the Earth-cry of the poor (Leonardo Boff)

18/06/2015

Before making any comment it is worth highlighting some peculiarities of the Laudato si encyclical of Pope Francis.

It is the first time a pope addresses the issue of ecology in the sense of an integral ecology (as it goes beyond the environment) in such a complete way. Big surprise: he elaborates the subject on the new ecological paradigm, which no official document of the UN has done so far. He bases his speech with the safest data of life sciences and Earth. He reads the data affectionately (with a sensitive or cordial intelligence), as he discerns that behind them hides human tragedy and suffering and also for Mother Earth. The current situation is serious, but Pope Francis always finds reasons for hope and trust that human beings can find viable solutions. He links to the Popes who preceded him, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, quoting them frequently. And something absolutely new: the text is part of collegiality, as it values ​​the contributions of dozens of bishops’ conferences around the world, from the US to Germany, that of Brazil, Patagonia-Comahue, and Paraguay. He gathers the contributions of other thinkers, such as Catholics Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Romano Guardini, Dante Alighieri, the Argentinian maestro Juan Carlos Scannone, Protestant Paul Ricoeur and the Sufi Muslim Ali Al-Khawwas. The recipients are all of us human beings, we are all inhabitants of the same common house (commonly used term by the Pope) and suffer the same threats.

Pope Francis does not write as a Master or Doctor of faith, but as a zealous pastor who cares for the common home of all beings, not just humans, that inhabit it.

One element deserves to be highlighted, as it reveals the “forma mentis” (the way he organizes hi thinking) of Pope Francis. This is a contribution of the pastoral and theological experience of Latin American churches in the light of the documents of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) in Medellin (1968), Puebla (1979) and Aparecida (2007), that were an option for the poor against poverty and in favor of liberation.

The wording and tone of the encyclical are typical of Pope Francis, and the ecological culture that he has accumulated, but I also realize that many expressions and ways of speaking refer to what is being thought and written mainly in Latin America. The themes of the “common home”, of “Mother Earth”, the “cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor”, the “care” of the “interdependence of all beings”, of the “poor and vulnerable “, the” paradigm shift, “the” human being as Earth “that feels, thinks, loves and reveres, the” integral ecology “among others, are recurrent among us.

The structure of the encyclical obeys to the methodological ritual used by our churches and theological reflection linked to the practice of liberation, now taken over and consecrated by the Pope: see, judge, act and celebrate.

First, he begins revealing his main source of inspiration: St. Francis of Assisi, whom he calls “the quintessential example of comprehensive care and ecology, who showed special concern for the poor and the abandoned” (n.10, n.66).

Then he moves on to see “What is happening in our home” (nn.17-61). The Pope says, “just by looking at the reality with sincerity we can see that there is a deterioration of our common home” (n.61). This part incorporates the most consistent data on climate change (nn.20-22), the issue of water (n.27-31), erosion of biodiversity (nn.32-42), the deterioration of the quality of human life and the degradation of social life (nn.43-47), he denounces the high rate of planetary inequality, which affects all areas of life (nn.48-52), with the poor as its main victims (n. 48).

In this part there is a phrase which refers to the reflection made in Latin America: “Today we cannot ignore that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach and should integrate justice in discussions on the environment to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor “(n.49). Then he adds: “the cries of the Earth join the cries of the abandoned of this world” (n.53). This is quite consistent since the beginning he has said that “we are Earth” (No. 2; cf. Gen 2.7.), Very in line with the great singer and poet Argentine indigenous Atahualpa Yupanqui: “humans beings are the Earth walking, feeling, thinking and loving.”

He condemns the proposed internationalization of the Amazon that “only serves the interests of multinationals” (n.38). There is a great statement of ethical force, “it is severely grave to obtain significant benefits making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay for the high costs of environmental degradation” (n.36).

He acknowledges with sadness: “We had never mistreated and offended our common home as much as in the last two centuries” (n.53). Faced with this human offensive against Mother Earth that many scientists have denounced as the beginning of a new geological era -the antropocene- he regrets the weakness of the powers of this world, that deceived, “believed that everything can continue as it is, as an alibi to “maintain its self-destructive habits” (n.59) with “a behavior that seems suicidal” (n.55).

Prudently, he recognizes the diversity of opinions (nn.60-61) and that “there is no single way to solve the problem” (n.60). However, “it is true that the global system is unsustainable from many points of view because we have stopped thinking about the purpose of human action” (n.61) and we get lost in the construction of means for unlimited accumulation at the expense of ecological injustice (degradation of ecosystems) and social injustice (impoverishment of populations). Mankind simply disappointed the divine hope “(n.61).

The urgent challenge, then, is “to protect our common home” (n.13); and for that we need, quoting Pope John Paul II, “a global ecological conversion” (n.5); “A culture of caring that permeates all of society” (n.231).
Once the seeing dimension is realized, the dimension of judgment prevails. This judging is done in two aspects, the scientific and the theological.

Let´s see the scientific. The encyclical devoted the entire third chapter to the analysis “of the human root of the ecological crisis” (nn.101-136). Here the Pope proposes to analyze techno-science, without prejudice, recognizing what it has brought such as “precious things to improve the quality of human life” (n. 103). But this is not the problem, but the independence, submitted to the economy, politics and nature in view of the accumulation of material goods (cf.n.109). Technoscience nourishes on a mistaken assumption that there is an “infinite availability of goods in the world” (n.106), when we know that we have surpassed the physical limits of the Earth and that much of the goods and services are not renewable. Technoscience has turned into technocracy, which has become a real dictatorship with a firm logic of domination over everything and everyone (n.108).

The great illusion, dominant today, lies in believing that technoscience can solve all environmental problems. This is a misleading idea because it “involves isolating the things that are always connected” (n.111). In fact, “everything is connected” (n.117) “everything is related” (n.120), a claim that appears throughout the encyclical text of the as a refrain, as it is a new contemporary paradigm key concept. The great limitation of technocracy is the fact of ‘knowledge fragmentation and losing the sense of wholeness “(n.110). The worst thing is “not to recognize the intrinsic value of every being and even denying a peculiar value to the human being” (n.118).

The intrinsic value of each being, even if it is minuscule, it is permanently highlighted in the encyclical (N.69), as does the Earth Charter. By denying the intrinsic value we are preventing “each being to communicate its message and to give glory to God” (n.33).

The largest deviation of technocracy is anthropocentrism. This means an illusion that things have value only insofar as they are ordered to human use, forgetting that its existence is valuable by itself (n.33). If it is true that everything is related, then “we humans are united as brothers and sisters and join with tender affection to Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother river and Mother Earth” (n.92). How can we expect to dominate them and view them within the narrow perspective of domination by humans?

All these “ecological virtues” (n.88) are lost by the will of power and domination of others to nature. We live a distressing “loss of meaning of life and the desire to live together” (n.110). He sometimes quotes the Italian-German Romano Guardini (1885-1968) theologist, one of the most read in the middle of the last century, who wrote a critical book against the claims of the modernity (n.105 note 83: Das Ende der Neuzeit, The decline of the Modern Age, 1958).

The other side of judgment is the theological. The encyclical reserves an important space for the “Gospel of Creation” (nos. 62-100). It begins justifying the contribution of religions and Christianity, as it is global crisis, each instance must, with its religious capital contribute to the care of the Earth (n.62). He does not insists in doctrines but on this wisdom in the various spiritual paths. Christianity prefers to speak of creation rather than nature, because “creation is related to a project of love of God” (n.76). Quote, more than once, a beautiful text of the Book of Wisdom (21.24) where it is clear that “the creation of the order of love” (n.77) and God emerges as “the Lord lover of life “(Wis 11:26).

The text opens for an evolutionary view of the universe without using the word, but doing a circumlocution referring to the universe “consisting of open systems that come into communion with each other” (n.79). It uses the main texts that link Christ incarnated and risen with the world and with the whole universe, making all matters of the Earth sacred (n.83). In this context he quotes Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955, n.83 note 53) as a precursor of this cosmic vision.
The fact that Trinity-God is divine and it related with people means that all things are related resonances of the divine Trinity (n.240).

Quoting the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church “recognizes that sins against creation are sins against God” (n.7). Hence the urgency of a collective ecological conversion to repair the lost harmony.

The encyclical concludes well with this part “The analysis showed the need for a change of course … we must escape the spiral of self-destruction in which we are sinking” (n.163). It is not a reform, but, citing the Earth Charter, but to seek “a new beginning” (n.207). The interdependence of all with all leads us to believe “in one world with a common project” (n.164).

Since reality has many aspects, all closely related, Pope Francis proposes an “integral ecology” that goes beyond the environmental ecology to which we are accustomed (n.137). It covers all areas, the environmental, economic, social, cultural and everyday life (n.147-148). Never forget the poor who also testify human and social ecology living ties of belonging and solidarity with each other (n.149).

The third methodological step is to act. In this part, the Encyclical observes the major issues of the international, national and local politics (nn.164-181). It stresses the interdependence of the social and educational aspect with ecological and sadly states the difficulties that bring the prevalence of technocracy, creating difficulty for the changes that restrain the greed of accumulation and consumption, that can be opened again (n.141) . He mentions again the theme of economics and politics that should serve the common good and create conditions for a possible human fulfillment (n.189-198). He re-emphasizes on the dialogue between science and religion, as it is being suggested by the great biologist Edward O.Wilson (cf. the book Creation: how to save life on Earth, 2008). All religions “should seek the care of nature and the defense of the poor” (n.201).

Still in the aspect of acting, he challenges education in the sense of creating “ecological citizenship” (n.211) and a new lifestyle, seated on caring, compassion, shared sobriety, the alliance between humanity and the environment, since both are umbilically linked, and the co-responsibility for everything that exists and lives and our common destiny (nn.203-208).

Finally, the time to celebrate. The celebration takes place in a context of “ecological conversion” (n.216), it involves an “ecological spirituality” (n.216). This stems not so much from theological doctrines but the motivations that faith arises to take care of the common house and “nurture a passion for caring for the world” (216). Such a mystical experience is what mobilizes people to live the ecological balance, “to those who are solidary inside themselves, with others, with nature and with all living and spiritual beings and God” (n.210). That appears to be the truth that “less is more” and that we can be happy with little.

In the sense of celebrating “the world is more than something to be solved, it is a joyous mystery to be contemplated in joy and with love” (n.12).

The tender and fraternal spirit of St. Francis of Assisi is present through the entire text of the encyclical Laudato. The current situation does not mean an announced tragedy, but a challenge for us to care for the common house and for each other. The text highlights poetry and joy in the Spirit and indestructible hope that if the threat is big, greater is the opportunity for solving our environmental problems.

The text poetically ends with the words “Beyond the Sun”, saying: “let’s walk singing. That our struggles and our concerns about this planet do not take away our joy of hope “(n.244).
I would like to end with the final words of the Earth Charter which the Pope quotes himself (n.207): ” Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.¨

 This text is a chapter of a book in italien Curare la Madre Terra, EMI, Bologna 2015

Leonardo Boff is theologist and ecologist

With San Diego again drought-ridden, 1915 ‘Rainmaker’ saga is revisited (L.A. Times)

As California is finding out, drought can make people — and their governments — do things that might otherwise be unthinkable.

Take the San Diego of 1915.

With their small city beset by drought, civic leaders hired “moisture accelerator” Charles Hatfield, who claimed to have a secret formula of chemicals to produce rain.

“It was a disaster,” said Rick Crawford, supervisor of special collections at San Diego’s central library.

For $10,000, Hatfield promised to produce enough rain to fill the city’s depleted reservoirs. The otherwise fiscally conservative City Council agreed — although one councilman called the idea “foolishness.”

Charles Hatfield

Charles Hatfield scans the skies for signs of rain. The debate continues over whether he was a fraud or a man who had discovered an early forerunner to modern cloud-seeding. (Gordon Wallace / Los Angeles Times)

————
FOR THE RECORD:
San Diego “rainmaker” case: An article in the June 1 California section about San Diego’s hiring in 1915 of “rainmaker” Charles Hatfield was accompanied by a historic photo of Hatfield on the ladder of a 20-foot tower, which was identified as one he had built east of San Diego. He did build such a tower for San Diego, aimed at “wringing moisture from the air”; however, the photo was of another tower, in Coalinga, Calif., in 1924.
————

Hatfield and his younger brother built a 20-foot tower in the deep woods east of the city and began what one city official would later call “an incantation aimed at wringing moisture from the air.” Smoke drifted skyward.

What followed in January and early February of 1916 was a downpour — 30 inches of rain by some estimates.

Mission Valley flooded. The San Diego River jumped its banks. Farms, homes, bridges and businesses were swept away. Little Landers, a farming commune, was destroyed. Two dams were damaged and a third failed. Estimates of the deaths range from a dozen to 50.

Hatfield, who had done other rainmaking chores, decided to flee.

“Fearful of being lynched by angry farmers, Hatfield ‘got out of Dodge,’ as the saying goes, leaving town during the night,” wrote Dan Walker in his “Thirst for Independence: The San Diego Water Story,” published in 2004. “He never received his $10,000.”

When the waters receded, Hatfield returned and filed a lawsuit. Litigation dragged on for years, not settled until the San Diego County Superior Court rejected it in 1938.

From the “Hatfield Flood” came a legend that has endured for decades, inspiring books, historical reviews, at least two country-western songs and, very loosely, the 1956 movie “The Rainmaker” starring Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn.

The debate continues over whether Hatfield was a fraud or a man who had discovered an early forerunner to modern cloud-seeding.

With San Diego again gripped by drought, the Hatfield saga is getting renewed notice: a display curated by Crawford in the special collections section of the downtown library and a short docu-drama on the Travel Channel.

Then, as now, San Diego was deeply concerned that its meager amount of native water will not sustain its population. By the late 19th century, San Diego officials were determined to capture as much rain runoff as possible. “We were building more dams than anybody in the world,” Crawford said.

A business organization called the San Diego Wide Awake Improvement Club demanded that the City Council do more to keep San Diego from withering with thirst.

When drought left the reservoirs at a low ebb, the council was ready to take a chance, even if it meant spending lots of money. The means have changed but not the motive; as Walker’s book suggests, the quest for water “independence” never ends in San Diego.

Modern-day officials have bet on an expensive deal for water from the Imperial Valley and a $1-billion desalination plant being built in Carlsbad.

In 1915, officials were taken with an impeccably dressed, politely earnest transplant from Kansas, the son of a devout Quaker family.

Charles Hatfield spoke in scientific terms and promised to work for free unless he could fill the Morena reservoir. He talked of having successfully using his rainmaking technique in Alaska, Los Angeles County, the San Joaquin Valley, Texas and Hemet. He had studied the works of other rainmakers, including the so-called Australian Wizard, and was familiar with the popular book “Elementary Meteorology.”

At first, San Diego rejoiced at the rain: “Rainmaker Hatfield Induces Clouds To Open,” read one headline.

Then concern set in, followed by distress and then horror as the water roared westward, unstoppable. The San Diego River, usually a few dozen yards wide, was calculated to be a mile in width.

“It seemed the rains would never end and the damage would never stop mounting,” historian Thomas Patterson wrote in a 1970 article for the San Diego History Center. “Great trees tumbled root over branch. Sticks of lumber, railroad ties and parts of houses floated crazily.”

Just what Hatfield did at his tower near Lake Morena is unclear.

Some accounts indicate he set the chemicals on fire and let the smoke drift upward.

Shelley Higgins, who later served as a Superior Court judge, wrote in his book “The Fantastic City of San Diego” that he went by the tower and saw Hatfield “shooting bombs” into the air.

The controversy and litigation did not hurt Hatfield’s career. Offers to make rain came from farmers and others throughout the Midwest and Texas.

The library exhibit includes a letter in 1920 from a New York-based sugar company begging Hatfield to come to Cuba. In 1929 he answered a plea from officials in Honduras to produce rain to douse a forest fire.

The Depression ended Hatfield’s rainmaking career; Dust Bowl farmers could not afford his services. He went back to his original trade: selling sewing machines.

Hatfield died in 1958 at age 82 and was buried in Glendale — never having revealed his chemical formula.

tony.perry@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATsandiego

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

FOR THE RECORD

June 5, 8:50 a.m.: A previous version of the photo caption misidentified the tower built by Charles Hatfield as being the one east of San Diego. The photo is of a similar tower in Coalinga, Calif., in 1924.

China’s Communist-Capitalist Ecological Apocalypse (Truthout)

Sunday, 21 June 2015 00:00 By Richard Smith, Truthout | News Analysis 

A pedestrian wearing a protective mask in Beijing, Jan. 17, 2012. Decades of coal-powered industrialization combined with the government-promoted car craze have brought China the worst air pollution in the world. (Photo: Gilles Sabrie/The New York Times)

A pedestrian wearing a protective mask in Beijing, January 17, 2012. Decades of coal-powered industrialization combined with the government-promoted car craze have brought China the worst air pollution in the world. (Photo: Gilles Sabrie/The New York Times)

This article seeks to explain why China’s environmental crisis is so horrific, so much worse than “normal” capitalism most everywhere else, and why the government is incapable of suppressing pollution even from its own industries. I begin with an overview of the current state of China’s environment: its polluted air, waters, farmland and the proximate causes, including overproduction, overdevelopment, profligate resource consumption, uncontrolled dumping and venting of pollutants. I then discuss the political-economic drivers and enablers of this destruction, the dynamics and contradictions of China’s hybrid economy, noting how market reforms have compounded the irrationalities of the old bureaucratic collectivist system with the irrationalities of capitalism resulting in a diabolically ruinous “miracle” economy. I conclude with a précis of the emergency steps the country will have to take to take to brake the drive to socio-ecological collapse, with dire implications for us all.

The first time Li Gengxuan saw the dump trucks from the nearby factory pull into his village, he could not believe his eyes. Stopping between the cornfields and the primary school playground, the workers dumped buckets of bubbling white liquid onto the ground. Then they turned around and drove right back through the gates of their factory compound without a word.

In March 2008, Li and other farmers in Gaolong, a village in the central plains of Henan Province near the Yellow River, told a Washington Post reporter that workers from the nearby Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Company had been dumping this industrial waste in fields around their village every day for nine months. The liquid, silicon tetrachloride, was the byproduct of polysilicon production and it is a highly toxic substance. When exposed to humid air, silicon tetrachloride turns into acids and poisonous hydrogen chloride gas, which can make people dizzy and cause breathing difficulties.

Ren Bingyan, a professor of material sciences at Hebei Industrial University, contacted by the Post, told the paper that “the land where you dump or bury it will be infertile. No grass or trees will grow in its place … It is … poisonous, it is polluting. Human beings can never touch it.”

When the dumping began, crops wilted from the white dust, which sometimes rose in clouds several feet off the ground and spread over the fields as the liquid dried. Village farmers began to faint and became ill. And at night, villagers said “the factory’s chimneys released a loud whoosh of acrid air that stung their eyes and made it hard to breath.”

“It’s poison air. Sometimes it gets so bad you can’t sit outside. You have to close all the doors and windows,” said Qiao Shi Peng, 28, a truck driver who worried about the health of his 1-year-old.

China’s rise has come at a horrific social and environmental cost.

Reckless dumping of industrial waste is everywhere in China. But what caught the attention of The Washington Post was that the Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Company was a “green energy” company producing polysilicon destined for solar energy panels sold around the world. Indeed, it was a major supplier to Suntech Power Holdings, then the world’s leading producer of solar panels, and Suntech’s founder, Shi Zhengrong, topped the Hunrun list of the richest people in China in 2008. (1)

Silicon tetrachloride is an unavoidable byproduct of polysilicon production. But reckless pollution of farm villages is not unavoidable. Today, China is the only country in the world where such criminal behavior and cynical disregard for the health and lives of farmers and workers has become standard practice on a national scale by governments at every level, even as the government’s own environmental agencies decry such behavior and struggle, mostly in vain, to stop it. As one Chinese researcher told the Post, “If this happened in the United States, you’d be arrested.” But in China environmental regulations are regularly flouted by state-owned and private industries with the connivance of government officials at all levels while protesting farmers, workers and environmental activists are arrested, jailed, beaten or worse, and their lawyers with them.

Polysilicon production produces about four tons of silicon tetrachloride liquid waste for every ton of polysilicon produced. In Germany, where Siemens produces solar panels, pollution recovery technology is installed to process the silicon tetrachloride waste and render it harmless. But such environmental protection technology is expensive. In 2008, the cost to produce polysilicon safely was about $84,500 a ton in Germany and would not have cost much less in China. Chinese companies have been producing it for $21,000 to $56,000 a ton, saving millions of dollars a month, by just dumping the toxic waste in rural areas on helpless village communities.

Gaolong village is a mirror to China. It illustrates how the marriage of capitalism and Stalinist bureaucratic collectivism has created a diabolically destructive hybrid economic system, a rogue economy that is ravaging China’s environment, ruining the health of Chinese people, rendering more and more of the country unlivable, driving the country to ecological collapse and threatening to bring the whole planet down with it. (2)

I. China Self-Destructs

For more than three decades, China’s “miracle” economy has been the envy of the world or at least the envy of capitalist economists for whom wealth creation is the highest purpose of human life. Since 1979, China’s GDP has grown by an average of just under 10 percent per year. Never, the World Bank tells us, has a nation industrialized and modernized so quickly or lifted so many millions out of poverty in such a short time. From a backward, stagnant, largely agrarian socialism-in-poverty, Deng Xiaoping brought in foreign investors, introduced market incentives, set up export bases, turned China into the light-industrial workshop of the world and renovated China’s huge state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

“Fast fashion” is speeding the disposal of the planet.

Three and a half decades of surging economic growth lifted China from the world’s 10th largest economy in 1979 to No. 1 by 2014. What’s more, after decades of export-based growth, China’s 12th Five-Year Plan 2011-2015 sought to refocus the economy on internal market demand to realize Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation and turning China into a mass consumer society on the model of the United States. As China sailed right through the global near-collapse of 2008 to 2009, hardly missing a beat, while Western capitalist economies have struggled to keep from falling back into recession, even the Thatcherite Economist magazine had to concede that China’s state capitalism may be in certain respects superior to capitalist democracies and is perhaps even the wave of the future.

