Arquivo mensal: junho 2015

The People vs. Shell (Truthout)

Tuesday, 09 June 2015 00:00 By Emily Johnston

Scientists told us in January that we can't drill any Arctic oil if we want even a 50 percent chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Shell just kept coming. (Photo: Emily Johnston)

Scientists told us in January that we can’t drill any Arctic oil if we want even a 50 percent chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Shell just kept coming. (Photo: Emily Johnston)

This week, if all goes well, I will probably commit a crime.

I don’t say this lightly, not at all: My mother is 88 years old, and though I expect her to live a good while longer, every day is a gift at 88, and I would always regret time I couldn’t spend with her if I were to go to prison. I also have a dog I’m deeply attached to, not to mention a whole life: not just loved ones (who could visit), but runs and walks and open windows; trees and birds; darkness and quiet and solitude; good coffee and homemade bread; dinners and poetry readings and the pleasure of building things with my hands.

I may not go to prison, of course – I fervently hope I won’t – but I know, too, that I may. I’m willing to take the chance, because the alternative is to let disaster unfold – for countless people, for other animals and for whole ecosystems. Given the scope of the threat, and given that we live in the country that is most responsible for it, sitting on the sidelines does not feel to me like a moral possibility.

Apart from walking my very mannerly and older dog off-leash around the neighborhood, I’m about as law-abiding as a person can reasonably be. But my respect for the laws of physics, in truth, has turned into a terror; I know that we have to heed them now to avoid disaster. If you’ve been following the science, you know what I mean; we are right at the edge of several tipping points, any one of which may bring harrowing, unmitigated disaster. Together they are unthinkable. If we keep on precisely as we are for even a few more years, we will likely have lost the chance to avoid a terrible future.

For years, I have used earnest, legal methods. They were inadequate to the task. Far better people than I am have used them for decades, to better, but still inadequate, effect.

Scientists told us in January that we can’t drill any Arctic oil if we want even a 50 percent chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Shell just kept coming.

Governments have failed us; the fossil fuel industry’s money and influence had too much weight. Scientists have done their best, but they are exceedingly cautious in their predictions, and only in the last few years have most of them accepted the hair-on-fire urgency of climate change. If ordinary people don’t force attention to this matter by making it very clear we’re willing to risk our own lives and liberty, we will all have failed the most important test humanity has ever been given.

So we have to change the world – now – or lose it.

What terrible act will I commit? I will continue to help plan, and, with any luck, execute a blockade of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs as they attempt to leave Seattle. Along with many other people – some of them risking their careers, some of them in their 80s, most of them utterly new to something like this – I will paddle my small self in a 40-lb. plastic kayak in front of a 46,000-ton industrial monster to stop its progress. I don’t really believe we’ll be able to keep the rigs here forever, of course, but neither is it merely symbolic: By making a difference in the length of Shell’s (already brief) drilling season, we may buy a little time for the powers that be to shut this catastrophic project down; they have many reasons to do so. Alternatively, by making it clear that the company is exceedingly unwelcome in Seattle, we can deprive it of its desired, and bargain-priced, berthing option – which could make a material difference to its decision to proceed. Money is a language Shell understands; the only one, it seems.

Why pick on this one project, when we’re all still dependent on fossil fuels? In truth, we’ll have to pick on a lot of bad projects, but this one may be the worst. To say we can’t object to it if we ever drive or heat our homes is like saying we can’t object to someone going 120 mph on a 30 mph street if we’ve ever gone 45. The second is a genuine concern; the first is notably likelier to lead to tragedy, and soon. My family lives on that street; so does yours.

Scientists told us in January that we can’t drill any Arctic oil if we want even a 50 percent chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Shell just kept coming.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management told us in February that drilling in the Arctic has a 75 percent chance of a major spill within the first 15 years (and “hundreds” of smaller spills). Again, Shell just kept coming – despite the fact that a former US Coast Guard Commandant has indicated that, in the case of a big spill, “we’d have nothing” for cleanup capacity in the pristine but harsh Arctic environment and despite the fact that the Chukchi Sea has been called the “nursery of the planet” for whales, seabirds and polar bears.

Shell has also ignored permit requirements from the city of Seattle; mooring requirements in our state Constitution; problems in April with pollution-control equipment (that the company then tried to hide); and a spill record for one of its rigs that’s 2 to 3 times higher than the industry “norm.” It just kept coming.

It’s no secret why the company is so intransigent: Shell has invested several billion dollars in its Arctic campaign, engaging in a climate strategy called “narcissistic, paranoid, and psychopathic” by the UK’s former top climate envoy. This is a classic sunk-cost fallacy, but eventually, even Shell will understand that it’s throwing good money after bad; every other player has given up the US Arctic as too risky and too expensive.