But China’s rise has come at a horrific social and environmental cost. It’s difficult to grasp the demonic violence and wanton recklessness of China’s profit-driven assault on nature and on the Chinese themselves. Ten years ago, in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine in March 2005, Pan Yue, China’s eloquent, young vice-minister of China’s State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) told the magazine, “the Chinese miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace.” Pan Yue added:

We are using too many raw materials to sustain [our] growth … Our raw materials are scarce, we don’t have enough land, and our population is constantly growing. Currently there [are] 1.3 billion people living in China, that’s twice as many as 50 years ago. In 2020 there will be 1.5 billion … but desert areas are expanding at the same time; habitable and usable land has been halved over the past 50 years … Acid rain is falling on one third of Chinese territory, half of the water in our seven largest rivers is completely useless, while one fourth of our citizens do not have access to clean drinking water. One third of the urban population is breathing polluted air, and less than 20 percent of the trash in cities is treated and processed in an environmentally sustainable manner … Because air and water are polluted, we are losing between 8 and 15 percent of our gross domestic product. And that doesn’t include the costs for health … In Beijing alone, 70 to 80 percent of all deadly cancer cases are related to the environment.

And criticizing Western economists who reassure us that more growth is the key to repairing the environmental damage done from growth, Pan said:

And there is yet another mistake … It’s the assumption that economic growth will give us the financial resources to cope with the crises surrounding the environment, raw materials, and population growth. [But] there won’t be enough money, and we are simply running out of time. Developed countries with a per capita gross national product of $8,000 to $10,000 can afford that, but we cannot. Before we reach $4,000 per person, different crises in all shapes and forms will hit us. Economically we won’t be strong enough to overcome them. (3)

Pan Yue’s searing honesty got him sidelined but if anything, he understated the speed, ferocity and scale of China’s ecological destruction, a destruction that extends far beyond China itself.

A. Consuming the Planet to Support Unsustainable Growth

As China’s growth took off in the 1980s and 1990s, the industrial boom rapidly depleted the country’s resources, especially lumber, oil and minerals, forcing Beijing to turn outward to feed its voracious engines of growth. The manic and thirsty industrialization boom in China’s northern industrial cities drained China’s northern fresh aquifers leaving some 600 cities, including Beijing, facing dire water shortages while severely polluting most remaining reserves. Profit-hungry loggers cut down most of what was left of China’s forests, recklessly denuding mountains and precipitating such extensive flooding and loss of life in 2009 that the government banned domestic logging. Chinese loggers then turned to plundering Siberia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and even New Guinea and parts of Africa. China had little oil to begin with so industrialization and automobilization quickly turned China from a modest oil exporter into a net importer in 1993 and the world’s leading oil importer by 2013. China’s iron ore, copper and other critical industrial mineral reserves have also been rapidly drawn down, forcing the country to import growing quantities of minerals.

The government has squandered astounding quantities of resources building entire industries China does not need.

In result, today, with 20 percent of the world’s population, China is now by far the world’s largest consumer of marketed primary industrial raw materials (cement, metal ores, industrial minerals, fossil fuels and biomass). China consumes more than 32 percent of the world’s total of these resources, nearly four times as much as the United States, the second largest consumer. China consumes just over half the world’s coal and a third of the world’s oil. China is the leading producer and consumer of steel with 46 percent of world output and now relies on imports for 77 percent of its iron ore. (4) China has become the world’s largest consumer of lumber and forest products, leveling forests from Siberia to Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Congo and Madagascar. Greenpeace concluded that on current trends “future generations will be living on a planet without ancient forests.” (5)

Of course, China has the world’s largest population and is industrializing from a comparatively low level just three decades ago so it’s hardly surprising that it would consume lots of resources to build infrastructure and modernize. But the fact is, most of these resources have been squandered on a stupendous scale, and for all the waste and pollution, most Chinese have gotten surprisingly little out of it all.

The Disposables Revolution and “The Great Acceleration” of Global Consumption

For a start, look at the export bases that have powered China’s rise. When China launched its “reform and opening” (gaige kaifang) in the early 1980s and invited foreign investors to set up joint-ventures and special economic zones, China’s combination of ultra cheap labor plus few-to-no environmental restrictions attracted many of the world’s dirtiest and least sustainable industries. Steel, coke, aluminum, cement, chemicals and petrochemicals, metal plating, leather tanning, plastics, paints and finishes, synthetic fibers and textile production, fabric dyeing, paper production, along with auto battery and electronics recycling – most of the toxic and smokestack industries facing increasingly tough environmental restrictions at home in the United States and Europe, relocated to China after 1980. (6) Seventy percent of the world’s e-waste is dumped in China.

On top of this, China’s masses of low-paid migrant workers were a magnet for the world’s most labor-intensive manufacturing and assembly industries. By the 1990s, China had more than 104 million manufacturing workers, about twice as many as the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, combined. And they worked eight- to 16-hour days, often seven days a week, for an average of $0.57 per hour in 2002, by one estimate, less than the handloom operators earned in the early Industrial Revolution in England. This “China Price” set the global floor for high-volume, light-industrial manufacturing from the 1980s. (7)

The price collapse spurred the biggest boom in global consumption in history and this in turn accelerated global resource plunder on an unprecedented scale. The sudden availability of such a huge pool of ultra-cheap workers also spurred a minor industrial revolution enabling producers to annihilate most of the remaining categories of durable goods and replace them with cheaper, disposable substitutes. With the disposables revolution, local tailors and alteration shops, shoe repair shops, appliance repair shops, TV repairmen and the like all but vanished in the West as it became cheaper to toss these items and replace them than repair them.

The Chinese Communist Party promoted the car craze to bolster status-seeking middle-class political support.

Take clothes: “Fast fashion,” (also known as “trashion fashion”) from H&M, Target, Zara and others, now rules the women’s apparel market with clothes so cheap it’s often not worth the cost of dry cleaning them. As Elizabeth Kline relates in her recent book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, “seasonal shopping patterns have given way to continuous consumption.” Zara delivers new lines twice a week to its stores. H&M and Forever 21 stock new styles every day. In Kline’s words: “Buying so much clothing and treating it as if it is disposable, is putting a huge added weight on the environment and is simply unsustainable.” To say the least.

The US cotton crop requires the application of 22 billion pounds of toxic pesticides every year. Most fiber is dyed or bleached, and treated in toxic chemical baths to make it brighter, softer, more fade resistant, waterproof or less prone to wrinkles. Upholstery fabrics and children’s pajamas are treated with ghastly chemicals to make them stain resistant or fireproof. These toxic baths consume immense quantities of chemicals and water, and it goes without saying that in China, the chemicals are routinely just dumped in rivers and lakes, untreated, just like that silicon tetrachloride poured out on Li Gengxuan’s cornfield. Then after all the chemical treatments, the fabrics have to be dried under heat lamps. These processes consume enormous quantities of energy.

The textile industry is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and it’s growing exponentially. In 1950, when there were about 2.5 billion people on earth, they consumed around 10 million tons of fabric for all uses. Today, we are 7 billion, but we consume more than 70 million tons of fabric annually, nearly three times as much per person as we consumed in the 1950s. Producing 70 million tons of fabric consumes astounding quantities of resources including more than 145 million tons of coal and between 1.5 and 2 trillion gallons of fresh water, every year. Synthetic fibers like polyester and such (now 60 percent of the market) are the worst: They consume between 10 and 25 times as much energy to produce as natural fibers. In short, “fast fashion” is speeding the disposal of the planet. (8)

And what’s true for China’s garment industry is true for most of the rest of China’s export industries. From cheap, disposable shoes and clothes, toys, tools, housewares, Christmas junk and flimsy plastic appliances to meticulously made and expensive but nevertheless designed-to-be-obsolesced iPhones and 60-inch flat-screen TVs, most of the world’s light-industrial goods are made in China and they are, for the most part, deliberately designed to be unrepairable and mostly unrecyclable. After their short life, they all end up piled on the world’s ever-growing garbage mountains, sent back to China in containers filled with e-trash to be “recycled” by children melting the plastic off motherboards over open fires, or left floating around the world’s oceans in giant plastic gyres over vast stretches of oceans, hundreds of feet deep. (9)

Scenes of Planetary Destruction From the 12th Five-Year Plan

When we turn to China’s domestic economy, the waste is breathtaking. As China’s economy opened to the West and China’s exports began returning billions of dollars in foreign exchange, Beijing launched wave after wave of gargantuan development projects: dams, airports, rail systems, roads, subways, sewerage systems, new industries, new housing, new cities, new ports and more. China’s supercharged government planners have been showcasing China’s engineering prowess and economic might by building the world’s biggest dams, the tallest skyscrapers, biggest airports, longest and highest bridges, longest rail and road networks and longest tunnels.

Since the 1980s, China has built enough new housing to re-house the entire population.

Since Deng Xiaoping launched his “Four Modernizations of agriculture, defense, science and technology” and reform and opening up, the country has been in perpetual Great Leap Forward mode: Five-Year plans have set annual industrial growth rates of 8 percent and promoted successive sets of “pillar” industries – autos, electronics, petrochemicals, clean energy and so on. In the current 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), the State Council calls for development of “seven strategic emerging industries” including 1) energy efficient and environmental technologies like “clean coal,” 2) next generation IT and cloud computing and the “Internet of Things,” 3) biotechnology, 4) high-tech manufacturing of vehicles and aircraft, expanding high-speed rail service to 45,000 kilometers, expanding motor expressways to 83,000 kilometers, 5) new-generation nuclear power, more solar and wind energy systems, 6) new materials including development of rare earths, special glass and ceramics, high-performance fiber and composite materials, 7) new-energy vehicles: motor batteries, drive motors, electronic controls, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, low-emissions vehicles. (10)

No doubt, the Chinese have benefited from new housing, infrastructure, schools, hospitals and so on. But the government has also squandered astounding quantities of resources building entire industries China does not need, building useless vanity projects, superfluous housing, redundant infrastructure and more. From the start this investment boom has been characterized by uncontrolled overproduction and out-of-control pollution.

Scene 1: The “Car Craze” China and Planet Earth Did Not Need

The 12th Five-Year Plan calls for “enhancing China’s independent capacity to manufacture automobiles, domesticating production of all key parts,” for “large-scale commercialization” of energy efficient and hybrid vehicles, for “building … world-famous brands and core competencies” and so on. Hybrid or not, this is an industry the Chinese do not need. Up to 1979, China produced around 160,000 motor vehicles per year with trucks and buses accounting for 90 percent of the output. People got around on bicycles, buses and trains. In 1990, China had just 5.5 million cars, trucks and buses on the road. By 2013, China became the world’s largest auto assembler cranking out 18.7 million cars and light vehicles, more than twice the number produced in the United States in that year. By 2013, China had 240 million cars on its roads, almost as many as in the United States, and China could have an estimated 390-532 million cars on the road by 2050. The question is, why does China need anything like such a huge auto industry? The lead headline of Bloomberg News for April 9, 2014, citing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, was “Cars become the biggest driver of greenhouse-gas increases.” What’s wrong with this picture?

China surpassed the US in 2007 to become the world’s leading carbon dioxide emitter.

The automobilization of China has brought three profound changes. First, it has dramatically lengthened the time it takes to get anywhere in China’s gridlocked cities (average speed on Beijing’s ring roads is 9 miles per hour) and created epic, world-historic traffic jams on highways feeding into Beijing and other cities. One jam-up near Beijing in 2010 stretched over 100 kilometers and lasted for two weeks. Secondly, it has added a dense new layer of smog on top of the already thick layers of smog from coal combustion smothering China’s cities. And thirdly, it has paved over much-needed farmland and wetlands and wasted enormous resources China, and the world, does not have to waste. This did not have to happen.

The Communist Party promoted joint-venture auto production as a “pillar” industry in the 1990s for two reasons: First, once the government embarked on its market-reform strategy, abandoning lifetime employment, it needed to push growth to generate private- and state-sector jobs, like capitalist governments everywhere. Speaking in November 2013, Prime Minister Li Keqiang stressed that:

Employment is the biggest thing for well-being. The government must not slacken on this for one moment … For us, stable growth is mainly for the sake of maintaining employment.

Auto manufacture and related industries now account for one out of every eight urban jobs in China excluding road building, another big employer.

Secondly, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) promoted the car craze to bolster status-seeking middle-class political support. In the 1980s, the CCP supported a modest consumerism. But after the Tiananmen uprising in the spring of 1989, the government opted for expansive consumerism to placate the middle classes. Hence the car craze, followed by the airline craze, the shopping mall craze, the high-speed train craze, the foreign tourism craze, and so on. It is no small irony that just as the CCP was ramping up auto production and banning bicycles from public roads in the 1990s, European countries were moving in the opposite direction – barring cars from many central city streets, promoting bicycles and car sharing, and expanding public transit. China didn’t begin expanding its urban subways in earnest until the late 2000s, after two decades of automobilization had gridlocked its cities and dramatically increased air pollution.

Scene 2: The Roads Not Taken

As China was racing to surpass the US as the world’s largest car market, the Communist Party decided that China should also “catch up and overtake” the US interstate highway system as well. So by 2010 China built 53,000 miles of intercity expressways, exceeding the US interstate highway system’s 47,000 miles. But this program, built at huge cost and by tearing through cities and paving over thousands of square miles of valuable farms, wetlands and so on, is yet another ill-conceived boondoggle because except for a few highways near major cities like Beijing or Shenzhen, China’s expressways are often little used. In places, farmers dry their crops on empty super highways. McClatchy’s Beijing bureau chief Tom Lasseter writes under this picture:

Do you see any cars along this road? One often hears about the traffic jams in the big cities of China. But here’s the flip side of the coin: In rural towns and cities in China, local officials like to build big showcase projects, displaying grandiosity but little utility. I was in the city of Fengzhen in Inner Mongolia yesterday. By Chinese standards, it is a small place, maybe 200,000 people. So imagine my surprise as we leave the downtown to come across this eight-lane highway going past a mammoth new City Hall. Nary a car on it. A passerby could keel over with a stroke on that highway and not risk getting run over for many hours. The city is already in hot water for building a power plant that Beijing says is unneeded. Across China, there are plenty of largely empty hotels, brand new empty highways, modern airports that lose money for lack of traffic, etc. What happens is that unelected local officials, not particularly responsive to local needs, find that pharaonic projects give their municipalities a luster that can attract investment, which is their path to promotion within the one-party system. So for every eight-lane road you see like this, there is a happy bureaucrat pondering a bright career ahead. (11)

How much cement has been poured, how much iron rebar has been forged, and how much coal has been burned to produce the energy to pave over so much of China – for no useful purpose whatsoever?

Scene 3: Half-Empty Trains and Subways

And how much steel, aluminum, copper, cement and electricity have been consumed to build China’s huge national network of high-speed trains? The 12th Five-Year Plan budgeted hundreds of billions of dollars to build more than 16,000 miles of high-speed rails by 2020. By 2013, China had already built more high-speed trains than the rest of the world combined. But this too is more make-work and prestige project than modernizing necessity. High-speed trains are hugely expensive to build and operate and consume more than twice as much electricity to run as regular trains, so tickets can cost 10 times the price of regular train tickets in China. Since few Chinese people can afford such prices, the trains often run at half capacity or less. Chinese transportation experts say the government is throwing money away on bullet trains, money that could be better spent on regular railroads, especially cargo lines, and developing mass transit in and around cities. (12) New York University economist Nouriel Roubini told Reuters in 2011:

“I was recently in Shanghai and I took their high-speed train to Hangzhou,” he said, referring to the new Maglev line that has cut traveling time between the two cities to less than an hour from four hours previously.

“The brand new high-speed train is half-empty and the brand new station is three-quarters empty. Parallel to that train line, there is also a new highway that looked three-quarters empty. Next to the train station is also the new local airport of Shanghai and you can fly to Hangzhou,” he said.

“There is no rationale for a country at that level of economic development to have not just duplication but triplication of those infrastructure projects.” (13)

Duplication, triplication, overconstruction and waste is everywhere in China, even with subways. Twenty-two cities already have subway systems and money was budgeted in 2012 to build subways in another 16 by the end of 2018. Wang Mengshu, a subway engineer from the Chinese Academy of Engineering who helped design China’s first subway in Beijing in 1965, says these are completely unnecessary, too expensive, again more prestige projects than public service: “Second-, third-, fourth-tier cities … those cities don’t need to build subways. Even if they can afford to build them, they can’t afford to run them. But a lot of places think that if they have a subway, then they are a big city.” (14)

Scene 4: China as “Major Aerospace and Air-Travel Power”

The 12th Five-Year Plan grandiosely calls for a push to make China a “major aerospace and air-travel power.” Plans call for nearly a hundred new airports, thousands of new airliners, thousands of helicopters, business jets and small aircraft of all varieties. Boeing estimates Chinese carriers will need more than 5,260 new airliners – worth $670 billion – by 2031. (15) Great for Boeing. But not only did China not “need” this industry, it’s just suicidal for developing countries like China to repeat the same environmental mistakes as the West did.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that aviation is currently responsible for about 3.5 percent of anthropogenic climate change and says that if present trends continue this share will grow to between 5 percent and 15 percent by 2050 while the absolute contribution of aviation generated emissions will soar. Aviation is already the fastest growing source of global carbon dioxide emissions and if it continues to grow at its current rate it will overwhelm all the cuts engineers have managed to make elsewhere. (16) There are not currently nor are there on the horizon any practical alternatives to kerosene-based fuels for commercial jet aircraft. This is why after surveying the literature on potentials for greenhouse gas mitigation in other forms of transportation, environmental journalist George Monbiot concludes that while some forms of transport can be rendered a bit greener, there’s virtually nothing we can do with aviation with present or foreseeable technologies:

There is, in other words, no technofix. The growth in aviation and the need to address climate change cannot be reconciled. Given that [efficiency gains tend to be canceled out by growth] a 90 percent cut in emissions requires not only that growth stops, but that most of the planes which are flying today are grounded. I recognize that this will not be a popular message. But it is hard to see how a different conclusion could be extracted from the available evidence. (17)

In a world where climate scientists tell us we need to cut global carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent by 2050, global aviation emissions are on course to double by 2030. It will be suicidal to let this happen. Absent some technical miracle, the only way to suppress aviation emissions is to suppress the numbers of people jetting around the planet, not add hundreds of millions of Chinese to this jet set. Coming to grips with this reality may not be popular in China or the United States, but the alternative is not going to be popular either.

Scene 5: Construction Frenzies, Ghost Cities and the Mother of All Real Estate Bubbles

Yet none of the above compares with the resources squandered on the construction boom of recent decades. China’s construction juggernaut has been gobbling up China’s best peri-urban farmland, expelling tens of millions of farmers and urban residents and consuming staggering quantities of resources to build unneeded housing, shopping malls, industrial parks, office buildings, power plants and infrastructure in a country already bursting with overpopulated, polluted megacities. (18) Millions of urban residents were cleared out of Beijing and Shanghai, which were completely rebuilt with thousands of skyscrapers, apartment blocks, highways and shopping malls. (19) Cities and provinces compete to build cloud-piercing skyscrapers even if they have no prospective tenants for them.

In one village, 80 percent of the population is said to have died from pollution-induced cancers since 1991.

By 2020, 12 of the planet’s 20 tallest towers are expected to be in provincial cities like Shenyang, Wuhan and Suzhou. The office vacancy rate in Shenyang is nearly 30 percent, yet three more towers, all bigger than the Chrysler Building in New York City, are under construction, and another 12 are on the drawing boards. Beijing’s premier architectural atrocity, the Rem Koolhaas-designed CCTV tower – dubbed “Big Underpants” by the locals – sits nearly empty since it was built in 2008. Cities compete to build ersatz Wall Street “financial centers” as in Beijing (abandoned) and Tianjin (abandoned and unfinished). Stunningly lavish offices for cadres are built everywhere. China’s coast has multiple redundant ports, some nearly empty, but more are planned.

Since the 1980s, China has built enough new housing to re-house the entire population but the construction boom has become a self-sustaining, perpetual engine of construction for the sake of construction – supply with no demand. And there are not just miles of empty apartment blocks but entire “ghost cities” complete with office towers, hospitals, schools, futuristic airports, museums, universities, libraries, theaters, sports fields, and miles and miles of apartment towers and subdivisions of McMansions – but almost no people. (20) Twenty-one percent of China’s urban residents, the wealthy and middle classes, own two urban apartments, some own three or four – all bought for speculation, not to live in, not vacation homes. More than 22.4 percent of urban apartments and houses remained vacant in 2014.  (21) By one estimate, more than 64 million surplus apartments had been built in China, enough to house almost half the population of the United States, yet millions more are under construction. (22) Economists have warned that what China is really building is the biggest real estate bubble in history. CBS interviewed Wang Shi, CEO of China Vanke, China’s biggest homebuilder (which makes him the world’s biggest homebuilder), who told CBS’s Lesley Stahl that this can’t last, “this is a bubble, for sure.” When it bursts, “it will be a disaster, a disaster.” (23)

Scene 6: Tofu Construction

Construction is breathtakingly fast in China but it can also be breathtakingly sloppy, dangerous and destined to a short life span. That’s because China’s local building department regulators, like food safety and environment regulators, are subordinate to local officials who partner with and profit off the very construction companies the regulators are nominally supposed to regulate. In result, safety is often subordinated to speed and cost, with predictable results. The Chinese call it doufazha, “tofu” construction. Bridges collapse regularly. Between July 2011 and August 2012, eight major bridges collapsed. An Australian reporter counted four collapsed bridges in just nine days in July 2012. (24) High-speed railway bridges collapse. Buildings collapse. Some just topple over. Millions of peasants have been cleared off the land and dumped into “new towns” around cities where the shoddy new housing is already crumbing as the displaced farmers move in. In 2010, China’s Ministry of Housing admitted the low quality of construction and warned that “China’s newly-built houses can only last for 20 or 30 years.” (25) Have the Chinese invented disposable housing?

Officials call for tougher regulations but most Chinese blame corruption. Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing, says bid rigging is the norm and there are no checks or balances on the procurement process. “We do have relevant laws regarding the bidding process, but there is a lack of enforcement. The bidding process is only a show.” A college student, Zeo Niu, interviewed by National Public Radio after a major bridge collapse in 2012, knew the system well. Her uncle runs a construction company in central China. She said using substandard material while charging for high-quality goods is routine. What really upsets her, she said, “is that so many projects collapse, people just become overwhelmed. ‘I will never remember those victims’ names in this accident, and people won’t remember it,’ Niu said. ‘It will all be buried by another accident.'” (26)

“Twenty More Years of Roaring Growth”?

In The Wall Street Journal of August 20, 2014, Justin Yifu Lin, an economist and close adviser to senior leaders in Beijing, stated that he’s confident China can sustain its recent 8 percent per year growth rate for the foreseeable future. He predicts “20 years of roaring growth” for China. Really? Where does Yifu think the resources are going to come from for this scale of consumption? As it happens, in 2011, the Earth Policy Institute at Columbia University calculated that if China keeps growing by around 8 percent per year, Chinese average per capita consumption will reach the current US level by around 2035. But to provide the natural resources for China’s 1.3 billion to consume on a per capita basis like the United States’ 330 million consume today, the Chinese – roughly 20 percent of the world’s population – will consume as much oil as the entire world consumes today. It would also consume more than 60 percent of other critical resources.

Production Consumption* Commodity Unit Consumption Latest Year Projected Consumption 2035
U.S. China China World
Grain Million Tons 338 424 1,505 2,191
Meat Million Tons 37 73 166 270
Oil Million Barrels per Day 19 9 85 86
Coal Million Tons of Oil Equivalent 525 1,714 2,335 3,731
Steel Million Tons 102 453 456 1,329
Fertilizer Million Tons 20 49 91 214
Paper Million Tons 74 97 331 394

*Projected Chinese consumption in 2035 is calculated assuming per-capita consumption will be equal to the current US level, based on projected GDP growth of 8 percent annually. Latest year figures for grain, oil, coal, fertilizer and paper are from 2008. Latest year figures for meat and steel are from 2010. Source: Earth Policy Institute, 2011

How can this happen? What would the rest of the world live on? Already, as resource analyst Michael Klare reviews in his latest book, The Race for What’s Left (2012), around the world existing reserves of oil, minerals and other resources “are being depleted at a terrifying pace and will be largely exhausted in the not-too-distant future.”

B. Airpocalypse Now

Decades of coal-powered industrialization combined with the government-promoted car craze since the 1990s have brought China the worst air pollution in the world. Scientists have compared north China’s toxic smog to a “nuclear winter” and the smog is also sharply reducing crop yields. Lung cancer is now the leading cause of death in Beijing and nationally pollution-induced lung disease is taking the lives of more than 1.2 million people a year. With 20 percent of the world’s population, China now burns as much coal as the rest of the world put together. Twenty of the world’s 30 smoggiest cities are in China.

As domestic food grows increasingly unsafe, alarmed middle-class Chinese strip supermarkets of imported food.

Ironically, China is also a “green technology” leader, the world’s largest producer of both windmills and solar panels. Yet in China these account for barely 1 percent of electricity generation. Coal presently supplies 69 percent of China’s total energy consumption; oil accounts for 18 percent; hydroelectric, 6 percent; natural gas, 4 percent; nuclear, less than 1 percent; and other renewables including solar and wind, 1 percent. (27)China currently burns 4 billion tons of coal a year; the US burns less than 1 billion; the European Union, about 0.6 billion. China has marginally reduced the carbon intensity of production in recent years by installing newer, more efficient power plants but these gains have been outstripped by relentless building of more power plants. To make matters worse, even when power plants are fitted with scrubbers to reduce pollution, operators often don’t turn on the scrubbers because these cut into their profits.

While government plans call for reducing coal’s share of the energy mix from 69 percent to 55 percent by 2040, it projects that China’s absolute coal consumption will still rise by more than 50 percent in the same period in line with China’s projected economic growth of around 7.7 percent per year. The World Health Organization considers air pollution above 25 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter (PM2.5) to be unsafe. China’s current national average is 75 micrograms but particulate levels in many cities average in the hundreds.

In the winter of 2013, China suffered from the worst air pollution in its history as half of the country, nearly the whole of northern and eastern China, was smothered in dense smog for weeks at a time. Smog alerts were called in 104 cities in 20 of China’s 30 provinces as schools and airports closed in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities. In January, PM2.5 levels in Beijing reached 900 micrograms per cubic meter. As Beijing was choking in smog in the winter of 2013, Deutsche Bank analysts gloomily concluded that even if China’s economy slowed to 5 percent growth per year from it’s current 7.6 percent rate, coal consumption would still nearly double and China’s smog could increase by as much as 70 percent by 2030. (28)

China’s leaders thus face an intractable dilemma. They can’t keep growing the economy without consuming ever more coal, oil and gas. Yet the more fossil fuels they burn, the more uninhabitable China’s cities become, the more Chinese people flee the country, and the faster China’s emissions are driving global warming.

Cooking the Planet to Produce Junk No One Needs

China surpassed the United States in 2007 to become the world’s leading carbon dioxide emitter. By 2013, China’s emissions were already nearly double those of the US. The US Energy Information Administration calculates that even if China grows at only 5.7 percent per year, 2 percent less than its current rate and about half the average rate it grew over the past decade, its carbon dioxide emissions would still soar to almost 15 billion tons by 2040, almost triple that of the US. (29) By 2013, China’s per capita emissions surpassed those of Europe. With just 20 percent of the world’s population, China already accounts for almost 30 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Coal-to-Gas Bases Will Doom the Climate

Under pressure to reduce smog and greenhouse gas emissions but still maintain economic growth, the government has begun talking about putting a cap on coal emissions. But this cap would be pegged to expected growth and demand, so coal use is likely to continue rising for years. (30) Yet the most worrisome threat to reducing emissions comes from the government’s newest plan to “clean up its cities” by building dozens of huge “coal-gasification bases” in Shanxi, the Ordos Basin, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and other remote areas. These plants will burn coal directly to generate electricity in situ and convert coal to liquid fuels like “syngas” (like natural gas but from coal), which will then be transported to the cities to be burned in power plants, factories and cars.

These huge bases, some encompassing areas larger than the states of Delaware and Connecticut, will be the largest fossil fuel development projects in the world. And far from reducing coal use, scientists say, these complexes consume so much coal-fired energy to produce the syngas and other chemicals that they generate almost twice as much carbon dioxide emissions as if the coal were just directly burned in power plants. (31) Furthermore, water-intensive coal extraction in the new coal bases in northern and western provinces threatens to seriously aggravate China’s already severe water crisis in these regions. (32) And as if all this weren’t enough, the government has also declared its intention to develop “fracking” wherever possible in China. (33)

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that if we’re to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, humanity cannot add more than 880 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere before 2050. Collectively, we’ve already used up more than half of that “carbon budget” leaving us a remaining budget of just 349 billion gigatons. If China produces just 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, its current rate, with no growth whatsoever, it will still consume the entire carbon budget for the whole of humanity by itself by 2050.

C. Undrinkable Water, Poisoned Soils, Toxic Food

If the air is bad, the water is far worse. In a few decades of breakneck industrialization, the Chinese have managed to severely and irreversibly pollute most of the nation’s fresh water supplies with dire implications for public health. China’s fresh water sources are contaminated by pesticides, industrial chemicals, heavy metals and myriad other toxics. China’s largest rivers resemble vast open cesspools and for much of their length the banks are strewn with every imaginable kind of trash, and numberless outlet pipes spewing multiple toxics, dead fish, dead pigs and pigswill. Gushing pollutants turn long stretches of rivers bright red or purple or milky white or inky black. Sewage is routinely dumped mostly untreated in the nation’s rivers, the same rivers many cities take their drinking water from, imperiling the health of hundreds of millions. The government has built wastewater treatment facilities all over the country but most remain unused. (34)

These days China’s state sector has all the superficial trappings of a market economy.

China’s rivers suffer huge spills of all kinds of toxic chemicals – benzene, xanthogenate, analine – every year. In north China, the Yellow River “is a catastrophe” and the 300-odd rivers that drain the North China Plain “are open sewers if they are not completely dry” in the words of Ma Jun, China’s leading authority on the country’s water crisis. (35) According to a government report, the Yangtze River, the world’s third longest, is seriously and irreversibly polluted. Long stretches are said to be in “critical condition,” in places, too dangerous even to touch. Aquatic life has all but collapsed. Pollution and shipping wiped out China’s legendary Yangtze Baiji dolphin while even common carp “are gasping for survival.” (36) The 500-mile-long reservoir filling up behind the huge Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze qualifies as the world’s biggest cesspool. In some areas groundwater is being irreversibly polluted as textile dyeing mills and other factories, looking to avoid fines for dumping their effluents into rivers, instead drill and pump them into the earth. Some “use high-pressure pumps to discharge huge volumes of their wastewater directly underground.” According to one scientist, “deliberate, malicious waste discharge by factories has already become endemic.” (37)

The China Geological Survey reported in 2013 that 90 percent of the country’s groundwater is polluted, and 60 percent of it is “severely” polluted. A survey of 11 cities across China in 2012 indicated that 64 percent of water sources were severely polluted and 33 percent moderately polluted. Only 3 percent of sources could be graded as clean. (38) It’s difficult to overstate the dire implications of these practices: In China, groundwater is not only tapped for drinking water throughout rural China as well as in many cities, but over much of the country, especially the parched northern plains, this is the main source of water for farming.

Mass Production of “Cancer Villages”

China’s rivers have received many major toxic industrial chemical spills over the years. In September 2004, Jim Yardley of The New York Times reported on the situation in the Huai River basin, upstream from Shanghai, after a huge chemical spill created an 82-mile-long band of water that killed nearly every living thing and was too polluted even to touch. And the Huai, Yardley pointed out, was supposed to have been a government “success story.” (39) In April 2014, a major leak of benzene poisoned the drinking water for millions in Gansu Province.

Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, the government promoted the development of market-oriented “township and village industries” to promote growth and employment. These industries, the darlings of the World Bank and Western market-enthusiast academics, became notorious polluters. Foreign-invested special economic zone industries are also major polluters. (40) In the 1990s and 2000s, in response to growing anti-pollution protests in the cities, the government pushed dirty industries out of the cities and into the countryside and rural towns. This brilliant move resulted in horrific contamination of whole rural regions and the mass production of “cancer villages” where extraordinary numbers of inhabitants are dying from intestinal, liver and other cancers caused by ingesting toxic water and food.

Nongovernmental organizations count at least 459 villages spread across every province except far-western Qinghai and Tibet. In one village, 80 percent of the population is said to have died from pollution-induced cancers since 1991. (41) There are villages where almost every child is lead-poisoned. (42) Dumping of toxic chemicals and heavy metals extends even to remote corners of China. In neo-tropical Yunnan Province, investigators have found “rampant chromium dumping” polluting rice paddies and drinking water.

The Damage Done

The problem with water pollution, unlike air pollution, is that it doesn’t disappear once the dumping stops. Heavy metals and other contaminants don’t easily break down or wash away. They can be very long-lived and can’t really be “cleaned up.” (43) Once groundwater is polluted, there’s just no possible remediation. This means that extensive areas of China’s farmland, especially in the north, are effectively doomed. (44) This is taking a huge toll on the health of Chinese people as well as non-human life forms and poses a mortal threat to the entire society. Elizabeth Economy, author of The Rivers Run Black (2007), writes that “Less well documented [than air pollution] but potentially even more devastating is the health impact of China’s polluted water. Today, fully 190 million Chinese are sick from drinking contaminated water. All along China’s major rivers, villages report skyrocketing rates of diarrheal diseases, cancer, tumors, leukemia, and stunted growth.” (45)

The Bad Earth and Toxic Foods

China’s farmlands are extensively polluted with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals, sewage sludge and innumerable industrial toxics. Much of this comes from polluted irrigation water. In places, even industrial wastewater has been used to irrigate farms when local wells have dried up or are themselves too polluted to use. In December 2013, the Ministry of Land and Resources reported that 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres – roughly the area of Belgium) of China’s farmland is too polluted to grow crops on and researchers said that “as much as 70 percent” of China’s farmland could be contaminated to some degree. (46) In April 2014, the government reported that almost 20 percent of the country’s arable land, 10 percent of its woodlands and 10 percent of its grassland soils were seriously polluted with heavy metals, such as cadmium, mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium, zinc and nickel plus inorganic compounds including DDT. The survey, carried out between 2006 and 2010, but suppressed for four years as a state secret out of fear of public outrage, summed up the nation’s farmland situation as “grim”(yanjun). (47)

Shocking as this is for a nation that must try to feed 20 percent of the world’s population on 7 percent of the world’s arable land, environmentalists suspect the published figures understate the true extent of soil contamination. (48) In November 2014, the government conceded that 40 percent of the nation’s farmland is degraded from acidification, pollution and erosion, and the government “is growing increasingly concerned about its food supply after years of rapid industrialization resulted in widespread pollution of waterways and farmland.” (49)

Life in the Communist Party is not so different from life in the mafia.

In May 2013, the Food and Drug Administration of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, reported that 40 percent of the rice tested at restaurants that spring was contaminated with cadmium, a highly toxic heavy metal than can cause bone disease, cancer and other illnesses. Since extensive national testing has not yet been done for this or other contaminants, there is concern that such pollution is widespread. Fish (and fishermen) have also been found to have high levels of cadmium, mercury and lead. (50)

To add further insult to consumers, deliberate food adulteration, contamination and fakery is rife in China. In 2008, public anger erupted after the government reported that tens of thousands of children were at risk of kidney stones and other organ damage from milk powder mixed with melamine, a chemical used to deceive protein tests. At least six infants died from illnesses linked to the tainted powder, which sickened more than 300,000 children.

Despite repeated government crackdowns, food contamination is severe and growing in China. As domestic food grows increasingly unsafe, alarmed middle-class Chinese strip supermarkets of imported food and Chinese tourists clear out the shelves of baby formula from New Zealand to Holland to pack and take home in their suitcases. Public alarm is also driving up food imports, which in turn is driving up world food prices. (51) For the first time in its history, China now imports more grain than it produces. This is bad news not only for China’s basic food security but also for natural resources around the world as China’s demand for soybeans, corn, wheat and other grains is leveling forests from Africa to the Amazon.

What’s Going on Here?

Why is it that the same government that has lifted the living standards of more people – millions – faster than any other nation in history, that has built the world’s largest high-speed rail network, the largest airports, longest bridges, skyscrapers by the hundreds and whole cities practically overnight, can’t guarantee safe drinking water or food or medicines or breathable air to its citizens? Why can’t it enforce its own environmental regulations, or its own building codes? Why can’t it stop its own local governments from squandering money building unneeded housing, airports and rail lines? Why is it that the same ruthless police state that so proficiently crushes dissent and censors the internet can’t stop producers, even state-owned companies, from making lead-paint-coated toys, poisoned milk and baby formula, and toxic meat and dumplings, and can’t suppress corruption in its own officials? The answer to all these questions is to be found in the nature, contradictions and tendencies of China’s hybrid bureaucratic collectivist-capitalist economic system.

II. A Political Economy

China’s rulers preside over the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, a powerhouse of international trade whose state-owned conglomerates count among the largest companies in the world. They profit immensely from their state-owned enterprises’ (SOEs) market returns. But they’re not capitalists, at least not with respect to the state-owned economy. Communist Party members don’t own individual SOEs or shares in state companies like private investors. They collectively own the state, which owns most of the economy. They’re bureaucratic collectivists who run a largely state-planned economy that also produces extensively for the market. But producing for the market is not the same thing as capitalism. (52)

Three of the top 10 2014 Fortune Global 500 corporations are Chinese. But they’re not owned by Chinese capitalists. They’re owned by the Chinese government. James McGregor notes, “Of the sixty-nine companies from mainland China in the Fortune Global 500 in 2012, only seven were not SOEs … [and all of these seven] companies have received significant government assistance and most count government entities among their shareholders.” Thirty-five years after the introduction of market reforms, China’s government still owns and controls the commanding heights of the economy: banking, large-scale mining and manufacturing, heavy industry, metallurgy, shipping, energy generation, petroleum and petrochemicals, heavy construction and equipment, atomic energy, aerospace, telecommunications, vehicles (often in partnership with Western companies), aircraft manufacture, airlines, railways, biotechnology, military production and more. Plus all the land and natural resources: There is no private property in China.

“Families benefited from their control of state companies, amassing private wealth as they embraced the market economy.”

In key industries SOEs own and control between 75 and 100 percent of assets including 96.2 percent of telecom, 91.6 percent of power generation, 76.6 percent of petroleum and petrochemicals, 76.2 percent of airlines, 74 percent of autos, and so on. China’s banks are 100 percent state-owned (though there are some private equity firms). (53) In the words of James McGregor, “SOEs monopolize or dominate all significant sectors of the economy and control the entire financial system. Party leaders deploy the SOEs to build and bolster the economy – and undergird the Party’s monopoly political control. The private sector provides a lubricant for growth and the opportunity for people to become rich as long as they support the Party.” (54) SOEs together with local government-owned urban collective and township and village industries currently account for 50 percent of China’s current non-farm GDP. Foreign-invested joint ventures account for about 30 percent of non-farm GDP (though Chinese partners of larger joint ventures, like auto assembly, are mostly SOEs). China’s indigenous private sector accounts for about 20 percent of non-farm GDP. (55)

SOEs resemble capitalist corporations but they’re not driven by the same motor of market competition; they don’t face the same incentives and penalties as capitalist firms, at least not to the same extent, and they’re not run like capitalist companies. (56) These days China’s state sector has all the superficial trappings of a market economy: corporations, CEOs, IPOs, stock markets and so on. The Ministry of Petroleum is now called China National Petroleum Corporation. Baoshan Iron and Steel now calls itself Baosteel Group Corp. and so on. But SOEs aren’t “corporations.”

Dozens of Chinese SOEs have held IPO listings on the New York Stock Exchange and China’s own toy stock markets in Shenzhen and Shanghai. But the government won’t allow its companies to be bought and sold. It will only permit a minority of shares, not more than 25 percent, and only non-voting shares at that, to be traded on the market. As one expert put it “the Chinese government is the only shareholder that counts.” (57) Lots of SOEs produce some or most of their output for the market. State Grid produces power for, besides China (where it has a monopoly), Singapore and Australia, and is developing facilities in the Philippines and Portugal. But State Grid does not answer to shareholders or boards. China’s SOEs are not run by boards of directors and elected CEOs. They don’t have boards of directors. And their CEOs and senior management are all appointed by the Communist Party. All Chinese state “corporations” have Communist Party secretaries who without exception outrank the enterprise CEOs. (58)

To be sure, China has a vast capitalist market economy side-by-side with the state sector. Thousands of real, foreign corporations operate in China today: Apple, Toyota, Audi, GM, Samsung, Procter & Gamble, Walmart, even the Avon lady. And China has plenty of homegrown entrepreneurs and privately owned businesses. China is said to have more than a million US-dollar millionaires and at least 89 billionaires. The private sector includes sizeable companies like Baidu (the internet search giant that dominates the China market since Google left), Tencent (instant messaging), Jack Ma’s Alibaba, real estate developers like Dalian Wanda Group and China Vanka, food processors like Wahaha Corp., insurance companies, and others. But these are not the core of the economy. China’s biggest private company by valuation, Alibaba, doesn’t produce anything at all; like eBay it just connects sellers with buyers. Most of China’s private businesses are small, on average less than half the size of SOEs, and the vast majority are even smaller. They include thousands of small coal mines, thousands of local construction companies, some small steel mills, textile and garment industries, shoemakers, retail shops and supermarkets, restaurants, self-employed truckers, family businesses and the like.

“Get Rich and You’ll Get Audited”

The Communist Party keeps its domestic capitalists on a short leash. Successful entrepreneurs soon find they need a state “partner,” or the government sets up its own competitors to suppress them, or they suffer forced buyouts. Those who cross the Party disappear and their property is seized, and worse. (59) Those whose names appear on Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest citizens or the Hong Kong Hunrun Rich List sometimes vanish without a trace. Chinese people call these the “pig-killing lists.” Middle-class Chinese speculate on apartments and suburban villas but the land they sit on is state-owned. Indeed, even title to the apartments and villas they’ve bought is never really secure because these can easily be seized by the state on a whim, with no recourse.

It’s been estimated that in the last three decades more than 60 million Chinese farmers and urban residents have been summarily evicted from their homes and farms to make way for government development projects of all sorts across the country. More than a million and a half farmers and townsfolk were evicted to make way for the Three Gorges Dam. Several million residents of Beijing were evicted to shabby satellite towns while their ancient Beijing homes, some dating back to the Ming dynasty, were leveled to make way for shopping malls, apartment towers and Olympic sports stadiums. (60) In such a system, arbitrary political power and generalized insecurity condition every aspect of life, even within the ruling Party itself – especially within the ruling Party.

A. Beijing’s Game of Thrones

China’s ruling class is the nomenklatura, the upper ranks of the 86-million-member Chinese Communist Party. Since the victory of the revolution in 1949, China has been run by the party-army-bureaucratic aristocracy, the leaders of which reside behind the walls of the Zhongnanhai complex adjacent to the Forbidden City. (61) In the 1950s, they nationalized the economy, divided up government administrative and economic management posts among themselves and centralized all surplus extraction. Today, this state-owned economy is run by their children and will soon be run by their grandchildren.

Since Mao’s death in 1976, the inner circle of the ruling “red families” have been headed up by the so-called “Eight Immortals”: Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun (the CCP’s leading economic planner), Wang Zhen, Li Xiannian (PRC president), Peng Zhen (NPC Congress chair), Song Renqiong (party personnel chief), Yang Shangkun (PRC president), and Bo Yibo (vice premier and last of the eight to die at 98 in 2007). (62)As the elders retired and died off they entrusted the reins of power to their children, the “princeling” (taizi dang) sons and daughters of the first generation of communist rulers. Since the bad old days when Mao and his Gang of Four dispatched their rivals to rot in dungeons, or shot Lin Biao’s plane out of the sky to prevent his escape to Moscow, the Communist Party has made every effort to present a public façade of leadership unity and discipline and portray its internal workings as “regularized” with “collective leadership,” “10-year rotations” of “presidents” and “prime ministers,” “mandatory retirement of senior officials at 65” and so on. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A study released in February 2015 declared that living in China’s cities is “as deadly as smoking.”

Today, as in Mao’s day, CCP internal political machinations resemble nothing so much as The Godfather or “Game of Thrones.” And how could it be otherwise? In the absence of the rule of law, without elections to choose government representatives, without inner-party democracy, without constitutional procedures to regularize succession to office, without an independent judiciary, justice department, attorney generals and police to systematically prosecute and punish corrupt politicians, in such a system, no one owns their office, position or job on the basis of merit, professional qualification, fixed-year terms or enforceable contracts. Every cadre’s personal and political security depends, above all, on the strength of his/her guanxi: his connections and relationships with networks of allies, their patrons above, their supporters below and especially to families, clans and factions.