It’s also no secret that this is standard operating procedure for Shell. Perhaps the best example of Shell’s idea of stewardship is its behavior in the Niger Delta, a haven of biodiversity and treasured wetlands that has been utterly devastated by Shell’s drilling operations. In 1995, the company supported the Nigerian military government in its sham trial and execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others, and after extracting many tens of billions of dollars in profit from the region over 50 years, Shell has left its waters so polluted with carcinogens that some drinking wells exceed World Health Organization standards for benzene by 900 times. In the three years since the UN Environment Program report on necessary cleanup, Shell has undertaken “almost no meaningful action” on its recommendations.

The future begins when people cease to accept the “inevitability” of a terrible reality, and rise up against it.

Shell wants us to believe that it has learned from the fiascos of its 2012 Arctic foray; these recent examples make it clear that it has not. It’s shown nothing but contempt for the human lives and ecologies of the places where it drills; nothing but contempt for local laws; and nothing but contempt for the overwhelming catastrophe of climate change, which its own scientists have indicated will inevitably result from any scenario in which Arctic drilling is economically rational (for the company only, needless to say: Your costs and mine will not be covered).

Being inside the “safety zone” of the rig is a crime – even if we’re paddling outside of the zone, and the rig starts coming at us. (No “safety zone” has been established around the Maldives, the Philippines, or the rest of us. No crime has yet been codified for destroying the livability of the planet.)

Let me be clear: I am not an especially brave person, and I’m deeply attached to my loved ones and my daily life. I have lost sleep over this. But climate change scares me far more than prison does. It scares most people that much, I think, but they don’t let themselves think about it.

If we value our lives – if we value any lives, it’s time to think about it.

I may be foolish to announce my intentions here – risking my ability to do what I intend to do, perhaps, and certainly abandoning all chance of pretending I didn’t know it was against the law – but it feels important to be completely clear and open about this: I am willing to risk criminal charges in order to help stop a monstrous project that threatens everything we hold dear. I do not believe that because we live in the modern world (and are thus in some measure culpable), we are forced to accept the devastation of everything, without question, outrage or action. I do not accept the lies of industry or the blandishments of politicians.

I do believe that there is another way and that we can find the imagination, the intelligence and the courage to follow it.

This week or next, that belief will be the star that guides me on the water: My friends and I will put aside our normal lives for a while, and use our bodies and our kayaks to express our commitment to this beautiful world: The buck stops here. The future begins when people cease to accept the “inevitability” of a terrible reality, and rise up against it.

Is 40 lbs. vs. 46,000 tons doomed to fail? Not even close. It’s not about plastic or steel. Sitting there staring up at the monstrous rig – maybe through the night, maybe cold, and stiff and hungry – all of us will sit with the knowledge that we’re one group among countless others taking shape around the world, filled with this passion and resolve.

Love doesn’t make us invincible, of course. But I wouldn’t bet against us, if I were Shell.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Entertaining Science: A report from a colloquy at the intersection of science and entertainment (CASTAC)

June 9th, 2015, by 


As you read this post, members of a community of like-minded scholars are unwinding after a weekend symposium at the UK’s University of Manchester. The symposium Stories About Science—Exploring Science Communication and Entertainment Media explored the intersections of science with entertainment from various disciplinary perspectives and as experienced by a diverse range of publics. Organized through the University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM), the SAS symposium was the brainchild of the Playing God Project of CHSTM ‘s Science and Entertainment Laboratory research group.

So what, you may ask, does any of this have to do with CASTAC? Well, as an anthropologist invested in exploring ethnographically the cultural qualities of humanity’s intersections with science, I was interested in efforts by the symposium’s presenters, not unlike CASTAC’s own, to understand significant cultural aspects of science in contemporary society. Perhaps more intriguingly, I saw it as a potential opportunity to further our goal of fostering discussions between anthropologists and other STS scholars. To that end, I contacted several SAS symposiasts to get a sense of what they presented at SAS. Colloquy topics ran from explorations of gender for fictional television scientists to the ways legitimate scientists are presented in the media to the power of comics in science communication.