From the days of Mao’s purges of “capitalist roaders” Lin Biao, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, to Deng Xiaoping’s own purge of the Maoist Gang of Four, to Jiang Zemin’s purge of “counterrevolutionaries” Zhao Ziyang, Bao Tong et al. in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising, to current President Xi Jinping’s show trials of  “corrupt” rival Bo Xilai (son of Bo Yibo) and his persecution of powerful opponents in the oil faction and secret police led by Zhou Yongkang, the Chinese Communist Party’s internal political dramas differ little from the treacherous, fratricidal power struggles of the Corleones, Barzinis and Straccis of The Godfather or the bloody feudal wars of the Starks, Tullys and Boltons for supremacy in Westeros. As in “Game of Thrones,” China’s communists are embroiled in nonstop faction building, never-ending intrigue and infighting, and treacherous factional struggles while the paramount leader du jour‘s claim to the red throne in Zhongnanhai is never completely secure. (63)

President Xi Jinping came into office in 2012 on a campaign vowing to “swat tigers and flies alike.” Xi had been brought in to replace the disgraced Shanghai Mayor Chen Liangyu on the strength of his anticorruption campaigns in Zhejian Province where he once told an anti-graft conference: “Rein in your spouses, children, relatives and friends and staff, and vow not to use power for personal gain.” (64) But Xi is just as corrupt as all the rest, and just as thuggish.

Xi once remarked that as a young man he liked to watch The Godfather. Yu Jie, an exiled author of numerous critical books on China, titled his latest book, Godfather of China Xi Jinping (still awaiting publication as of March 2015). Yu told The New York Times that the film was Xi’s political study guide: “The Communist Party is China’s biggest mafia, and the party boss Xi Jinping is the godfather of China.” As if to confirm Yu’s thesis, when he tried to publish the book in Hong Kong, one publisher was arrested in Shenzhen and disappeared. A second prospective publisher received a threatening phone call from Beijing telling him that the book “absolutely cannot be published” and if he publishes it, “your personal safety and the safety of your family cannot be guaranteed” so he immediately dropped the project.

Life in the Communist Party is not so different from life in the mafia: It’s a constant, treacherous and highly dangerous nonstop factional struggle between crime family-based groupings in struggle with one another over top offices and treasure. The key to safety is building unshakable vertical and horizontal networks of support and protection – of guanxi. And the key to solidifying those networks is sharing the loot from corruption. As political scientist Minxin Pei put it: “If your patrons do not protect you, you’re toast … Corruption is the glue that keeps the party stuck together.” (65)

B. Grabbing the Brass Ring: Gangster Capitalism and the Necessity of Corruption

China’s economy mirrors its politics. China’s communist party-state has grown immensely wealthy over the past three decades from rivers of income flowing in from huge state monopolies like Sinopec (China Petroleum), State Grid, Bank of China, China Telecom, from taxing export foreign exchange earnings, and more. But the question is, how is this loot shared out among the ruling class of China, the “gang” of 86 million Communist Party members? In capitalist economies, this is entirely formalized and regularized. One’s wealth is based on property, cash in the bank, stock ownership and such – all secured by the rule of law, enforceable contracts, an impersonal state, independent judiciary and the police. But China has none of this. Cadres don’t privately own SOEs; they don’t own shares in SOEs.

Yet we know from multiple sources including trials of corrupt officials, revelations about secret offshore bank accounts, records of foreign property purchases, and especially from recent headline exposés in The New York Times and Bloomberg News on the wealth of China’s leading “princelings” including former and current heads of state, that China’s Communist Party cadres have gotten gloriously rich by way of market reforms. (66) The New York Times calculated that former Premier Wen Jiabao was worth at least $2.7 billion when he retired in 2012, all secreted under the names of close relatives. (67) As Xi Jinping climbed the party ranks, his extended family got rich in minerals, real estate and mobile-phone equipment. Today, his family is worth at least $376 million, again, with virtually all of it listed in the names of his close relatives rather than his own.

Markets and the Mother of All Moral Hazards

When Deng Xiaoping rejected Maoism and told the Chinese that now it was OK, even  “glorious to get rich,” he faced an immediate problem: To get marketization rolling, he urged the cadres to promote private businesses and joint-ventures with foreign investors, to “jump into the sea of commerce” as he said in his famous “southern tour” of Shenzhen in 1992. Deng’s market reforms thus presented the personally penniless but functionally all-powerful CCP cadres with the mother of all moral hazards. China’s reintroduction of capitalism presented the cadres with a once-in-an-epoch opportunity to grab the brass ring, to get rich, really rich, and fast. The party-state owned all land, resources and industries, and controlled the banks and pension funds, foreign trade and currency exchange, courts, police and everything else. The problem was that the only ways to profit from this were all illegal: bribery, smuggling, influence peddling, embezzling money from state industries, profiting from guandao (reselling state-owned raw materials and commodities on the free market at huge markups), asset stripping, currency manipulation, money laundering and so on.

Risky, but how could they resist? Far from resisting, they led the way in what exiled economist He Qinglian called “the marketization of power.” (68) Besides, since there was no independent judicial system, it was left to the party officials to police themselves. The very people who stood to gain the most from the coming market boom were supposed to refrain from self-dealing. Even so, the breadth and brazenness of corruption grew slowly at first. Looking back to the 1980s, Bao Tong, a senior party official arrested and imprisoned as a “counterrevolutionary” during the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown told Bloomberg News in December 2013: “A bottle of Moutai, two cartons of Chunghwa cigarettes – corruption was no more than that at the beginning…. Now an enterprise worth 10 billion yuan can be purchased with 1 billion. This would have been appalling to people back then.” (69)

“It Doesn’t Matter Who Owns the Money; It Only Matters Who Gets to Use It”

Today, the buffet of benefits available to the upper ranks includes extravagant state-provided housing, posh offices, fleets of limousines, access to state-owned vacation villas, travel and plenty of pocket change to spend on fine French wines, Rolexes, Louis Vuitton handbags and the rest. At the top, princelings are often heads of giant conglomerates, which themselves own dozens or even hundreds of individual SOEs. Presumably this gives them access to multiple income streams and ample opportunities to plunder the government’s ever-growing treasure. Princeling Bo Xilai didn’t send his son Guagua to Harrow, Oxford and Harvard, and buy him Porsches, Ferraris and fancy apartments in Oxford and Cambridge, Massachusetts, on his official salary.

Even China’s leaders complain that China’s “governments at all levels” had turned the state’s banks into “ATMs for officials and official businessmen.” (70) As one SOE boss put it: “It doesn’t matter who owns the money; it only matters who gets to use it.” (71) As individuals, they loot according to their rank, positions and guanxi. And of course, who gets to use exactly what is shrouded in secrecy. Financial Times Beijing bureau chief Richard McGregor quotes a businessman jailed on corruption charges who said: “Every official has three lives. Their public life, their private life, and their secret life.” (72)

In the boom years of the 1990s and 2000s in China’s ruling class, taking their cue from New York banksters who were becoming their partners and backers, corruption flourished on a previously unimagined scale. They siphoned huge sums from state banks, SOEs and ministries. They looted pension funds and state charities. They’ve profited from illegal arms sales and smuggling. They made vast fortunes in real estate evicting millions of farmers and selling their land to developers. They made more fortunes taking cuts from listing Chinese companies on the New York Stock Exchange. In all this, the “princeling” children and grandchildren of the “Eight Immortals” have led the way.

“The anticorruption push is more of a Stalinist purge than a genuine attempt to clean up the government.”

In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun and the other aging revolutionary generation leaders entrusted their children to run the new market-oriented state conglomerates like CITIC, China Poly Group (arms, African oil, etc.). Deng’s daughter Deng Rong and her brother Deng Zhifang were among the first to go into real estate in the 1990s. As Bloomberg reported in its investigative report on the 103 children and grandchildren of the Eight Immortals, “Families benefited from their control of state companies, amassing private wealth as they embraced the market economy. Forty-three of the 103 ran their own business or became executives in private firms … The third generation – grandchildren of the Eight Immortals and their spouses, many of whom are in their 30s and 40s – have parlayed family connections and overseas education into jobs in the private sector.” Others took over state-sector conglomerates and SOEs.

Twenty-six of the heirs of just these eight revolutionary leaders ran or held top positions in big SOEs: “Three children alone – General Wang’s son, Wang Jun, Deng’s son-in-law, He Ping; and Chen Yuan, the son of Mao’s economic tsar – headed or still run state-owned companies with combined assets of about $1.6 trillion in 2011. (73) Deng’s son-in-law Wu Jianchang got himself appointed head of numerous metals companies and then became, conveniently, minister of metallurgy. Deng’s grandson Zhuo Su got himself appointed head of a company that bought into an Australian iron ore business. Wang Jun, the revolutionary general’s son, set up a huge conglomerate, Poly Group, with Deng Xiaoping’s son-in-law He Ping, another general. Chen Yun installed his son Chen Yuan as head of the giant state-owned China Development Bank with assets of more than $1 trillion. His sister, Chen Xiaodan, worked at Morgan Stanley in New York, set up her own private equity firm, and worked with her father’s China Development Bank to support Chinese firms investing abroad in Europe and elsewhere.

Wang Zhi, General Wang’s third son, “borrowed” 300,000 yuan from his employer, the Ministry of Electronics, to set up his own company building personal computers, eventually partnering with Bill Gates to develop a Chinese version of Windows software. As Yang Dali of the University of Chicago put it, “The entire country was in business – the Party, the military, the courts, the prosecutor’s office, the police…. Insiders could get rich very quickly.” And “[w]hen the top is corrupt, this is how it will be all the way down,” said Dai Qing, China’s leading environmental activist who herself grew up in the Zhongnanhai compound with the princelings after being adopted by a famous general. (74) Bloomberg reports that, when he was lying in a hospital bed in 1990, hardline Maoist Gen. Wang Zhen (1908-1993) told a visitor that he felt betrayed by his own children. Decades after he had risked his life fighting for an egalitarian utopia, his children were only interested in getting rich: “Turtle eggs,” he said to the visiting well-wisher, using a slang term for bastards. “I don’t recognize them as my sons.” (75)

Getting the Loot Out of China

International banking connections also have been key to the princelings’ strategy of getting their loot out of China. Over the years, it has been estimated that princelings and other high cadres, cronies and capitalists have funneled $1-4 trillion in unreported assets out of the country since 2000. Credit Suisse, PricewaterhouseCoopers and UBS – Western banks with notorious experience in sheltering US and other tax evaders – set up secret companies and accounts for at least 21,000 Chinese in Caribbean tax havens including for Wen Yunsong, Wen Jiabao’s son. High cadres, their relatives and other rich guys fly suitcases of money to North America, Australia, Caribbean havens and other friendly destinations. (76)

In February 2014, it was reported that more than 45,000 (!) Chinese millionaireshad queued up in Vancouver, British Columbia, to get investor residence visas in return for five-year, interest-free loans to the Canadian government. In the US, 80 percent of the government’s EB-5 investor program visas are going to wealthy ex-mainland Chinese; in Australia, it’s nine out of 10. At least 18 of the Eight Immortals’ descendants own or run entities registered in the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Liberia and other secret offshore tax havens. (77) Bo Yibo’s wife Gu Kailai, convicted in 2012 of murdering her British business partner, controlled a web of businesses from Beijing to the Caribbean worth at least $126 million and stashed many of her assets with her sister in places like the British Virgin Islands, according to Bloomberg. (78) So it goes.

C. Implications, Tendencies, Consequences

This structural arrangement of bureaucratic/gangster capitalist power and property has given China’s economy a radically different pattern and trajectory of economic development from normal capitalism anywhere in the West. We can specify at least the following broad systemic tendencies in this hybrid economic system:

1. Priority to the state-owned economy: Shocked and riveted by the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and especially the communist debacle in the USSR, Deng Xiaoping and his successors have been determined to avoid such a fate by maintaining state control over the commanding heights of the economy, avoiding substantial privatization and limiting the internal market, as noted above. That’s why the maximand of China’s SOEs is not profit maximization. Their maximand is the security, wealth and power of the Chinese Communist Party and that’s not the same thing. The Bank of China, China Development Bank, the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and other huge state banks sit at the apex of China’s economy and count among the Global Fortune 500 largest companies. But unlike Citibank or HSBC, their job isn’t to make money. Their job is to lose money – or more precisely, to disburse it.

It’s often said that in the transition to capitalism China’s market reformers “abandoned central planning.” That’s an exaggeration. They reduced the scope of indicative planning but they did not abandon planning the state sector; they monetized it. Instead of issuing physical output targets à la Stalin and Mao, they direct most of the state economy by writing checks: by ordering state banks to disburse funds to support the production goals of the state plans (though they still set physical targets for some items – kilometers of rails, kilometers of roads, tons of wheat and cotton etc., as noted above). In the 1990s, the government leased out, sold off or closed down thousands of small unprofitable SOEs producing consumer goods including wood and leather products, furniture, building materials, garments, food products and the like. Dispensing with these, the government concentrated on restructuring, modernizing, expanding and diversifying the state’s SOEs. (79)

The government also expanded the state sector by establishing entirely new industries: consumer appliances, solar and wind power, biotech, high-speed trains, passenger aircraft, IT and others. But instead of assigning production targets for quantities of Geely cars, Suntech solar panels or China National Railways (CNR) high-speed trains, they allocate funds via state banks to support state-owned industries like CNR and to establish and support state-private joint ventures like Suntech and Geely. Since the 1990s, China’s SOEs, and the entire state industrial sector, have grown enormously. Whereas in the 1970s, China’s SOEs counted for almost nothing in the world economy, today, China’s “national champions” Sinopec, China National Petroleum and State Grid Corporation rank among the 10 largest companies by revenue in the 2014 Fortune 500.

Prioritizing the state sector means that the government often finds it rational to subvert its own market reforms to protect state interests: So when the head of a major state-owned conglomerate was removed for embracing market economics too enthusiastically, a Beijing University expert on China’s state-enterprises commented: “There’s a system in place, not just one person. The party’s appointee draws his position from patronage … and the task is to engage with state leaders and safeguard government assets, not to maximize profits.” (80) This is why the government enforces SOE monopolies regardless of efficiency, why it limits Western investor ownership share in joint ventures, why it bars Western firms from investing in key industries, and why it directs its huge sovereign wealth fund mainly to invest in the resource extraction industries China needs to fuel its national economic development even though global resource prices and resource industry profits have both been falling since 2008. (81) This is all in the collective interest of China’s state-based ruling class.

Yet at the same time, individually, princelings and well-placed cadres are simultaneously conniving, like the gangsters they are, to privatize pieces of the state-owned economy and to sell them at huge discounts to themselves, their relatives and partners, usually via private investment banks that have their real owners concealed behind multiple layers of paper and shell companies. Cadres also funnel money out of SOE profits to buy businesses and properties in the West. SOE overseas companies open still other opportunities to privately pocket profits earned overseas before they’re sent back to China. It can’t be ruled out that such trends could eventually lead to a broad selloff of state assets à la Poland. But for the present, the party seems determined to protect the state-owned economy rather than let it collapse and be sold off and privatized.

2. Hypergrowth drivers: incentives without penalties: China’s SOEs, as we noted, don’t live or die on the basis of their performance in the market. Lots of SOEs are inefficient but because many are also monopolies, they can still be gold mines. (82) As one official observed, “the overall economy has been so good that even pretty stupid SOEs could do well without much effort.” (83) Broke, indebted, inefficient or not, so long as their SOEs are in-plan, and especially if they’ve been designated “key” or “strategic” or “pillar” industries like coal, oil, autos, aerospace, biotech, high-speed rail or some other priority, SOE managers could assume that they would never be forced out of business regardless of their economic performance and generally speaking they have not been.

In result, SOE managers have had the best of both worlds: They have every incentive to borrow and spend, especially on capital construction (including those palatial offices to run the operations), but they face little or no threat of discipline for excess or failure. Given the profit-sharing arrangement between the center and the SOEs, for SOE bosses, it’s capitalism when the SOE is making money but socialism when it needs a government bailout. This is the main driver of “blind growth” across the economy and this can be expected to continue.

3. Hypergrowth drivers: job creation: In capitalist economies, neither individual companies nor governments are obliged to create jobs, though in extreme circumstances like the Great Depression, governments have set up jobs programs to keep the peace. But in China, in the old Maoist bureaucratic collectivist system, the government was the only employer, so it had to employ everyone because there was nowhere else to find work. In Mao’s day, successive generations of workers were simply assigned to work units (danwei) with the result that China’s industries and government offices were often abundantly overstaffed. But with the turn to the market, the government abolished guaranteed employment in the mid-1990s and SOEs laid off some 50 million superfluous workers in the 1990s to make their industries more efficient.

By then however, many excessed workers could find jobs in the new parallel market economy while others were forced into retirement on subsistence pensions. The destruction of millions of state jobs with state benefits provoked widespread protests and unrest in the late 1990s and early 2000s. To contain this unrest, and also to keep up with China’s relentless population growth, the government has been forced to spend heavily on wave after wave of WPA-like, make-work capital construction projects across the country since the 1990s, even if much of what got built was unneeded, as noted above. Given the special threat that extensive unemployment poses to a nominally workers state, this pattern of make-work overproduction and overdevelopment can be expected to continue.

4. Collective property weakens efforts to reduce pollution: Collective ownership means that even with its police-state dictatorship, the center can’t always enforce its will against lower-level officials because those local, country, provincial, ministerial officials, SOE bosses and so on are more partners with Beijing in their joint ownership of the national economy than strictly subordinates. They all have their own guanxi networks to defend their turf and promote their own interests in contravention of central initiatives when it suits their purposes. This is why central efforts to restrain pollution tend to be subverted or defeated by local officials whose overriding concern is to keep the economic engines running regardless of the smog.

China has comprehensive environmental legislation on the books. It has its own Environmental Protection Agency equivalent, the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). It has a State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) and other regulatory agencies. But the evidence everywhere is that regulation is largely a failure. (84) Here and there SEPA has managed to enforce some cleanups and shutdowns of some conspicuous polluters, usually smaller operations. But more often than not, SEPA regulators are powerless against polluters because environmental protection officers are subordinate to and even paid by local officials who profit from and generate jobs in the same polluting industries SEPA wants to suppress. (85)

In her documentary Under the Dome, Chai Jing asks Ding Yan, the director of the government’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) Vehicular Pollution Research Institute, about why his agency doesn’t force China’s vehicle manufacturers to stop selling trucks with fake National Standard 4 emission stickers certifying that the vehicles meet the highest emissions standards when in fact they only meet the lowest National Standard 1. “If you (the MEP) assert you have legal authority, no one can deny that, so why not just execute the law?” Ding told her that regardless of the law, his agency had no real power to enforce it: “Nowadays, I don’t dare open my mouth out of fear that [the polluters] will see that I have no teeth” (at 48:19).

Since the highly personalized and politicized state can’t rely on the rule of law, independent courts and police to enforce its environmental regulations, the government has to resort to “campaigns” to enforce environmental compliance. But this approach is hopelessly ineffectual. Beijing issues big directives, sends inspectors around and fines the polluting companies. But as often as not local government partners just pay the fines, or block regulators from shutting down the polluters, or let the regulators shut them down but then let the companies reopen under a new name. If all else fails, there’s always bribery. MEP officials are regularly bribed to let polluters continue operations. (86)

A year after Xi Jinping launched his “war on pollution,” the official press describes Beijing as “all but unlivable.” A study released in February 2015 declared that living in China’s cities is “as deadly as smoking.” (87) The government’s ambitious plans to improve water quality and safety have likewise failed. The 12th Five-Year Plan goal of “completely solving rural drinking water issues” by the end of 2015 “will not be met, and some villages are going backward because of scarcity and pollution.” Urban water safety has not improved and even bottled water is often contaminated. (88)

Moreover, the center itself is conflicted about enforcing its own pollution regulations because the central government, as much as local governments, needs to maximize growth to meet its plan targets and maintain employment to keep the peace. So while it talks about cracking down on pollution, more often than not Beijing also has to prioritize job creation over environmental protection. (89) Therefore, so long as there is no real separation of powers, these trends can be expected to continue and China’s pollution problems will remain essentially unsolvable.

5. Bureaucratic particularism and competition drive redundancy and overinvestment: SOE bosses, and local, provincial and ministerial officials may not face market competition in the same way and to the same extent as capitalist firms, but they face intense bureaucratic competition for access to resources and appropriations from the center. This particularistic intra-ruling class struggle over access to state funds also shapes the broad pattern of China’s economic development, powering tendencies to redundancy, duplication, irrational investment and waste throughout the economy. Thus, in his book on China’s growing airline industry, James Fallows writes:

Foreign reports often present these projects as carefully coordinated expressions of China’s larger ambitions for a modern transportation system and to an extent they are. But there is also bitter bureaucratic and commercial rivalries between the airline and railroad interests within China, each seizing on any opportunity to argue that it reflected the wiser and more farsighted use of the country’s resources. (90)

In China’s hybrid economic system, generally speaking, officials can only profit from their own units – their localities, ministries and SOEs. Cadres can’t buy shares in SOEs anywhere in the economy like in capitalism. No cadre in Sichuan can invest in and profit off of state-owned industries in Shanghai or Shenzhen. So if Sichuan officials wanted to profit from Premier Wen Jaibao’s call at the launching of the 12th Five-Year Plan, to “enhance China’s automobile manufacturing capability,” their only way to do was to build auto plants in their own province. And that’s what happens. That’s why China has more than 130 auto plants, thousands of power plants (one for every three square kilometers in Jiangsu province), roads and bridges to nowhere, more than 30 airlines, near-empty airports everywhere, more than 800 shipyards, redundant ports, redundant “world financial centers,” redundant shopping malls and ghost cites, with all the waste those entail. These tendencies are, again, built into the bureaucratic collectivist nature of this economic system and will continue as long as this system is in effect.

6. Rampant, ineradicable corruption: Anticorruption campaigns have been a feature of CCP inner-party struggles since long before the founding of the People’s Republic. They reached their apogee of hysteria in Mao Zedong’s terror campaign of the “cultural revolution” against “capitalist roaders” in his own party. These days the party brags that it disciplines tens of thousands of corrupt officials every year. Prominent party and state figures tried and punished in recent years include Beijing Mayor Liu Zhihua who received a suspended death sentence in 2009 for bribery. Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu got 18 years in 2008 for corruption. Zheng Xiaoyu, head of China’s SFDA, was executed in 2007 for taking bribes to approve an antibiotic blamed for at least 10 deaths. Rixin Kang, former head of China’s nuclear power agency, was sent to prison for life in 2011; Cheng Tonghai, former head of Sinopec, got a suspended death sentence in 2009. Li Peiying, the head of Beijing’s Capital Airport, was executed in August 2009. Railway minister Liu Zhijun was given a suspended death sentence in 2013. Bo Xilai, the first member of the Party’s Politburo to be arrested since the end of the Mao era, was given a suspended death sentence in 2013. In January 2015, 70 SOE bosses were nabbed in one sweep, 16 generals in another.

Yet for all the campaigns, arrests and executions, corruption only grows worse every year. And why would it not? Opportunities for getting rich quick have grown as fast as the economy. And despite all the lurid press reports, the chances of getting caught are miniscule and for most corruption cases the consequences are not nearly as dire as the headlines imply, especially for the most elite, the biggest gangsters. (91)Geremie Barmé of the Australian National University says that in his research, for all the drama, most of the offspring of China’s revolutionary founders, the so-called “second red generation,” whose ranks include Xi Jinping and Bo Xilai, had largely escaped serious punishment: “In the murky corridors of Communist power, an impressive number of party gentry progeny, or the offspring of the Mao-era nomenklatura, have been implicated in corrupt practices … But word has it that, like the well-connected elites of other climes, they’ve enjoyed a ‘soft landing’: being discretely relocated, shunted into delicate retirement or quietly ‘redeployed.'” (92)Bo Xilai’s confinement is thought to be not too harsh, and not include orange suits.

Guanxi rules. Xi Jinping’s “war on corruption” is swatting competing tigers like Zhou Yangkang’s clique but has conspicuously failed to swat blatantly corrupt tigers right under his nose, starting with his own sister, brother-in-law, niece and their private sector partners, all of whom have made fortunes trading influence for lucrative state-private deals. Instead, Xi is just pushing them to cash out of their hundreds of millions of dollars in politically vulnerable investments. (93) Novelist Murong Xuecun writes in The New York Times that “the anticorruption push is more of a Stalinist purge than a genuine attempt to clean up the government.” Xi, he says, has mainly targeted specific party factions while those groups that support and pledge loyalty to Xi appear untouched. He notes that in Xi’s former fiefs in Fujian and Zhejian provinces, “as best I can tell not one official above the deputy provincial level has been arrested on suspicion of corruption. Recently the question was raised on the internet: Why have no ‘big tigers’ been found in Fujian and Zhejiang? The message was almost immediately deleted.” (94)

Without the rule of law, an independent judiciary, courts and police to prosecute and punish corrupt cadres, Xi Jinping’s only option is to try to terrorize the cadres by sending down “discipline inspection teams” to punish local transgressors and jail some blatant offenders. The Chinese call it “killing the chickens to scare the monkeys.” But after the terror passes and the teams return to Beijing, it’s back to business as usual. So after wrapping up the second round of two-month inspections in 10 provinces launched in July 2014, Wang Qishan, head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) warned officials, “Don’t go back on your old ways when our backs are turned … we will come back and catch you off guard.” (95)

But really, what can the poor CCDI do? The Chinese Communist Party is a cesspool of corruption from top to bottom. The CCDI can’t arrest the entire party. Xi needs these officials to run his economy and administration, but most are well enough connected to avoid his terrorists. Xi can’t trust the police to systematically enforce anticorruption measures because the police themselves are notoriously corrupt. Even his corruption investigators can’t be trusted (1,575 corruption investigators were themselves busted in 2014). By October, Wang was complaining that the cadres were not taking him seriously: “We have stepped up the anti-graft campaign but some party cadres are still undeterred. Some have become even more corrupt.” Wang “vowed to ramp up inspections of the lower tiers of government.” (96) Good luck on that, Mr. Wang.

Pursued with too much vigor, Xi’s anticorruption campaign against senior officials risks not only unsettling elite stability, but also destroying what’s left of the party’s credibility. As a retired princeling military officer said about the most recent campaign against graft and profiteering in the army: “You can’t do it too much, otherwise the party comes out too black, and the leaders won’t like it.” (97) Of course, self-limiting anticorruption campaigns only guarantee that corruption will continue to grow. Moreover, the anti-graft drive is also hurting economic growth as cadres sit on their hands, fearing to do any work that might bring complication, and companies pull back from spending on luxury goods, feasting, champagne and cars – the spending by the 1% that drives so much growth in China, as in the West.

What’s worse is that with the spectacle of China’s political leadership by “communist” princelings-turned-billionaires, corruption rots the whole society from the top down. Whereas in the 1980s, millions of China’s youth were idealistic passionate protesters for democracy, today many of China’s millennial generation have lost all hope for change, been seduced by capitalism and consumerism, become cynical and indifferent toward politics, human rights and the environment, and are insouciant toward CCP lies and repression. Others are just giving up and emigrating.

III. Braking the Drive to Collapse

It goes without saying that the Chinese have every right to modernize, industrialize and improve their material standard of living. But the problem is that capitalism can’t sustainably provide this for the Chinese, the Americans or anyone anymore. As many Chinese say today, “Who cares if we have the world’s highest GDP if we can’t live here?” The Chinese don’t need a higher standard of living based on endless consumerism. They need a better mode of life: clean, unpolluted air, water and soil; safe and nutritious food; comprehensive public health care; safe, quality housing; a public transportation system centered on urban bicycles and public transit instead of cars and ring roads; and more.

We all need to live better by consuming less and consuming rationally, fairly and sustainably. Given the planet’s desperate shape today, the only way humanity is going to survive this century is if developed countries and developing countries contract and converge their resource consumption and pollution around a sustainable global average that will permit the world’s peoples to live in tolerable conditions while reserving resources for future generations and other life forms. (98)

As China Goes, So Goes the World

Climate scientists tell us that, given all the failed promises to date, the backpedaling and soaring carbon dioxide emissions, we now face a “climate emergency.” On present trends we’re on course to a 4 to 6-degree Celsius warming before the end of this century: If we don’t radically suppress fossil fuel burning over the next few decades to keep the warming below the 2-degree Celsius threshold, planetary heating will accelerate beyond any human power to stop it and global ecological collapse will be unavoidable. To have a chance of staying below 2 degrees, the industrialized nations and China must cut carbon emissions by 40 to 70 percent globally by 2050 as compared to 2010, which would require cuts on the order of 6 to 10 percent per year. (99) China would have to cut its industrial emissions by 30 to 90 percent as compared to 2010, the variance depending upon expected growth rates and other assumptions. (100)

The only way China could suppress its greenhouse gas emissions by anything like that amount would be to impose a drastic across-the-board economic contraction, including radical retrenchments and shutdowns of most of the industries that have been built up in the last three decades of market mania. I’m sure this sounds extreme, if not completely crazy. But I don’t see what other conclusion we can draw from the science. On the positive side, as I surveyed above, since so much of China’s resource waste and pollution is just completely unnecessary and harmful, what sounds like extreme austerity could prove just the opposite: liberating, a move to that “better mode of life.” Such an emergency plan would have to include at least the following elements:

  • Shut down all but critically essential coal-fired power plants needed as a temporary measure to keep the lights and heat on and essential public services in operation until renewable replacements can be brought on line. Abandon the coal gasification projects and phase out oil- and gas-powered fuel plants as quickly as possible. Force a rapid transition of energy generation to renewable wind, water and solar energy sources but with the goal of producing much less electricity overall, closer to what China produced in the early 1980s before the market-driven industrialization boom. The US and other developed countries should be obliged to provide extensive technical and material assistance to facilitate this transition.
  • Shut down most of the auto industry. This industry is just a total waste of resources and is the second-biggest contributor to global warming. Most public transportation will have to shift back to bicycles, buses, trains and subways – basically a modernized and expanded version of what the Chinese had in the early 1980s before the auto craze. But the air will be cleaner, transportation will be faster, people will be healthier and immense resources will be conserved.
  • Shut down most of the coastal export industries. Most of China’s coastal export industries are geared to producing unsustainable, disposable products, as noted above. There is just no way to have a sustainable economy in China or anywhere if we don’t abolish the throwaway repetitive-consumption industries in China and around the world.
  • Retrench or close down aviation, shipping, and other redundant and unsustainable transportation industries. Abandon the “aviation superpower” boondoggle. Abandon further expansion of the high-speed train network. China has already built more planes, trains and subways than it needs by any rational accounting of needs. Same with the shipbuilding industry, most of which is geared to container and bulk carrier shipping. This industry needs to be drastically reduced as China’s imports and exports decline with industrial contraction.
  • Shut down most of the construction industry. Even with China’s huge population, the country is massively overbuilt and littered with useless, superfluous buildings, housing, highways, bridges, airports and so on. Some of this can be repurposed. Some should be demolished and the lands returned to farmlands, wetlands, parks or other beneficial use.
  • Abandon the urbanization drive and actively promote re-ruralization.Urban life has its advantages but urban residents consume several times the energy and natural resources and generate several times as much pollution as rural farm families. Besides, most of the tens of millions of Chinese who were relocated to the cities in the last three decades did not go voluntarily; they were forced off their farms by land-grabbing, profiteering local officials. Those ex-farmers who wish to return to the land should be permitted to do so. There is no law of nature that says farm families must be impoverished. In today’s world, family farmers with adequate land and decent technology, who can market their own produce so they don’t get ripped off by middlemen, and who are not under the thumb of banks, landlords or state-landlords, can do very well. (101) China’s farmers are poor because the state has been squeezing them to subsidize industrialization. The best way to raise rural living standards is to give them security in their farms and pay them fair prices for their produce.
  • Abandon the imperial plunder and Han colonization of the West.Xinjiang, Tibet and Mongolia are not ethnically Chinese. If the Chinese government abandons its market-based development strategy it would have no “need” to plunder the natural resources of the West; those peoples can be left in peace to develop at their own pace and in accordance with their ecological limits. And after wrecking so much of their environment, the Chinese owe them some help.
  • Launch an emergency national plan for environmental remediation and restoration of public health. Chinese environmental and health experts have called for a comprehensive integrated plan to address the nation’s environmental and public health issues. (102) Experts say it could take generations to restore China’s farmlands, rivers and lakes to tolerable biological health though, as noted above, in places this may be impossible. A significant share of the costs of this remediation should also be borne by the Western nations whose companies callously contributed to this pollution by offshoring their dirtiest industries to China.
  • Launch a national public works jobs program. If China is going to have to shut down so much of its industrial economy to brake the drive to ecological collapse, then it is going to have to find or create new jobs for all those displaced workers. In Guangdong Province alone, there are something like 40 million manufacturing workers, most of them dedicated to producing the sorts of needless products described above. Forty million unemployed workers would be a big problem. And that’s just Guangdong. But unbreathable air, undrinkable water, unsafe food, polluted farmland, epidemic cancer, rising temperatures and rising seas along coastal China are bigger problems. So there’s just no way around this very inconvenient truth. Making bad stuff has to stop; stopping it will unemploy vast numbers of workers, and other, non-destructive, low-carbon jobs have to be found or created for them. Fortunately, in China, there is no shortage of other socially and environmentally useful work to do: environmental remediation, reforestation, transitioning to organic farming, transitioning to renewable energy, rebuilding and expanding public social services, rebuilding the social safety net, especially for China’s aging population, and much else.

Pan Yue was certainly prescient: The Chinese miracle has come to an end because the environment can no longer keep pace. The question is, can the Chinese find a way to grab hold of the brakes and wrench this locomotive of destruction to a halt before it hurls the country off the cliff?

Revolution or Collapse?

One thing is certain: This locomotive is not going to be stopped so long as the Communist Party has its grip on the controls. The Chinese Communist Party is locked in a death spiral. It can’t rein in corruption because the party is built on corruption, thrives on corruption and can’t police itself. It can’t rein in ravenous resource consumption and suicidal pollution because, given its dependence on the market to generate new jobs, it has to prioritize growth over the environment like capitalist governments everywhere.

It can’t even discipline its own subordinate officials to enforce and obey the government’s environmental, food and drug safety, building codes and similar laws because in this system subordinate officials aren’t necessarily subordinate and can often mobilize their family and guanxi-based backers to defend their interests and thwart Beijing. So long as this basic structural class/property arrangement remains in effect, no top-down “war on pollution” or “war on corruption” is going to change this system or brake China’s trajectory to ecological collapse. Given the foregoing, I just don’t see how China’s spiral to collapse can be reversed short of social revolution.

China’s Communist Party seems all-powerful and unassailable. But it’s not. It’s frightened, desperate and disintegrating. It faces unprecedented threats: near daily industrial strikes; militant and often violent protests over land grabs, chemical plants, incinerators, power plants and the like; “terrorist” attacks from Xinjiang; and even worse, subversive thought that just can’t be stopped by the Great Firewall. Chai Jing’s Under the Dome had 300 million downloads before the government took it down off the web after a week and a half. Who knows what spark will light the next social explosion?

Resistance is growing as pollution and public health worsen, as it becomes harder to sustain that 8 percent growth rate to stave off unrest, as Xi Jinping’s war on corruption only serves to publicize the unregenerate character of the entire Communist Party and underscore its incapacity to solve any of China’s huge problems. Since Xi took over in 2012, he’s been determined to save China’s Communist Party from the fate of its Soviet cousin. Xi ridiculed Mikhail Gorbachev’s “weakness” and cast himself as the tough-guy Godfather, cracking down on the press, the internet and social media, religious groups, democrats, nongovernmental organizations, Western joint-venture partners and “Western ideas.” But this repression just reveals his weakness, not his strength.

The more he harasses, fines and drives Western joint-venture partners out of China, the less access he will have to their technology and the less competitive his SOEs will become. The more tightly he polices culture and censors the internet, the faster China’s intellectuals, scientists, professionals and college graduates will pack up and move to Australia. Nothing demonstrates this weakness and lack of self-confidence more than the Party’s very public disintegration: The government bitterly complains that large numbers of “ready-to-flee, naked officials” (so-called because they’ve sent their families and money to Los Angeles or Vancouver) are scheming to follow them. Surveys show that half of China’s rich (most of whom are Communist Party members) have either left the country or are planning to do so as soon as they can. (103)

China has to be the first nation in history in which significant numbers of its own triumphant ruling class are abandoning their own success story en masse. Today, Xi Jinping faces subversion and resistance everywhere he looks, yet he can’t even count on his comrades. To add to his headaches, Godfather Xi now faces an in-your-face democracy movement in Hong Kong that refuses to die. From workers’ strikes to environmental protests to Occupy Central for Love and Peace, these struggles and movements are fragmented, inchoate and unorganized, so far, but they all share a common demand: bottom-up democracy. Therein lies China’s best hope.

Footnotes

1. Ariana Enjung Cha, “Solar energy firms leave waste behind in China,” The Washington Post, 9 March 2008. All quotations are from this article.

2. There’s no better illustration of this government-industry collusion and pollution’s catastrophic impact on the health of China’s people than journalist Chai Jing’s sensational new documentary on China’s smog Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog (Wumai diaocha: qiongding zhixia) which went online in late February and is being rightly hailed as China’s Silent Springhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6X2uwlQGQM.

3. “The Chinese miracle will end soon,” Der Spiegel 7 March 2005: www.spiegel.de/speigel/0,1515,345694.html.

4. Elizabeth Economy and Michael Levi, By All Means Necessary, Oxford 2014, chapters 3 and 4.

5. Craig Simons, The Devouring Dragon, New York, 2013, p. 9 and chapters 7 and 8.

6. Joseph Kahn and Mark Landler, “China grabs west’s smoke-spewing factories,” The New York Times, 21 December 2007. William J. Kelly and Chip Jacobs, The People’s Republic of Chemicals (Los Angeles: Vireo 2014).

7. Alexandra Harney, The China Price, New York, 2008, pp. 8-9.

8.Overdressed, New York, 2013, pp. 3, 124-125. Energy consumption: FAO, cited in “Fabric and your carbon footprint, O Ecotextiles, 10 March 2013, at http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/fabric-and-your-carbon-footprint/.

9. Niu Yue, “China No 1 dumper of plastic into ocean,” China Daily, February 19, 2015.

10.State Council Decision on Accelerating the Development of Strategic Emerging Industries, October 2010 at http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2010-10/18/content_1724848.htm.
State Council 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP) on Development of Strategic Emerging Industries, July 2012 at http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2012-07/20/content_2187770.htm.
MOF and NDRC Interim Measures for the Administration of Special Funds for Strategic Emerging Industries, December 2012 at http://jjs.mof.gov.cn/zhengwuxinxi/zhengcefagui/201301/t20130124_729883.html.

11. Tom Lasseter, “Empty highways,” McClatchy News, August 24, 2006, 11:33PM at http://blogs.mcclatchydc.com/china/2006/08/empty_highways.html.

12. Professor Zhao Jian of Beijing Jiaotong University says, “It is unwise to continue building high-speed rail lines while the current high-speed network has a hard time getting enough passengers and is operating at a loss … The country has built more than 10,000 kilometers of high-speed rail lines and most lines are losing money because of inadequate demand.” Some lines run at only 30 percent of capacity he said, and even the busiest, such as the train from Beijing to Shanghai, “will run a loss for a long time … The rush to build high-speed rail networks indicates that the old investment-driven growth model has hardly changed.” Sun Wenjing, “Government throwing money away on bullet trains, expert says,” Caixin, 10 July 2014 at http://english.caixin.com/2014-07-10/100702343.html.

13. Kevin Lim, “‘Meaningful probability’ of a China hard landing: Roubini,” Reuters, 13 June 2011.

14. Wang is quoted in Tania Branigan, “Riding Beijing’s subway end to end: 88km of queues and crushes on 20p ticket,” The Guardian, 10 September, 2014 at http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/sep/10/-sp-beijing-subway-china-metro-queues-ticket-investment.

15. James Fallows, China Airborne, New York, 2012, pp. 28-29. David Barboza, “Airports in China hew to an unswerving flight path,” The New York Times, 3 April 2013. Bloomberg News, “China plan seeks to bolster airports, locally-produced airplanes,” 21 January 2013 at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-21/china-plan-seeks-to-bolster-airports-locally-produced-airplanes.html.

16. IPCC, Aviation and the Global Atmosphere: A Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge UK 1999, at http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc/aviation/index.htm. George Monbiot, Heat, Cambridge UK 2007, p. 174.

17. Monbiot, Heat, p. 182 and sources cited therein.

18. In the decade from 2000 China’s cities expanded by over 80 percent. A national land survey found that 130,000 square kilometers of farmland, equal to half the area of Germany, was paved over in the urbanization frenzy between 1996 and 2009 – and it hasn’t slowed since. Mandy Zuo, “Stop concreting over prime farmland, China’s big cities told,” South China Morning Post, 9 November, 2014. Cui Zheng, “Scientists issue warning over development of coastal wetlands,” Caixin, 25 November 2014.

19. See Jasper Becker, City of Heavenly Tranquility, Oxford 2008, chapters 17 and 18.

20. See Darmon Richter, “Welcome to Ordos: the world’s largest ‘ghost city’ [China],” The Bohemian Blog, 13 February 2014 at: http://www.thebohemianblog.com/2014/02/welcome-to-ordos-world-largest-ghost-city-china.html.

21. “Housing oversupply causing major crisis for Chinese economy, NTD.TV, 16 May 2014 at http://www.ntd.tv/en/programs/news-politics/china-forbidden-news/20140516/143998-housing-oversupply-causing-major-crisis-for-chinese-economy-.html. Eg. George Steinmetz, “Let a hundred McMansions bloom,” The New York Times Magazine, 21 September 2014. Neil Gough, “A muddy tract now, but by 2020, China’s answer to Wall Street,” The New York Times, 3 April, 2014.

22. Lillian Liu, “A question of time, FinanceAsia, 8 September 2010 at http://www.financeasia.com/News/231364. Vincent Fernando, CFA, “There are now enough vacant properties in China to house over half of America,” Business Insider, 8 September 2010 at http://www.businessinsider.com/there-are-now-enough-vacant-properties-in-china-to-house-over-half-of-america-2010-9. Robin Banerji and Patrick Jackson, “China’s ghost towns and phantom malls,” BBC News Online, 13 August 2012 at http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19049254. Yifei Chen, “Chasing ghosts: where is China’s next wave of empty ‘new towns’?” South China Morning Post, February 13, 2015.

23. “China’s real estate bubble,” CBS 60 Minutes, 11 August 2013 at http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/chinas-real-estate-bubble/. Gus Lubin, “Satellite pictures of the empty Chinese cities where home prices are crashing,” Business Insider, 10 December 2011, 1:48PM at http://www.businessinsider.com/china-ghost-cities-2011-11#. David Barboza, “Chinese city has many buildings but few people,” The New York Times, 9 October 2010.

24. Zarathustra, “China’s crumbing infrastructure model,” Macrobusiness, 28 July 2012 at 9:49AM at http://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2011/07/is-chinas-growth-model-a-train-wreck/.Wall Street Examiner reporter/blogger Russ Winter posted several photos of collapsed bridges in his “Yes, China is truly different” Winter Economic and Market Watch, 28 August 2012 at http://www.wallstreetexaminer.com/blogs/winter/?p=5290.

25. Lu Chen, op. cit. After the collapse of an apartment in Fenhua, Zhejian Province in April 2014, officials warned of a “coming wave of such accidents as the ‘fast food’ buildings built in the 1980s and 1990s enter their 30s and 20s.” Building safety experts warned people not to purchase apartments in certain localities known to be particularly risky. Most “won’t last 50 years, or in some cases about 25 years,” and they present constant safety hazards. Zheng Fengtian, “Weak buildings threaten life,” China Daily, 11-14 April 2014.

26. Frank Langfitt, “Chinese blame failing bridges on corruption,” National Public Radio, 29 August 2012 at http://www.npr.org/2012/08/29/160231137/chinese-blame-failed-infrastructure-on-corruption.

27. US E.I.A., China, updated 4 February 2014 at http://www.eia.gov/co.

28. Lily Kuo, “China’s nightmare scenario: by 2025 air quality could be much much worse,” posted 12 March 2013 on Quartz at http://qz.com/61694/chinas-nightmare-scenario-by-2025-air-quality-could-be-much-much-worse/. Wang Yue, “China unlikely to reduce coal use in the next decade,” Chinadialogue.org, 10 February 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/6718-China-unlikely-to-reduce-coal-use-in-the-next-decade/esn. US EIA, China, 4 February 2014, op cit.

29. Zeke Hausfather, “Global carbon dioxide emissions: increases dwarf US reductions,” Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, 2 July 2013 at http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2013/07/global-co2-emissions-increases-dwarf-recent-u-s-reductions/.