The Presentations

Among the research presented was a paper by Rashel Li of the Australian National University, who reported on her focus group studies of the ways in which gender balance (or imbalance) has been portrayed in science-themed film and television. Viewing representations of gender through the lens of the American sitcom, The Big Bang TheoryLi’s work focuses on that show’s discipline-based gender distribution of men in physics and women in biology and its attempts to portray the characters as equally capable in their respective science fields. Li looks specifically at the ways female scientists are portrayed in the show by collecting feedback on the show’s  representations of gender from adult focus groups. The principal responses of these focus groups ranged from being annoyed by how The Big Bang Theory followed gender-based stereotypes of men in physics and women in biology, to being unaware of the imbalanced gender distribution, to thinking that the show reflected reality and helped humanize science. Perhaps not surprisingly, none of the focus group participants endorsed an imbalanced characterization of scientific capability.

Christopher Herzog (University of Salzburg, Austria) explored in his paper the phenomenon of contemporary neuroscience plays, which highlight the theatre’s unique potential of renegotiating the mind-body problem by having to represent the mental phenomenologically via bodies on stage. Often combined with neuroscientific visualizations of the brain via screen projections, these are theatrical performances in which “deviant minds,” brain pathologies (e.g., anterograde amnesia), and mental illness (e.g., depression) are presented to the public. Arguing against presumed educational or informative functions of science plays and for an epistemically more nuanced understanding of the genre, Herzog contends the plays do not impart scientific ‘facts.’ Ultimately, according to Herzog, “Neuroscience plays are a form of meta-visualization, illustrating how theatre can critically alert us to tendencies in our contemporary culture, and specifically how the forms of presentation (e.g., the dissemination of brain images in mass media) and received-neuroscientific-facts often result in anthropological and social categories of normalcy through recourse to the authority of science.”

Declan Fahy (American University) presented the argument that astrophysicist and public figure Neil deGrasse Tyson illuminates and embodies the enhanced power of scientific celebrity. Using a cultural-historical analysis of Tyson’s decades-long public career to demonstrate how he became a scientific star, Fahy argued that Tyson’s fame rests on how he came to symbolize three wider historical movements in post-1960s U.S culture: the rise of the African-American public intellectual, the endeavors to enhance scientific literacy, and the drive to reignite space exploration. Fahy described how Tyson’s star status has earned him social power to spread scientific ideas through wider culture, granted him influence over science policy, the US space program, and astronomical research, and created, as a consequence of his celebrity, a potent form of scientific authority in popular culture. The argument is one Fahy examines in depth in his book, The New Celebrity Scientists: Out of the Lab and Into the Limelight (2015).

In a similar vein, Benjamin Gross, of the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) in Philadelphia, used Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey as a starting point for his presentation on how a group of scholars and communications personnel at the CHF successfully organized #CosmosChat, a weekly Twitter conversation in 2014 examining Cosmos’s presentation of science and history. Mobilizing CHF’s library and artifact collections, as well as the expertise of in-house research fellows, the tweets critiqued Cosmos and supplemented each episode’s weekly content. Gross discussed the substantive themes that emerged during the course of these critiques and evaluated the potential applicability of the #CosmosChat model to other communication opportunities that lie at the intersection of science and entertainment.


Drawing on two projects aimed at communicating science to young people, Science Comics and Cosmic Comics, Emma Weitkamp of the University of West England presented a paper on comics as science communication. Traditionally seen as purely entertainment media, comics have more recently been employed in science communication. Exploring comics as methods for situating science within our day-to-day activities, Weitkamp poses the question: Can a combination of science, humor, and narrative help to show how science is part of our everyday lives? Weitkamp posits that comic media have strong potential, both as learning aids and as creative ways to place science within society, as their fictional nature allows greater juxtaposition of the real and the imaginary, allowing authors, for example, to pose ‘what if’ questions to their readers, such as what if the world didn’t physically work the way it does?

The success of SAS was another success for STS. As David Kirby, the principal investigator in CHSTM ‘s Playing God Project, notes “science and entertainment represent two of the most powerful cultural institutions that humans have developed to understand and explain their world.” If this is true, the scholars aligned with SAS seem poised to offer some intriguing and potentially synergistic research that could align well with the work of CASTAC scholars.

Hardly the soft sciences (The Hindu)


June 10, 2015

The social sciences and humanities will be critical in helping us understand what the sciences will become in the future

DISMANTLING THE OLD:“There is an urgent need to initiate a generational change in India’s university leadership.” Picture shows graduation day in the University of Hyderabad.— PHOTO: MOHAMMED YOUSUF

DISMANTLING THE OLD:“There is an urgent need to initiate a generational change in India’s university leadership.” Picture shows graduation day in the University of Hyderabad.— PHOTO: MOHAMMED YOUSUF

Common sense has defeated the social sciences and humanities in India. As the rush for college seats begin, parents worry if there are any viable options outside of medicine, engineering, management or studying abroad. What good would a B.A. in history or sociology do other than a roll-of-the-dice chance at the civil services? As a historian, I have often faced blunt questions: what can a job prospect possibly be if you spend three/four years learning the causes of Mughal decline or the Permanent Settlement of 1793? This ably describes why most people see the social sciences, with the exception of economics, as a losing proposition. But has the tide begun to turn?