30. Chris Buckley, “China’s plan to limit coal use could spur consumption for years,” The New York Times, 25 July 2014. As Xi Jinping and Barack Obama concluded their “historic” accord in November 2014 to cut both country’s carbon dioxide emissions and Xi promised to reduce China’s reliance on coal for power generation and boost renewables, the news that China’s coal consumption actually fell by 2.5 percent in 2014, the first decline in a century, gave cause for optimism. Combined with the fact that China continues to lead the world in annual additions of wind and solar power, many hoped that China’s coal consumption was finally peaking. But as Andrew Revkin points out, while China’s coal production and imports declined in 2014, half of China’s coal is used outside the power sector, in heavy industry, which use has fallen as the overall economy has slowed in recent years. Coal consumption in the power sector continues its relentless climb: In 2014, China’s newly added coal power capacity exceeded new solar energy by 17 times, new wind energy by four times, even new hydro power by more than three times. In just this one year, China added more new coal-fired power plants than Britain’s entire fleet. These new plants will be pumping out greenhouse gases for many decades to come and in fact, most of China’s coal-fired power plants are less than 15 years old so could they could still be running half a century from now. In short, for all the promises, coal is still king in China. Moreover, the economic slowdown is also likely to be short-lived as the government is furiously pumping money into the economy to revive growth. Andrew Revkin, “A look behind the headlines on China’s coal trends,” Dot Earth, The New York Times, 18 February 2015: 6:00 PM at http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/18/a-look-behind-the-headlines-on-chinas-coal-trends/?_r=0.

31. William J. Kelly, “China’s plan to clean up air in cities will doom the climate, scientists say,” InsideClimate News, 13 February 2014 at http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20140213/chinas-plan-clean-air-cities-will-doom-climate-scientists-say.

32.Reuters, “China’s coal expansion may spark water crisis, warns Greenpeace,” The Guardian, 15 August 2012. See also the accompanying documentary photos by Lu Guang: “China’s mega coal power bases exacerbate water crisis – in pictures,” The Guardian, August 21, 2012 at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2012/aug/21/china-mega-coal-water-crisis-in-pictures.

33. See Sophie Beach, “China’s fracking boom and the fate of the planet” in China Digital Times 19 September 2014 at http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2014/09/chinas-fracking-boom-fate-planet/.

34. Investigators have found that only a third of China’s wastewater treatment plants are operating. Cui Zheng, “Seas of sewage,” CaixinOnline, 12 October 2012 at http://english.caixin.com/2012-10-12/100446374.html.

35. Ma Jun, China’s Water Crisis, Norwalk 2004, p. vii.

36. Sun Xiaohua, “Pollution takes heavy toll on Yangtze,” China Daily, 16 April 2007.  Shai, Oster, “It may be too late for China to save the Yangtze goddess,” The Wall Street Journal, 6 December 2006.

37. Xu Nan, “Poisoned groundwater sparks media storm in China,” China Dialogue, February 2, 2013 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/5749-Poisoned-groundwater-sparks-media-storm-in-China/en.

38. Cecilia Torajada and Asit K. Biswas, “The problem of water management,” China Daily, March 5, 2013. Gong Jing and Liu Hongqiao, “Half of China’s urban drinking water fails to meet standards,” China Dialogue, June 6, 2013 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/6074-Half-of-China-s-urban-drinking-water-fails-to-meet-standards.

39. Ten years previously, a pollution tide had killed fish and sickened thousands of people. By 2001, the government claimed to have shut down polluters and declared the cleanup a success. But the Huai is now a symbol of the failure of environmental regulation in China. After spending more than $8 billion over a decade to clean up the Huai basin, the State Environmental Protection Administration concluded in 2004 that “some areas were more polluted than before.” Jim Yardley, “Rivers run black, and Chinese die of cancer,” The New York Times, 12 September 2004. An Baijie, “Polluted river flows with carcinogens,” China Daily, 8 August 2013 (on pollution of the Huaihe in Anhui Province by manganese, nitrates and other carcinogens from local factories).

40. Dr. Linda Greer (NRDC), “Top clothing brands linked to water pollution scandal in China,” China Dialogue, 9 October 2012 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/5203-Top-clothing-brands-linked-to-water-pollution-scandal-in-China/en. (Armani, Calvin Klein, Marks and Spencer, Zara and others.)

41. Xue Haitao and Liku Hongqiao, “Sip of death plagues cancerous river villages,” CaixinOnline, 9 October 2013 at http://english.caixin.com/2013-10-09/100589447.html. Yu Dawei et al., “The poisoning of the Nanpan river basin,” CaixinOnline, 1 September 2011 at http://english.caixin.com/2011-09-01/100297332.html.  Sophie Beach “Shangba, China’s village of death,” posted 3 December 2007 on www.sprol.com/?p=371. Mary Ann Toy, “Waiting for death in fetid cancer villages,” Sidney Morning Herald, 26 May 2007. Jim Yardley, “Rivers run black, and Chinese die of cancer,” The New York Times 12 September 2004. Staff, “South China river polluted by thallium, cadmium,” China Daily, 6 July 2013. Elizabeth Economy, The River Runs Black.

42. Michael Wines, “Smelter in China poisons more than 1,300 children” The New York Times, 21 August 2009. Staff, “Anhui battery factory poisons 200 children,” Caixin slide show, 6 January 2011 at http://english.caixin.com/2011-01-06/100214424.html.

43. Luna Lin, “China’s water pollution will be more difficult to fix than its dirty air,” China Dialogue, 17 February 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/6726-China-s-water-pollution-will-be-more-difficult-to-fix-than-its-dirty-air-/en. Zhang Chun, “China ‘lacks experience’ to clean up its polluted soil,” China Dialogue, 14 April 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/6897-China-lacks-experience-to-clean-up-its-polluted-soil.

44. Matt Currell, “Losing lifeblood in north China,” China Dialogue, September 17, 2010 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/3823-Losing-lifeblood-in-north-China.

45. Economy, “The great leap backwards,” Foreign Affairs, September-October 2007.

46.Reuters in Beijing, “China says more than 3m hectares of land too polluted to farm,” South China Morning Post, 30 December 2013.

47. Ministry of Environmental Protection, Huanjing baohu bu he guotu ziyuan bu fabu quanguo turang wuran zhuangkuang diaocha gongbao (Environmental Protection Ministry and Land and Natural Resources Ministry release countrywide soil contamination condition survey bulletin), 17 April 2014 at http://www.mep.gov.cn/gkml/hbb/qt/201404/t20140417_270670.htm.

48. See Sam Geal and Elizabeth Hilton, “Culture of secrecy behind China’s pollution crisis,” and Angel Hsu and Andrew Moffat, ” China’s soil pollution crisis still buried in mystery,” both in Pollution and Health in China: Confronting the Human Crisis, special issue of China Dialogue, 9 September 2014 at https://s3.amazonaws.com/cd.live/uploads/content/file_en/7289/chinadialogue_health_journal.pdf.

49.Xinhua, “More than 40 percent of China’s arable land degraded,” China Daily, 5 November 2014.

50. Liu Hongqiao, “The polluted legacy of China’s largest rice-growing province,” China Dialogue, 30 May 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7008-The-polluted-legacy-of-China-s-largest-rice-growing-province. Zheng Yesheng and Qian Yihong, Shendu Youhuan  –  Dangdai Zhongguo de Kechixu Fazahan Wenti (Grave Concerns: Problems of Sustainable Development for China) (Beijing: China Publishing House 1998), pp. 8-10.

51. John Dearing, “China’s polluted soil and water will drive up world food prices,” China Dialogue, 3 March 2015 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7768-China-s-polluted-soil-and-water-will-drive-up-world-food-prices.

52. For example, antebellum southern planters produced cotton, tobacco, sugar and indigo entirely for market, indeed for the world market. But they did so with slave labor. This hybrid capitalist-slave mode of production was obviously radically different than production for a market based on free labor in the North and it had broad implications for productivity, economic development, and more. It gave their economy an entirely different character, dynamic and trajectory, and it had profound economic, social, political and psychological consequences, many of which we still deal with today.

53. James McGregor, No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: the Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism (Westport: Prospecta Press: 2012), p. 4-5, 16-19 (quote from p. 57) and the sources cited therein, including the head of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC).

54.No Ancient Wisdom, p. 2

55. Andrew Szamosszegi and Cole Kyle, “An Analysis of State-owned Enterprises and State Capitalism in China,” October 26, 2011. US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), pp. 21-22 at http://origin.www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/10_26_11_CapitalTradeSOEStudy.pdf.On state control of the banking sector, see Carl E. Walter and Fraser J.T. Howie, Red Capitalism: The Fragile Foundations of China’s Extraordinary Rise (Singapore: Wiley & Sons, 2012), pp. 31-33 and passim. Also: Henry Sanderson and Michael Forsythe, China’s Superbank (Singapore: Wiley & Sons, 2013). Barry Naughton, The Chinese Economy: Transitions and Growth (Cambridge: MIT 2007), pp. 190, 299-304, 325.

56. Thus with respect to the banking sector, Szamosszegi and Cole write that: “The state banking sector dominates the landscape in China and tends to favor SOEs at the expense of private sector firms. Second, SOEs are in general an important instrument of government policy. The government uses SOEs to facilitate structural change in the Chinese economy, to acquire technology from foreign firms, and to secure raw material sources from beyond China’s borders. For example, in 2009, the government turned to its SOEs and state‐owned banks to provide stimulus to the domestic economy. Third, the CCP and SASAC maintain important influence over the executives of SOEs. These executives face two sets of incentives. On the one hand, the entities they control are supposed to be profitable, and SOE executives are now rewarded based on financial performance. On the other hand, the appointments of top executives to SOE management and their future career paths upon leaving the SOE are determined by the Central Organization Department of the CCP. Thus, SOE executives have an incentive to follow the government’s policy guidance. Recent examples, as well as financial disclosure documents, indicate that if maximizing shareholder value conflicts with state goals, SOEs and their wholly owned subsidiaries are likely to pursue the goals of the state.” “An Analysis of State-owned Enterprises” op.cit. p. 3.

57. McGregor, No Ancient Wisdom, p. 59.

58. Walter and Howie, Red Capitalism, p. 24, 187.

59. Ben Blanchard, “Chinese billionaire mining tycoon Liu Han is executed over his links to a ‘mafia-style’ gang,” Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 2015. Most accounts say that his real crime was his link to the Zhou Yongkang clique.

60. Becker, City of Heavenly Tranquility, pp. 287-289.

61. Sydney University’s Kerry Brown says the number of “high-level cadres” (gaoji ganbu) who run the ministries, the state conglomerates and the administration, all concentrated in Beijing, total no more than 2,562, which means, he says, that China is effectively “run by group of people that is smaller than most villages in Europe.” The New Emperors: Power and the Princelings in China, New York 2014, pp. 20-21.

62. Richard McGregor, The Party, New York 2010. Carl E. Walter and Fraser J.T. Howie, Red Capitalism, Singapore 2012, pp. 22-25 and passim.

63. Eg. Shi Jiangtao, “Struggle for supremacy by party factions now on display,” South China Morning Post, 13 October 2012. Matthew Robertson, “China’s ‘hatchet man’ set to be purged in party struggle,” Epoch Times, 30 May-3 June 2014 (reporting a rumored threat to Xi Jinping’s life by the Bo Xilai faction). Teddy Ng, “Rising star Li Yuanchao forges ties with all political factions in China, South China Morning Post,1 October 2012.

64. Quoted in Bloomberg News, “Xi Jinping millionaire relations reveal fortunes of elite,” 29 June 2012.

65. Quoted in David Barboza, “The Corruptibles,” The New York Times, 3 September 2009. See also again, Robertson, “China’s ‘Hatchet Man’ set to be purged … ” in op cit.

66. Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, incoming Premier Xi Jinping, and other wealthy princelings were profiled in Bloomberg News and The New York Times, in 2012 and 2013 – which got both papers shut down in China and their reporters denied visa renewals in 2013. See “Heirs of Mao’s comrades rise as new capitalist nobility” and links to related stories in Bloomberg News, 26 December 2012 at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-26/immortals-beget-china-capitalism-from-citic-to-godfather-of-golf.html. Also again Richard McGregor, The Party and Kerry Brown, The New Emperors.

67. David Barboza, “Billions in hidden riches for family of Chinese leader,” The New York Times, 25 October, 2012.

68.Zhongguode xianjing (China’s Pitfalls) (Hong Kong: Mingjing chubanshe, 1997)

69. “Heirs of Mao’s comrades rise as new capitalist nobility,” op cit. p. 11.

70. Ex-Premier Zhu Rongji, quoted in Richard McGregor, The Party, p. 45.

71. Quoted in Walter and Howie, Red Capitalism, p. 23. In October 2014, one high-level cadre in the energy ministry caught up in Xi Jinping’s anticorruption sweep, had stashed away 200 million yuan (HK$252 million) in banknotes in one of his apartments. The pile of banknotes weighed more than 2.3 tons.

72. Quoted in Richard McGregor, The Party, pp. 140-41.

73. “Heirs of Mao’s comrades rise as new capitalist nobility,” Bloomberg News, 26 December 2012 p. 3 at
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-26/immortals-beget-china-capitalism-from-citic-to-godfather-of-golf.html. Further citations below are from articles in this collection.

74. Yang Dali and Dai Qing were quoted in Bloomberg News, “Heirs” op cit. pp. 5,6 and 10.

75.Bloomberg News, “Heirs,” pp. 1,5.

76. Chinese fly cash to North America, by the suitcase,” The Wall Street Journal, 2 January 2013. Shen Ming, “Chinese military officers secretly moving money offshore,” Epoch Times, 28 June 2012. Benjamin Robertson, “US1.25 trillion moved out of mainland China illegally in 10 years, says report,” South China Morning Press, 16 December 2014.

77. James Ball and Guardian US Interactive Team, “China’s princelings storing riches in Caribbean offshore haven,” The Guardian, 21 January 2014, reporting on the findings of a two-year reporting effort by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Bloomberg News, “Heirs” p. 6.

78. “China murder suspect’s sisters ran $126 million empire,” Bloomberg News, 13 April 2012.

79. On SOE restructuring and growth of the planned economy, see Peter Nolan, Transforming China: Globalization, Transition and Development, London 2004, chapter 5.

80. James T. Areddy and Laurie Burkitt, “Shake-up at China firm shows reach of graft crackdown,” The Wall Street Journal, 23 April 2014.

81. So for example, with respect to China’s investment in mines in Zambia, Professor Ching Kwan Lee quotes a Chinese mining executive who says “We don’t need to maximize profit, but we need to make some profit. The state won’t support us if we make losses year after year.” Lee adds, “between profit optimization and profit maximization lies the space for achieving other types of return – political influence and access to raw materials.”  “The spectre of global China,” New Left Review 2/89, September-October 2014, p. 36.

82. Thus James McGregor writes: “Despite their chronically imprudent lending habits, SOE banks are kept afloat – and reap huge profits to boot – through government-set interest rates. With a ceiling on the interest rates for deposits and a floor on lending rates, China’s banks have enjoyed a comfortable spread of about three percentage points, which guarantees profits.” No Ancient Wisdom, p. 65.

83. Long Youngtu, China’s chief negotiator at the WTO, quoted in James McGregor, No Ancient Wisdom, p. 5 (my italics).

84. Liu Jianqiang, “China’s environment ministry an “utter disappointment,” China Dialogue, March 7, 2013 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5788-China-s-environment-ministry-an-utter-disappointment-.  Tang Hao, “China’s food scares show the system is bust,” China Dialogue, 31 August 2012, at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5142-China-s-food-scares-show-the-system-is-bust.

85. See Brian Tilt, The Struggle for Sustainability in Rural China, New York 2010, chapter 6. Han Wei, “Officials failing to stop textile factories dumping waste in Qiantang River,” China Dialogue, 1 August 2013 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5589-Officials-failing-to-stop-textile-factories-dumping-waste-in-Qiantang-River.

86. Liu Qin, “China’s environment ministry launches anti-graft reforms,” China Dialogue, 11 March, 2015.

87. John McGarrity, “One year on after “war” declared on pollution, Beijing air scarcely improves,” China Dialogue, 2 February 2015. https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/7695-One-year-on-after-war-declared-on-pollution-Beijing-air-scarcely-improves/en. Xu Nan, “China’s noxious air ‘as deadly as smoking: study,” China Dialogue, 4 February 2015 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/7697-China-s-noxious-air-as-deadly-as-smoking-study/en.

88. Lu Hongqiao, “China set to miss safe rural drinking water targets,” China Dialogue, March 5, 2015 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7762-China-set-to-miss-safe-rural-drinking-water-targets. Huang Hao, “Village water supplies in China hit by scarcity and contamination,” China Dialogue, March 5, 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7209-Village-water-supplies-in-China-hit-by-scarcity-and-contamination. Abigail Barnes, “China’s bottled water: the next health crisis? China Dialogue, July 22, 2014 at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7152-China-s-bottled-water-the-next-health-crisis-.

89. Judith Shapiro writes that “There are competing and conflicting emphases on growth, government legitimacy, clean development, and stability, creating a confusing policy-making landscape in which actors sometimes work at cross purposes or with uncertain lines of responsibility … Economic realities and concerns about unemployment and social unrest often push the government away from environmentally friendly action. The Ministry of Environmental Protection is hardly in a position to close the enormous state-run iron and steel plants in the great north-eastern rust belt, where unemployment is exceedingly high and shutdowns would mean even more job losses.” Shapiro, China’s Environmental Challenges, Cambridge UK 2012, pp. 69-70.

90.China Airborne, p. 99.

91. China’s Communist Party currently counts around more than 85 million members. Last year, the government reported that more than 71,000 cadres were “investigated for violating Party regulations.” Of these only 23,000 “received Party or administrative penalities,” mostly censures, and comparatively few were actually sent to prison or are executed. Pretty good odds. “Disciplinary watchdogs seek to fight factionalism within the Party,” People’s Daily, 12 January 2015 at http://en.people.cn/n/2015/0112/c90785-8834538.html.

92. Barmé is quoted in Andrew Jacobs, “In China’s antigraft campaign, small victories and bigger doubts,” The New York Times, 16 January 2015.

93. Michael Forsythe, “As China’s leader fights graft, his relatives shed assets,” The New York Times, 17 June 2014.

94. “China’s selective crackdown,” 17 January 2015.

95. Alice Yan, “Don’t go back on your old ways when our backs are turned, CCDI warns cadres,” South China Morning Post, 5 November 2014.

96. Andrea Chen, “Some cadres shrugging off anticorruption campaign, graft-buster warns,” South China Morning Post, 25 October 2014.

97. Jane Perlez, “Corruption in military poses a test for China,” The New York Times, 14 November 2012.

98. On this see my “Capitalism and the destruction of life on earth: six theses on saving the humans” Real-world Economics Review, July 2013 at http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue64/Smith64.pdf and my “Climate crisis, the deindustrialization imperative, and the jobs vs. environment dilemma” in Truthout, 17 November, 2014 at http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27226-climate-crisis-the-deindustrialization-imperative-and-the-jobs-vs-environment-dilemma.

99. IPCC, Climate Change 2014: IPCC Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report (November 2014) at http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/. James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, New York 2009.

100. Ecofys, WWF Report 2015, It’s Time to peak: why China’s corporate sector needs to set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets,” (WWF, February 2015) p. 11 at http://www.ecofys.com/files/files/wwf-ecofys-2015-it-is-time-to-peak.pdf.

101. Eg. Chrystia Freeland, “The triumph of the family farm,” The Atlantic, 13 June 2012. Also: “Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family Farm-centered food systems,” n.a., Farm Aid, 2013 at http://www.farmaid.org/makethecase. Alan Bjerga, “Organic lets family farms prosper in industrial-agriculture era,” Bloomberg News, 28 June 2012 at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-28/organic-lets-family-farms-prosper-in-industrial-agriculture-era.html.

102. Eg. He Guangwei, “China faces long battle to clean up its polluted soil,” He Guangwei, “The victims of China’s soil pollution crisis, Chu Han, “The human cost of living in the ‘mercury capital’ of China [Guizhou province],” Angel Hu and Andrew Moffet, “China’s soil pollution crisis still buried in mystery,” all in Pollution and Health in China: Confronting the Human Crisis, special issue of China Dialogue, September 9, 2014 (in Chinese with some English summaries) at https://s3.amazonaws.com/cd.live/uploads/content/file_en/7289/chinadialogue_health_journal.pdf.

103. “Almost half of wealthy Chinese want to leave, study shows,” The Wall Street Journal, 5 September 2014. Benjamin Carlson, “As war on corruption mounts, China’s rich flee to America, Global Post, 9 February 2014. John Kennedy, “China has at least 1.18 million ready-to-flee ‘naked officials,’ anticorruption rant reveals,” South China Morning Post, 27 February 27, 2013 at  http://www.scmp.com/comment/blogs/article/1159628/china-has-least-118-million-ready-flee-naked-officials-anti-corruption.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission

Say a prayer for rain? Interfaith ceremony gives it a try (L.A. Times)

June 20, 2015 9:50 PM

Bedeviled by drought, Great Plains settlers in the early 1890s developed a keen interest in rainmaking.

With funds appropriated by Congress, Gen. Robert St. George Dyrenforth set off gunpowder explosions in Texas under the theory that they could trigger friction and generate nuclei to produce moisture. When his test runs came up dry, disillusioned farmers and ranchers dubbed him “General Dryhenceforth.”

At a mosque in parched, sunny Chino on Saturday evening, roughly 500 people of many faiths and ages gathered to try a less concussive tack to end the Golden State’s four-year drought.

Praying for rain

People of different faiths gather at the Baitul Hameed Mosque in dry, sunny Chino to pray for an end to California’s drought. (Rick Loomis, Los Angeles Times)

Invoking the power of prayer, they beseeched God, Buddha, Allah, Yahweh, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to make it rain, already.

“Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Master of the Day of Judgment,” Imam Mohammed Zafarullah recited in Arabic to male congregants on colorful prayer rugs outside the Baitul Hameed Mosque, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles. “There is no god but Allah Who does what He wishes. O Allah, Thou art Allah, there is no deity but Thou, the Rich, while we are the poor. Send down the rain upon us and make what Thou sendest down a strength and satisfaction for a time.”

The interfaith Prayer for Rain, sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, had its seed in a Friday sermon that Dr. Ahsan M. Khan, president of the sect’s Los Angeles East chapter, heard on a visit to the headquarters mosque in London. The caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, shared anecdotes of African villages where people accepted Islam after witnessing results when the local imams offered the Arabic prayer for rain.

With San Diego again drought-ridden, 1915 'Rainmaker' saga is revisited

With San Diego again drought-ridden, 1915 ‘Rainmaker’ saga is revisited

When Khan returned to Southern California, he proposed that members of the local mosque give it a try. Wearing a white sheet under a blistering sun, Zafarullah led the mosque’s congregants in their first-ever rain prayer in early May. Inspired, they decided to extend an invitation to other religious institutions for a collective event during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

“Prayer for rain is actually common across different faiths,” said Khan, 38, an ophthalmologist with Kaiser.

Californians have been praying for rain for a while now. Early last year, the state’s Catholic bishops called for divine intervention and asked people of all faiths to join in prayers for rain as reservoirs dipped to historic lows.

“May God open the heavens, and let his mercy rain down upon our fields and mountains,” said the prayer composed by Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento.

Not long after, in March 2014 — days after Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state drought emergency — the first San Juan Intertribal rain dance was held in San Juan Bautista.

Alas, as bare mountaintops and shrinking reservoirs attest, the pleas of bishops and California Indians went unanswered.

That was no surprise to Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society. He dashed cold water on the whole idea that prayer, no matter how many faiths were involved, would make a difference.

“I think it’s ridiculous, of course,” he said. “This often happens not only with religions but also with con men during droughts in the 19th century and the Dust Bowl years.”

The Rev. Michael Miller, the priest at St. Margaret Mary Church in Chino, was more optimistic about the power of prayer to bring rain. He said he “was full of gratitude to the imam for calling us together” for Saturday’s ceremony.

He noted that all three of the world’s monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — originated in the desert. “Water,” he said, “is important biologically and spiritually.”

After the ceremony, the members of the different faiths — Muslim, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian Scientist — adjourned to a courtyard for a communal dinner.

Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, cheered them on in an interview days before the event.

“I’d recommend they pray for a strong El Niño this winter,” he said. “We need all the help we can get.”

martha.groves@latimes.com

Twitter: @MarthaGroves

Sabesp considera fim do Cantareira e corre contra o tempo (Exame)

JC, 5201, 22 de junho de 2015

A crise da água em São Paulo ainda não acabou

Depois que a seca do ano passado deixou São Paulo à beira de um racionamento severo de água, as chuvas do final do verão deram à Sabesp – a grande culpada pela crise, segundo autoridades municipais – uma segunda chance para aumentar investimentos em infraestrutura.

Com o início da estação seca, há uma corrida contra o tempo para desviar rios e conectar sistemas antes que os já prejudicados reservatórios de água fiquem baixos novamente.

A corrida contra o tempo ressalta a situação precária da maior metrópole da América do Sul após duas décadas sem nenhum grande projeto hídrico.

Os reservatórios ainda não se recuperaram da seca do ano passado e os meteorologistas estão prevendo meses mais quentes à frente por causa do fenômeno climático El Niño.

“A infraestrutura não foi a prioridade da Sabesp nos últimos anos. Eles não adotaram medidas para evitar a crise”, disse Pedro Caetano Mancuso, diretor do Centro de Referência em Segurança da Água da Universidade de São Paulo.

“Embora a Sabesp esteja disposta a fazer a lição de casa agora, a questão é se ela será concluída ou não a tempo de evitar um problema ainda maior”.

A Sabesp – empresa sob controle estatal -,disse que foi a severidade da seca do ano passado, e não a falta de investimentos em infraestrutura, a causa da crise.

“Nós estávamos preparados para uma seca tão ruim ou pior que a de 1953”, quando a Sabesp enfrentou uma crise similar, disse o presidente Jerson Kelman a vereadores, em uma audiência no dia 13 de maio.

“O que aconteceu em 2014 foi que tivemos metade do volume de chuva daquele ano. Para isso, nós não estávamos preparados”.

‘Previsível’

Em um relatório, em 10 de junho, a Câmara de Vereadores de São Paulo culpou a Sabesp pela crise que cortou o abastecimento em alguns bairros, dizendo que a seca já era previsível.

“Se a Sabesp tivesse investido os dividendos distribuídos na Bolsa de Nova York em obras para modernizar os sistemas que abastecem a capital e na manutenção da rede, não estaríamos enfrentando o racionamento travestido de redução de pressão”, disse Laércio Benko, vereador que liderou a comissão criada para investigar a escassez no abastecimento de água em São Paulo.

O maior dos projetos de infraestrutura que a Sabesp necessita neste ano para garantir o fornecimento de água potável está atrasado.

O projeto para conectar o Rio Pequeno ao reservatório da Billings, originalmente programado para ser concluído em maio, não será terminado até agosto devido a atrasos nas licenças ambientais e de uso da terra, disse a assessoria de imprensa da Sabesp em uma resposta a perguntas por e-mail. Se concluído neste ano, o pacote de cinco obras de emergência em que a Sabesp está investindo seria suficiente para evitar o racionamento, segundo a empresa.

Reservatório principal

Sem os projetos, e se as chuvas ficarem no nível do ano passado ou abaixo dele, a Sabesp projeta que seu reservatório principal – conhecido como Cantareira – poderá secar até agosto, segundo projeções internas obtidas pela Bloomberg News.

No pior cenário previsto pela empresa, poderá haver cortes no abastecimento de água na maior parte da área metropolitana de São Paulo cinco dias por semana, segundo o documento, que foi preparado como parte de um plano de contingência para São Paulo.

A Sabesp disse no e-mail que as chuvas, até agora, têm sido positivas. Para acelerar os investimentos de emergência agora, a Sabesp está cortando gastos e aumentando os preços da água. A empresa reduzirá os gastos com coleta e tratamento de esgoto pela metade neste ano, disseram executivos em uma teleconferência com investidores em abril. O aumento de tarifa reflete o “estresse financeiro” da Sabesp, disse o diretor financeiro Rui Affonso na conferência.

Queda das ações

As ações da Sabesp caíram 4,8 por cento na segunda-feira, pior desempenho das negociações em São Paulo, depois que a Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo (Fiesp) afirmou ter entrado com uma liminar para impedir o aumento de tarifa.

“A seca do ano passado será totalmente sentida nos resultados deste ano”, disse Alexandre Montes, analista de ações da Lopes Filho Associados Consultores de Investimentos, em entrevista por telefone, do Rio. “Mesmo se a seca diminuir agora, e mesmo se tudo sair bem, os resultados da Sabesp vão cair”.

(Revista Exame)

How climate change deniers got it right — but very wrong (MSNBC)

 VIDEO: GREENHOUSE, 1/22/15, 3:34 PM ET

06/16/15 08:30 PM

By Tony Dokoupil

It turns out the climate change deniers were right: There isn’t 97% agreement among climate scientists. The real figure? It’s not lower, but actually higher.

The scientific “consensus” on climate change has gotten stronger, surging past the famous — and controversial — figure of 97% to more than 99.9%, according to a new study reviewed by msnbc.

James L. Powell, director of the National Physical Sciences Consortium, reviewed more than 24,000 peer-reviewed papers on global warming published in 2013 and 2014. Only five reject the reality of rising temperatures or the fact that human emissions are the cause, he found.

“It’s now a ruling paradigm, as much an accepted fact in climate science as plate tectonics is in geology and evolution is in biology,” he told msnbc. “It’s 99.9% plus.”

Powell, a member of the National Science Board under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, decided to share an exclusive draft of his research on Tuesday — just days before Pope Francis is set to deliver a major address on climate change — because he doesn’t want his holiness to reference outdated numbers.

“I don’t want the Pope to say 97%,” Powell said by phone, arguing that accuracy now is more important than ever. “It’s wrong, and it’s not trivial.”

VIDEO: THE ED SHOW, 6/8/15, 5:53 PM ET – Santorum lectures Pope on climate change

Pope Francis is preparing to charge into the political debate over climate change, citing “a very consistent scientific consensus” and the risk of “unprecedented destruction,” according to a leaked draft of Thursday’s papal encyclical.

The notion of 97% agreement among climate scientists started with studies in 2009 and 2010. It wasn’t until a 2013 study, however, that the figure went viral. President Barack Obama tweeted it. The comedian John Oliver set up a slapstick debate between a climate change denier and 97 of his peers.

But Powell argues that acceptance of man-made global warming has grown. The author of a new Columbia University Press book on scientific revolutions used an online database to compile a mountain of global warming papers published in the last two years.

He also tried a different approach than the earlier studies. Rather than search for explicit acceptance of anthropomorphic global warming, Powell searched for explicit rejection. All the papers in the middle, he figured, weren’t neutral on the subject — they were settled on it.

The results include work from nearly the entire population of working climate scientists — close to 70,000 scientists, often sharing their byline with three or four other authors. They also include a dwindling opposition: Powell could find only four solitary authors who challenged the evidence for human-caused global warming.

That’s a rate of one dissenting voice for every 17,000 agreeing scientists, and it’s not a strong voice. Powell called the four dissents “known deniers and crackpots,” and noted that their work had been cited only once by the wider academic community.

“I don’t want the Pope to say 97%. It’s wrong, and it’s not trivial.”
JAMES L. POWELL, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL PHYSICAL SCIENCES CONSORTIUM

Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at Harvard, hasn’t read the Powell paper but she doesn’t doubt the general direction of the findings.Back in 2004, she became the first researcher to claim a “consensus” on climate change, finding a roughly 75% agreement within the literature.

“Scientists have done so much more work since then,” she said. For me, as a historian of science, it really feels like overkill. One starts to think, how many more times do we need to say this before we really get it and start to act on it?”

One reason for inaction of course is politics. Many of the world’s leaders still doubt the science of climate change, assuming incorrectly that it’s unsettled or exploratory. The view is especially prevalent among the current crop of Republican presidential candidates.

Earlier this month, for example, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told Fox News that the pope would be “better off leaving science to the scientists.” Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, meanwhile, claim that the science remains vague or is made up entirely.

That raises a second reason for inaction, according to Oreskes: intentional deception. Oreskes is the co-author of the “Merchants of Doubt,” a book that demonstrated how interest groups had undermined the science on tobacco, ozone depletion, acid rain and now climate change.

Many self-proclaimed “climate skeptics” no longer deny that the globe is warming, and some even acknowledge a human role in the new heat wave. Instead, they now say, warming is real — it just isn’t dangerous. They also attack the idea of a consensus, whatever the percentage.

“Nothing has really changed there,” said Oreskes. “The details shift but the overall picture remains the same. It’s a bit like Monet’s water lilies; it can look different at different at different times of day but it’s the same picture.”

Powell, however, hopes his work can finally close the debate, end the notion of doubt, move the frame ahead.

“There isn’t any evidence against global warming and there isn’t any alternative theory,” he said. “We’ve been looking for negative feedbacks and we’ve never found one that amounts to anything. It’s not impossible that we will, but I wouldn’t bet my grandchildren’s future on it.”

RELATED: Santorum to Pope Francis: ‘Leave science to the scientists’

RELATED: Pope Francis may drop political bombshell on climate change

Why Pope Francis’s climate message is so hard for some Americans to swallow (Washington Post)

 – June 18, 2015

With the official release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, it’s clear that several strains of thought prominent in the U.S. will be particularly challenged by the document. That includes U.S. individualists who tend to support limited government and fewer environmental restrictions — Rush Limbaugh has already accused Francis of Marxism — and also those who perceive a strong conflict between science and religion.

The Pope’s entire case for caring for “our common home,” as he puts it, is moral. And the precise moral worldview being articulated — what might be called communitarianism, the idea that we’re all in it together, that “it takes a village” — deeply challenges an individualistic value system that research suggests is quite prevalent in the U.S. In several places in the text, indeed, the pope explicitly critiques “individualism” by name.

“In the particular case of the United States of America, which does have a strong individualistic trend, we will be challenged by the Pope,” says Bill Patenaude, a Rhode Island based Catholic commentator who writes the blog Catholic Ecology.

Vatican announces pope’s message on climate(22:40)
Vatican leaders released Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical June 18 in Vatican City. (The Vatican English)

At the same time, the document also represents a mega-merger of religious faith and a vastness of carefully researched scientific information — challenging the conflict-focused way that so many Americans have been conditioned to think about the relationship between science and religion.

In essence, then, the Pope rolls science and faith into a comprehensive statement about our global, common responsibility to address the planet’s vulnerability.

Let’s take them in turn:

American Individualism. The United States, says Dutch social psychologist and intercultural researcher Geert Hofstede, is “one of the most Individualist…cultures in the world.” Individualism, in Hofstede’s definition, is “a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families.”

Hofstede isn’t the only one making such observations. The Pew Research Center noted recently that “Americans’ emphasis on individualism and work ethic stands out in surveys of people around the world.” That’s not to say that every American is a rugged individualist — just that this way of thinking, and feeling, is more prominent here than in many other nations, according to researchers.

There are many benefits to individualism, in the sense of how it drives people to strive to succeed, and allows them to choose their own paths and innovate in order to get there. In the context of the Pope’s encyclical, though, what matters is how such an outlook also helps to explain why we have such conflicts over collective environmental problems like climate change. For instance, numerous studies have found strong links between manifestations of individualism — such as free market beliefs and libertarian values — and the denial of global warming, or the perception that it isn’t a very serious problem.

That includes the research of Yale law professor Dan Kahan, whose “cultural cognition” model divides people’s moral values along two axes — one running from being very hierarchical to very egalitarian, and the other running from being very individualistic to being very communitarian. In this analysis, individualists are people who are much more likely to assent to statements like “It’s not the government’s business to try to protect people from themselves” and “It’s a mistake to ask society to help every person in need.”

Here’s a figure from Kahan’s research, dividing people’s value systems up into four quadrants based on where they lie on the hierarchist-egalitarian and individualist-communitarian spectra, and then further noting what kinds of issues those in the different quadrants tend to view as “high risk” and “low risk”:

In the context of U.S. politics, we’re used to watching hierarch-individualists (Republicans) and egalitarian-communitarians (Democrats) clash along both moral axes. But the Pope is a different blend than we’re used to. “The Pope is hierarch communitarian,” says Kahan by e-mail. “No doubt about that.” In this analysis, Francis lies in the top right quadrant of the diagram above. Yes, he’s pro-life — but also an environmental activist.

The communitarian side lies at the heart of the Pope’s current environmental endeavor, and his call to address a global, collective problem — warming. And to focus, in particular, on how it harms those who are most vulnerable.

“That’s very much where the climate problem has taken the environmental movement is concern for the people who are affected by it but didn’t cause it,” says Evan Berry, a professor of philosophy and religion at American University. “Interestingly, those are the most basic concerns of Christian morality. This is Catholicism 101. So the fact that that’s how a Christian leader would think about environmental questions, it’s surprising that that wasn’t on the table many many years.”

It’s there throughout the encyclical — and not just when the Pope calls the Earth’s climate a “common good.” He criticizes “individualism” by name on several occasions. Here’s one example:

Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about changes in society.

Or as the Pope puts it later, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”

So clearly, Francis is critiquing individualism — especially at its extremes.

Science and Religion Conflict. At the same time, from the Scopes Trial to the stem cell saga, we are also a country that has traditionally seen major battles between science and religion — and has thus been conditioned to see them as being in conflict. It’s a perception that actually comes from two separate sides — from many religious believers but also from many atheists or non-believers.

While perceptions of conflict are most centrally focused on the teaching of evolution, they extend throughout realms involving reproductive health and even into the environmental arena, where U.S. evangelicals tend to be considerably less accepting of climate change.

Pope Francis is having none of that. Indeed, the encyclical contains a grand statement about the necessarily complementary relationship between science and faith. “Science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both,” Francis writes.

“The catechism of the church is very clear on that,” says Patenaude. “Faith and reason are not opposed to one another. They are the two strands of the DNA of Catholic intellectual thought.”

Francis’s encyclical lives up to that merged identity — much in the way Pope Francis himself does, with his chemistry background.

For instance, Francis doesn’t just say humans are causing global warming. He enumerates the greenhouse gases much as a chemist might:  “carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others.” And he also lists numerous non-human or natural factors that influence the climate — “volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle” — before finally reiterating that it’s mostly human caused.

And the heavy layering of science extends far beyond the climate issue. As the Post has described, the encyclical is full of scientific content on a diversity of environmental issues — sometimes even throwing around highly technical concepts like ocean acidification, “bioaccumulation” and “synthetic agrotoxins.”

So if you’re one of those who insists that science and religion are in conflict — or one of those who stokes that conflict — Francis presents a major challenge. And it’s worth noting that while it isn’t central to this encyclical, Francis has also spoken up in the past in favor of the Big Bang and evolution, two major scientific concepts that have met with considerable religious-driven resistance in the U.S.

So in sum, here we have a leader of one of the world’s dominant churches articulating — and soon, coming to the U.S. to further articulate — a vision in which science and faith are partners in a communal quest to protect the vulnerable from the rampant profit motive and exploitation of the Earth.

For U.S. individualists and science-religion battlers, that is going to be serious cause for contemplation — which, perhaps most of all, is what Francis’s encyclical is asking us for.

Sentença confirma: usina no Tapajós só pode ser licenciada após consulta aos povos afetados (Ministério Público Federal no Pará )

JC 5198, 17 de junho de 2015

A consulta foi considerada obrigatória em decisão do Superior Tribunal de Justiça (STJ). Sentença registrada na segunda-feira (15) confirma consulta nos moldes da Convenção 169 da Organização Internacional do Trabalho

A Justiça Federal de Itaituba confirmou em sentença que o governo federal está proibido de licenciar a usina São Luiz do Tapajós sem antes realizar a consulta prévia, livre e informada conforme prevista na Convenção 169 da Organização Internacional do Trabalho, que tem força de lei no Brasil. A sentença, do juiz Ilan Presser, confirma decisões anteriores no mesmo processo, inclusive uma suspensão de segurança do Superior Tribunal de Justiça. Todas determinam que a consulta seja realizada, tanto com povos indígenas quanto com ribeirinhos, antes da emissão de qualquer licença ao empreendimento.
“Não se pode ignorar a assertiva de que a vontade da Convenção 169 da OIT, e do artigo 231 da Constituição é de, a partir do exercício do direito de consulta, seja permitida a preservação e fomento do multiculturalismo; e não a produção de um assimilacionismo e integracionismo, de matriz colonialista, impostos pela vontade da cultura dominante em detrimento dos modos de criar, fazer e viver dos povos indígenas, que corre o grave risco de culminar em um etnocídio”, diz a sentença judicial.

Para a Justiça, já está havendo violação do direito de consulta por parte do estado brasileiro. “Em todo o procedimento de licenciamento ainda não foi observado materialmente o direito de consulta prévia. Ou seja, da leitura dos autos verifica-se que os réus estão suprimindo direitos de minorias, materializados na consulta. Ou, na melhor das hipóteses, estão invertendo, indevidamente, as fases do licenciamento.”

A decisão cita jurisprudência nacional e internacional sobre o direito à consulta e alerta para o risco do Brasil ser condenado na Corte Interamericana de Direitos Humanos, como já ocorreu com Suriname, Paraguai e Equador, por permitirem a instalação de empreendimentos para extração de recursos em terras de populações tradicionais sem a devida consulta prévia.

Durante o processo judicial foram feitas manifestações pelos réus – Eletrobrás, Eletronorte, Aneel e Ibama – que indicam, de acordo com a sentença judicial, falta de conhecimento sobre as comunidades indígenas e tradicionais que habitam a região e serão afetadas pelos empreendimentos. Em suas manifestações, os entes do governo brasileiro tentam sustentar a tese de que não há impacto sobre populações indígenas e tradicionais porque não há terras indígenas demarcadas na área de impacto direto do empreendimento.

“Não se verifica adequada e razoável a alegação de que não existe influência do empreendimento em áreas demarcadas, até porque, como visto acima, existe indicativo de que as terras indígenas Andirá-Marau, Praia do Mangue, Praia do Índio e Pimental, KM 43 e São Luiz do Tapajós serão afetadas, algumas das quais já demarcadas, como a Praia do Índio e Praia do Mangue”, refuta o juiz federal na sentença.

A sentença menciona a situação da terra indígena Sawré Muybu, dos índios Munduruku, que teria parte significativa de seu território alagada pela usina e é objeto de outro processo judicial, em que o governo tenta protelar a demarcação – já em fase avançada – com o objetivo não declarado de facilitar o licenciamento da usina. Os argumentos do governo nos dois processos são complementares e auto-explicativos. No processo sobre a terra indígena, a Fundação Nacional do Índio alega que não há prioridade na demarcação. No processo sobre a usina que vai afetar a terra indígena, é a vez da Eletrobrás e da Aneel alegarem que sem demarcação, não cabe consulta prévia.

“Não resta outra conclusão possível senão a de que é irresponsável e inconstitucional se fazer vistas grossas a um possível e grave fato consumado de destruição sociocultural. Assim como em Vidas Secas, de Graciliano Ramos, a cachorra Baleia sonhava, de forma inatingível, com seus preás, não se pode permitir que os povos indígenas, futuramente, ao recordar de seu passado, sonhem com um presente que já lhes seja impossível desfrutar. Não se podem relegar aos livros de História os elementos socioculturais de grupos só porque possuem modos de criar, fazer e viver diversos da cultura prevalente”, conclui a sentença.

Avaliações ambientais

O Ministério Público Federal, autor da ação sobre a consulta dos povos afetados pela usina São Luiz do Tapajós, também solicitou à Justiça que obrigasse estudos mais amplos sobre os impactos, levando-se em consideração que, apesar do licenciamento ser feito para cada empreendimento, o projeto do governo é para pelo menos cinco barragens no rio Tapajós e os impactos conjuntos ou sinérgicos sobre a bacia hidrográfica deveriam ser melhor avaliados.

Para isso, o MPF pediu a obrigação de fazer dois estudos – Avaliação Ambiental Integrada e Avaliação Ambiental Estratégica, ambos previstos na legislação ambiental brasileira. A sentença obriga o país a realizar um deles e não reconhece a necessidade do segundo. No processo, o governo tentou se esquivar da necessidade das avaliações apresentando o conceito de usina-plataforma, que supostamente seria aplicado no Tapajós.

Na sentença, o juiz considera que falta comprovação suficiente da eficácia desse modelo e que a Avaliação Ambiental Integrada é tanto mais necessária pelo fato das usinas do Tapajós afetarem um mosaico de áreas especialmente protegidas onde se localizam terras indígenas, de comunidades tradicionais e unidades de conservação, seja de uso integral, seja de uso sustentável.

Processo nº 0003883-98.2012.4.01.3902 – Vara Única de Itaituba

Íntegra da Sentença

(Assessoria de Comunicação – Ministério Público Federal no Pará )

Dia mundial de combate à desertificação e à seca (CGEE)

JC, 5198, 17 de junho de 2015

No Dia de Combate à Desertificação e à Seca, hoje, 17 de junho, especialista do CGEE alerta sobre deterioração do Semiárido brasileiro. O Centro desenvolve trabalhos voltados ao tema, em preparação para a 21ª Conferência das Partes (COP 21) da Convenção Quadro das Nações Unidas sobre Mudanças Climáticas (UNFCCC), que ocorre no fim deste ano, em Paris, França

A velocidade em que as terras do Semiárido brasileiro se deterioram serve como um sinal de alerta para que o País invista cada vez mais em políticas públicas de pesquisa e ações afirmativas que possam encontrar soluções para o problema. As terras nordestinas são as mais castigadas com a seca, que já assola a região há quatro anos. Com os açudes esgotados, a situação, por lá, tende a ficar ainda mais grave, conforme analisa o assessor técnico do Centro de Gestão de Estudos Estratégicos (CGEE), Antônio Magalhães.

Pautado nessa questão, o Centro, desenvolveu, com o apoio da Fundação Cearense de Meteorologia e Recursos Hídricos (Funceme), a pesquisa Estado da arte da desertificação, degradação da terra e seca no Semiárido brasileiro: mapeamento das áreas vulneráveis, tecnologias e experiências de recuperação. O relatório será lançado como livro.

Além de avaliar experiências e as tecnologias aplicáveis à recuperação dos solos, da biodiversidade e da conservação dos recursos hídricos, a publicação, que deve ser disponibilizada, em breve, para download, mostra o panorama atual acerca da DLDD (sigla em inglês para Desertificação, Degradação da Terra e Seca) nas áreas mais suscetíveis a secas e processos de desertificação.

“A falta de planejamento na ocupação do solo conduz à sobrecarga do meio ambiente, levando à degradação da terra e de outros recursos naturais, como a água e as florestas”, explica Magalhães. O economista aponta, ainda, que a desertificação ocorre, em grande parte, sem a utilização de tecnologias que reduzem a perda de terras aráveis. “Pastagens com mais gado do que poderiam suportar se encaminham ao sobrepastoreio, o que prejudica o local”, afirma.

Magalhães, que já presidiu o Comitê Científico da Convenção das Nações Unidas para Combate à Desertificação e Mitigação dos Efeitos de Secas (STC/UNCCD – sigla em inglês), destaca que todos os continentes lidam com a questão. Nas nações da Comunidade de Países de Língua Portuguesa (CPLP), por exemplo, os mais sérios problemas de desertificação e seca são encontrados em Angola, Moçambique e Cabo Verde. Na Guiné-Bissau, a situação é mais amena.

(Bianca Torreão – Assessora de Comunicação – CGEE)

Mais informações sobre o assunto:

Correio Braziliense – O deserto à espreita

Em 192 páginas, papa Francisco celebra meio ambiente (Estadão)

Revista italiana antecipa conteúdo da encíclica que o Vaticano divulga nesta quinta (18)

Jorge Bergoglio mostra que é Francisco iniciando sua encíclica com o santo de quem emprestou o nome. Laudato Sii (ou, em português, Louvado Seja) teve o conteúdo antecipado nesta segunda-feira, 15, pela revista italiana L’Espresso – em uma última versão antes da revisão final. A encíclica é considerada a primeira, de fato, de autoria de Francisco – já que a Lumen Fidei, de julho de 2013, havia sido iniciada por Bento XVI.

Conforme especialistas já apostavam, o documento é voltado à importância dos cuidados com o meio ambiente. Ele traz no capítulo Diálogo sobre o Ambiente na Política Internacional um apelo do papa. Ele diz que acordos internacionais são urgentes para “estabelecer percursos negociados a fim de evitar catástrofes locais que acabam por prejudicar a todos”.

“O mais importante é que o papa foi bastante radical na denúncia das desigualdades econômicas e das injustiças sociais associadas à degradação do meio ambiente”, pontua o biólogo e sociólogo Francisco Borba Ribeiro Neto, coordenador do Núcleo Fé e Cultura da Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC-SP) – e professor, durante 20 anos, de Ecologia na PUC de Campinas.

“Ele mostra que os primeiros reflexos dos problemas ambientais se dão na vida dos mais pobres, dos mais frágeis. Isso é algo que muitas vezes o próprio movimento ambientalista não tem de forma clara.”

Esta é a 298.º encíclica da história da Igreja Católica – e a primeira que traz a ecologia como ponto central. Oficialmente, o Vaticano vai divulgar o documento na quinta-feira. Francisco teve muitos consultores para escrever a carta. Dentre os brasileiros, teriam sido ouvidos o teólogo Leonardo Boff, além de d. Erwin Kläutler, bispo da prelazia do Xingu.

“É comum que sejam consultados especialistas durante o processo de feitura das encíclicas”, explica o filósofo e teólogo Fernando Altemeyer Júnior, professor da PUC de São Paulo. “Nenhuma encíclica tem apenas as mãos do papa. Historicamente, é notável o trabalho do Padre Lebret (Louis-Joseph Lebret, dominicano francês que viveu entre 1897 e 1966, tendo passado parte da vida no Brasil), que praticamente foi o ‘ghost writer’ da Populorum Progressio, do papa Paulo VI, encíclica que teve até o (ex-presidente da República) Fernando Henrique Cardoso como consultor indireto.”

São Francisco

“A escolha, aparentemente óbvia, mas nem tanto, de uma citação do Cântico das Criaturas, de São Francisco de Assis, para iniciar a encíclica, e a presença de um teólogo católico de rito oriental, Ioannis Zizioulas, na apresentação da encíclica (agendada para quinta) sugerem, contudo, a marca específica de Bergoglio no tratamento do tema”, comenta Borba. “Tanto no poema franciscano quanto na teologia oriental, a natureza ocupa um lugar muito mais destacado na mística católica do que no pensamento católico entre os Concílios de Trento (1545-1563) e Vaticano II (1962-1965).”

“O fato é que a encíclica chega num momento complexo para a defesa do meio ambiente em todo o planeta. Apesar do otimismo gerado pela Eco-92, pelo Protocolo de Kyoto (1997) sobre a redução da emissão dos gases responsáveis pelo efeito estufa e pelos Objetivos do Desenvolvimento do Milênio das Nações Unidas (2000), os primeiros 15 anos deste século viram um aumento da degradação ambiental e o sacrifício das agendas conservacionistas em função do crescimento econômico”, complementa o biólogo.

“Por outro lado, também cresceu a frequência dos desastres naturais por causas climáticas, como furacões, secas prolongadas, invernos muito frios e enchentes, levando várias lideranças mundiais a se declararem comprometidas com a questão ambiental e dispostas a mudar a escrita recente na Conferência de Paris sobre o Clima (COP21) neste ano.” Por fim, Borba diz que a encíclica deve retomar uma das principais críticas ao Protocolo de Kyoto: “A de que as nações ‘em desenvolvimento’ estariam desobrigadas de esforços para reduzir as emissões de gases para não reduzir seu crescimento econômico”.

Citações. Outro aspecto relevante do documento escrito por Francisco está nas notas de rodapé. Entre as 172 citações há a presença de outrora persona non grata na Igreja, como o jesuíta, teólogo, filósofo e paleontólogo francês Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), que defendia a integração entre ciência e tecnologia. “É revolucionária a menção dele em uma encíclica”, diz Altemeyer Júnior.

Também são significativas as menções a conferências nacionais de bispos – no total, há referências a colegiados de 14 países: Brasil, México, Austrália, Paraguai, Bolívia, Argentina, Nova Zelândia, Portugal, África do Sul, Filipinas, Alemanha, Estados Unidos, Japão e República Dominicana. “Com isso, Francisco mostra que ele é só mais um bispo, que o Vaticano não está acima dos demais bispos e, principalmente, que ele está ouvindo o que pensam seus colegas religiosos”, analisa o teólogo. “O papa se coloca como irmão entre irmãos.”

(Edison Veiga – O Estado de S. Paulo)

Leia mais:

Folha de S. Paulo – Francisco ecoa a escalada de anúncios globais sobre clima

EcoDesenvolvimento.org – Encíclica papal sobre meio ambiente é tema de campanha de ONGs

Investimento em mudanças climáticas já é realidade para as empresas (Envolverdes)

Juliana Guarexick
17/06/2015

85% declararam que o Brasil deveria adotar posições mais ambiciosas frente a outros países –

Pesquisa realizada pelo Instituto Datafolha com 100 empresas listadas entre as mil maiores do Brasil mostra que as mudanças climáticas já fazem parte da agenda de investimentos da iniciativa privada e que uma ação mais firme do governo para lidar com o desafio seria bem-vinda. Impressionantes 82% das empresas entrevistadas já estão adotando ações de mitigação ou adaptação às mudanças climáticas e 71% acham que políticas públicas relacionadas ao assunto beneficiariam a economia. O levantamento, encomendado pelo Observatório do Clima e pelo Greenpeace, teve como objetivo conhecer as ações adotadas pelas maiores empresas brasileiras sobre mudanças climáticas.

Os números mostram que os empresários vêem as medidas de mitigação e adaptação como algo positivo para os negócios, redundando em impactos financeiros positivos para 73% deles. A pesquisa também mostra que não há uma bala mágica para resolver o problema – as iniciativas em curso citadas foram bastante variadas e vão desde soluções para reduzir o consumo de água e energia (40%) a ações para mitigar poluentes (23%) e campanhas de educação e conscientização (12%). Entre os que estão focando na questão energética, 15% já estão utilizando energias renováveis.

“Dentro do tema ‘mudanças climáticas’, a preocupação com energia mostrou-se relevante”, destaca Carlos Rittl, secretário-executivo do Observatório do Clima. “Na pesquisa, ela aparece tanto quando falamos dos planos das empresas como quando perguntamos ao empresário o que ele acha que o governo deve fazer”, completa.

Perguntados sobre ações que o governo pode adotar para lidar com as mudanças climáticas que favorecem a inovação, os investimentos de longo prazo e retornos financeiros para as empresas, os entrevistados citaram 28 iniciativas. Entre as mais mencionadas estão a adesão à energia limpa, como solar e eólica (18%), investimentos em novas tecnologias para diminuir poluentes (12%), o incentivo tributário à preservação ambiental (12%) e ações de conservação do meio ambiente (12%). Quando questionados sobre as ações que o governo pode adotar em relação às mudanças que podem trazer retornos financeiros para o país, a energia renovável aparece com 20% de menções, atrás apenas dos investimentos em tecnologia (32%).

Para 71% dos entrevistados, as ações do governo em relação às mudanças climáticas beneficiariam a economia. Tanto que 85% declararam que o Brasil deveria adotar posições mais ambiciosas frente a outros países para lidar com as mudanças climáticas. A realidade, no entanto, não condiz com essa percepção: para 46% dos entrevistados, as iniciativas governamentais em relação ao tema são ruins ou péssimas. Para apenas 4% elas são boas ou ótimas. As opiniões dos empresários espelham as da população brasileira, avaliadas numa pesquisa anterior do Datafolha: para 48% dos entrevistados, o governo faz muito pouco contra a mudança climática.

A nova pesquisa identificou também que o tema gera algum temor: dois terços da amostra (66%) acham que os impactos das mudanças climáticas sobre a economia serão muito negativos. As principais preocupações são com a produção (queda na produtividade, diminuição no volume de vendas etc.), com o fornecimento de matérias-primas (aumento nos custos, redução da oferta) e com a produção de energia. Juntos, esses itens foram citados por 78% dos entrevistados. “O empresário já percebeu que as mudanças do clima afetam os negócios. Se eles enfrentarem o problema, pode haver impacto positivo. Se não fizerem nada, as mudanças climáticas poderão prejudicar sua atividade”, sintetiza Ricardo Baitelo, coordenador de Clima e Energia do Greenpeace Brasil.

A pesquisa foi realizada entre 17 de março e 23 de abril de 2015 por meio de entrevistas telefônicas com os cargos executivos responsáveis pelas áreas de planejamento e/ou investimentos de cem empresas que integram a lista das mil maiores corporações que atuam no Brasil segundo o ranking do Valor Econômico. Três quartos da amostra ouvida eram de nível de diretoria. O levantamento contemplou organizações dos mais variados setores econômicos: comércio varejista, alimentos, agropecuária, metalurgia e mineração, química e petroquímica, eletroeletrônica, construção e engenharia, comércio atacadista, água e saneamento, veículos e peças, transporte e logística, plásticos e borracha, papel e celulose, mecânica, energia elétrica, TI e telecom, têxtil e vestuário, petróleo e gás, açúcar e álcool, materiais de construção, fumo, educação e ensino. (#Envolverde)

Pope Francis to Explore Climate’s Effect on World’s Poor (New York Times)

VATICAN CITY — Ban Ki-moon arrived at the Vatican with his own college of cardinals. Mr. Ban, the United Nations secretary general, had brought the leaders of all his major agencies to see Pope Francis, a show of organizational muscle and respect for a meeting between two global institutions that had sometimes shared a bumpy past but now had a mutual interest.

The agenda was poverty, and Francis inveighed against the “economy of exclusion” as he addressed Mr. Ban’s delegation at the Apostolic Palace. But in an informal meeting with Mr. Ban and his advisers, Francis shifted the discussion to the environment and how environmental degradation weighed heaviest on the poor.

“This is the pope of the poor,” said Robert Orr, who attended the May 2014 meeting as Mr. Ban’s special adviser on climate change and described the informal conversation with Francis. “The fact that he is making the link to the planet is really significant.”

On Thursday, Francis will release his first major teaching letter, known as an encyclical, on the theme of the environment and the poor. Given the pope’s widespread popularity, and his penchant for speaking out on major global issues, the encyclical is being treated as a milestone that could place the Roman Catholic Church at the forefront of a new coalition of religion and science.

Francis, the first pope from the developing world, clearly wants the document to have an impact: Its release comes during a year with three major international policy meetings, most notably a United Nations climate change conference in Paris in December. This month, the Vatican sent notifications to bishops around the world with instructions for spreading the pope’s environmental message to the more than one billion Catholics worldwide.

By wading into the environment debate, Francis is seeking to redefine a secular topic, one usually framed by scientific data, using theology and faith. And based on Francis’ prior comments, and those of influential cardinals, the encyclical is also likely to include an economic critique of how global capitalism, while helping lift millions out of poverty, has also exploited nature and created vast inequities.

“We clearly need a fundamental change of course, to protect the earth and its people — which in turn will allow us to dignify humanity,” Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who oversaw the drafting of the encyclical, said at a conference on climate change this spring at the Vatican.

Vatican officials say that the encyclical is a theological document, not a political one, and have refused to divulge the contents. But there is already much speculation about how Francis will comment on humans’ role in causing climate change, a link he has spoken about in the past. The Vatican’s scientific academy recently attributed climate change to “unsustainable consumption” and called it “a dominant moral and ethical issue for society.”

This stance has rankled some conservative Catholics, as well as climate change skeptics, who have suggested that Francis is being misled by scientists and that he could veer into contentious subjects like population control. Others have argued that papal infallibility does not apply to matters of science. In April, a group of self-described climate skeptics, led by the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group, came to Rome to protest.

“The Vatican and the pope should be arguing that fossil fuels are the moral choice for the developing world,” said Marc Morano, who runs the website Climate Depot and once worked as an aide to Senator James M. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and climate change skeptic.

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo of Argentina, who is also chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, has sharply rebutted the criticism and postulated that many of the attacks have been underwritten by oil companies or influenced by conservative American interests, including the Tea Party. “This is a ridiculous thing, completely,” Bishop Sorondo said in an interview at the Vatican.

The first clue of the pope’s interest in the environment came when he chose his name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century friar who dedicated himself to the poor and is considered the patron saint of animals and the environment. Francis had shown interest from his days in Argentina, when he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires.

There, he played a major role in convening different leaders to seek solutions for Argentina’s social ills. Francesca Ambrogetti, who co-wrote a biography of Francis, said he pushed for scientists at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina to investigate the impact of environmental issues on humanity. As far back as September 2004, Cardinal Bergoglio cited the “destruction of the environment” as contributing to inequality and the need for social reforms. At a 2007 meeting of Latin American bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, he oversaw the drafting of a broad mission statement that included an emphasis on the environment.

Pablo Canziani, an atmospheric physicist who researches climate change, said Francis, who had once trained as a chemist, became very interested in the links between environmental destruction and social ills, including a dispute over paper pulp mills on the border with Uruguay, which Argentina claimed were polluting local drinking water.

The pope, Professor Canziani added, has stayed in touch. Last year, the Vatican invited professors at his university to contribute ideas for the encyclical. He said they sent a memo focused on legal issues, sustainability, civic responsibility and governance.

“I’m pretty certain Francis will be requesting a change in the paradigms of development,” he said. “The encyclical will focus on why we’re suffering environmental degradation, then focus on links to social issues.”

Pope Francis and Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, during a meeting at the Vatican.CreditL’Ossservatore Romano, via Associated Press 

The final document seems certain to bear the fingerprints of scientists and theologians from around the world. The Rev. Sean McDonagh, an Irish priest who has worked on environmental issues and climate change for decades, said that Cardinal Turkson contacted him more than a year ago and asked if he would write a comprehensive document about the theological and ethical aspects of environmental issues.

Father McDonagh said he had spent two or three months writing about climate change, biodiversity, oceans, sustainable food “and a section at the end on hope.” Then he sent it to the Vatican. “At the time, they didn’t say there would be an encyclical,” he recalled, adding that he was eager to see it.

The hoopla over Francis’ encyclical confounds some Vatican experts, who note that both of Francis’ predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, wrote about the role of industrial pollution in destroying the environment. Benedict was called the “green pope” after he initiated projects to make the Vatican carbon-neutral. Other religious groups, including evangelical Christians, have spoken about the impact of environmental destruction on the poor.

But many analysts argue that Francis has a singular status, partly because of his global popularity. And in placing the issue at the center of an encyclical, especially at a moment when sustainable development is atop the international agenda, Francis is placing the Catholic Church — and the morality of economic development — at the center of the debate. In January, while traveling to the Philippines, Francis told reporters accompanying him that he was convinced that global warming was “mostly” a human-made phenomenon.

“It is man who has slapped nature in the face,” he said, adding: “I think we have exploited nature too much.”

Francis will travel in July to South America, and in September to Cuba and the United States, where he will speak about his encyclical at the United Nations.

“He is certainly going on the road,” said the Rev. Michael Czerny, a Jesuit priest who works under Cardinal Turkson and has been involved in drafting the encyclical. “This is certainly an agenda-setting document.”

Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Program, said Francis had an “emerging agenda” on social issues and seemed determined “to make his period in office one related to the great concerns affecting humanity.” She added: “He is a man in a hurry.”

Ms. Clark and other development officials can tick off myriad ways that the global poor bear the brunt of environmental damage and changing weather patterns, whether they are African farmers whose crops are destroyed by drought or South Asian farmers threatened by rising sea levels. In this context, Vatican officials say, Francis is likely to see moral injustice.

“Rich people are more prepared,” said Bishop Sorondo, the head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. “Poor people are not prepared and have suffered the consequences.”

The May 2014 meeting at the Vatican between Francis and the United Nations delegation came at a propitious moment. The Vatican had just held a major symposium that brought together scientists, theologians, economists and others to discuss climate change and the social impact of environmental damage.

Partha Dasgupta, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences who helped organize the symposium, said many scientists — having dedicated their careers to raising awareness and trying to influence policy — were perplexed at the seeming lack of broad political response. Mr. Dasgupta, an agnostic, said he hoped that Francis could capture public attention by speaking in the language of faith.

“The pope has moral authority,” said Mr. Dasgupta, a prominent expert on development economics and climate change. “It could change the game in a fundamental way.”

Floods as war weapons – Humans caused a third of floods in past 500 years in SW Netherlands (Hydrology.nl)

new study shows that, from 1500 until 2000, about a third of floods in southwestern Netherlands were deliberately caused by humans during wartimes. Some of these inundations resulted in significant changes to the landscape, being as damaging as floods caused by heavy rainfall or storm surges. The work, by Dutch researcher Adriaan de Kraker, is published in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

This photograph shows remnants of the former breach made here in February 1584, now a tidal channel. The marshland visible in the picture is former arable land.

During the Eighty Years’ War, as the Spanish army fought to recapture territory in what is now northern Belgium and southwestern Netherlands in the late sixteenth century, the Dutch rebels led by William of Orange decided to use the low-lying, flood-prone landscape to their advantage. In an attempt to liberate Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp from Spanish dominance and defend their territory, the rebels destroyed seawalls at strategic places from 1584 to 1586 to cause deliberate, large-scale floods.

»The plan got completely out of hand«, says De Kraker, an assistant professor at the VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands. »It came at the expense of the countryside of northern Flanders, now Zeeland Flanders, some two thirds of which was flooded.«

Floods can result in loss of life and damage homes and businesses, and when the water remains inland for a long time, it can change the landscape through erosion and deposition, forming new tidal channels and creeks. The area flooded during the Eighty Years’ War became part of a strategic line of defence and remained inundated for more than 100 years in some places, with profound consequences for the landscape. After the waters receded, a thick layer of clay covered all remnants of buildings and roads in the area. As sea water was used, soil salinity increased, affecting agricultural yields.

»Strategic flooding is a highly risky tactic. It can only be successful if there’s a well-thought-out backup plan and a plan for fast repairs«, warns De Kraker. However, that was not the case here, he says: »I desperately looked for evidence of backup plans for the repair of the dykes and who was going to pay for the costs incurred. I could find hardly any records of such plans.«

Map showing the strategic flooding of the Philippine area, southwestern Netherlands, in 1747 at the time of a French military attack.

De Kraker has been studying historical floods – occurring from the year 1500 to 2000 – in southwestern Netherlands since the 1980s to find out their causes and outcomes. Mostly below sea level, and dominated by three river estuaries populated with islands and a system of dykes and dams that protect the fertile land from the sea, this region is particularly susceptible to floods.

In his research, De Kraker used documents relating to land ownership and land use, accounts of maintenance of sea defences, and correspondence between stakeholders, such as rebels, Spanish officials, and mayors of besieged towns. He also used aerial photographs of the area, historical maps and maps of soil and landscape changes.

As reported in the new Hydrology and Earth System Sciences article, he noticed the main floods in the area in the past 500 years could be grouped into those caused by storm surges (21 events) and those happening during wartimes (11 events). The former had natural causes and the latter were created by humans, but De Kraker says human action played a major role in both.

The most damaging flood occurred in the winter of 1953, when strong winds blew for two days causing a long-lasting storm surge, which resulted in extremely high water levels. Over 1800 people died, 100 000 were evacuated and damages reached the equivalent of 700 million euros. While the cause of this flood was natural, De Kraker says human factors contributed to the extent of the damage. He reports that officials were slow at responding to the event, failing to take mitigation measures such as raising the dykes fast enough. Weak building construction and inadequate rescue procedures contributed to the material damage and human toll.

The study also shows floods in the Netherlands were used as a weapon as recently as the 1940s. »Strategic flooding during the Second World War undertaken by the Germans remained purely defensive, while the Allied flooding of the former island of Walcheren in the southwest of the country sped up the Allied offensive«, says De Kraker.