One of the most significant bursts of funding in the social sciences and the humanities occurred during the Cold War years. The United States, keen as it was then to establish spheres of influence, invested heavily to learn about how societies understood themselves and which ideology appealed to what individual. The money ran into hundreds of millions of dollars with the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York pulling funds from deep pockets. The Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies were other key players who helped sponsor innumerable workshops, conferences and academic seminars. These efforts resulted not only in a vast number of publications, but helped develop many enduring concepts which arguably continue to explain the world we live in. Scores of scholars, research communities and university departments, in being caught up in strategic concerns, ended up harnessing the social sciences and humanities to understand how nations and societies dealt with authority, ideologies, politics and power. Hardly the ‘soft sciences’!

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, funding for the Area Studies expectedly dried up. On the other hand, academic explorations under the rubrics of nation-making, democracy, globalisation and multiculturalism could hardly wield the previous heft.

In a study published in Research Trends (2013), Gali Halevi and Judit Bar-Ilanit point out that globally the financing for humanities sharply fell between 2009 and 2012. In part, while the 2008 financial crisis could be blamed for the sudden yanking of the proverbial rug, the loss in the lustre of the social sciences had already begun by the mid-1990s following the steady commercialisation of education. Unsurprisingly, student debt and education loans fell harder on those in the social sciences, arts and humanities than they did on those pursuing vocational skills such as engineering. At heart, however, this big turn against the ‘soft sciences’ was what Bill Reading described, in his classic The University in Ruins (1996), as the sustained attempt to transform the university from previously serving as an “ideological arm of the nation-state” to instead now being redesigned as a “consumer oriented corporation”. By morphing the citizen-student into a consumer-student (weighed in by debt), the actual rout of the social sciences was announced.

Reduced funding

It is amidst the aftershocks of this change in the meaning of education that we should make sense of Ella Delany’s startling report in The New York Times (December, 2013) in which she catalogues a growing disquiet against the humanities and social sciences. In 2012, a task force convened by Governor Rick Scott of Florida recommended that students majoring in liberal arts and social science subjects be made to pay higher tuition fees as they were in “nonstrategic disciplines”. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013 “reprioritised” 103 million Australian dollars from research in the humanities into medical research. In Britain, Robin Jackson, chief executive of the British Academy for the humanities and social sciences, in 2011 announced that direct government funding for humanities had been withdrawn and was to be replaced by tuition fees “backed up by government loans”.

Is this total defeat? Ironically, just as the social sciences and the humanities are being written off in many countries, there have emerged vigorous calls for resituating its importance. Notably, climate change research and global environmental change programmes the world over are stridently advocating for what they term as the urgent need for “integrated analyses”. It is imperative, they argue, that the natural sciences be drawn into productive dialogues with the social sciences in order to explore critical themes such as global sustainability and green development.

One of the most significant international science initiatives in recent times called the Future Earth has, in fact, in their ‘Strategic Research Agenda’ (2014) urged for initiating a new generation in interdisciplinary and integrated research which can grapple with the realities of a warming planet. The initiative, however, is not entirely novel. For decades now, interdisciplinary efforts such as science studies, environmental history and full-fledged post graduate programmes under the rubric of science-technology-environment-medicine (STEM) have successfully broken down the hard divides between the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. These interdisciplinary initiatives have also compellingly revealed that the natural sciences are ideologically driven and are often oriented by political practice. In effect, the social sciences and humanities will be critical to help us understand what the sciences will become in the future. Significantly, given that an entirely new script for economic behaviour is being drafted in the context of climate change, these conversations have acquired pressing strategic consequences for the developing world.

The Indian scenario

The university system in India is, unfortunately, ill-prepared to take up these challenges. In part, it has put all its research and teaching eggs on the vice-chancellor system for administering higher education. The vice-chancellorship, as an organisational logic, is an ailing legacy and remains a bad marriage between the Mughal Jagirdari system and the rigidity of the British colonial bureaucracy. The higher you go up the administrative ladder, there is less transparency, accountability and intellectual oxygen.

There is an urgent need to initiate a generational change in our university leadership, with fresh blood and new ideas brought in with rigorous metrics to judge the performance and contributions at the very top of the administrative chain. If the social sciences and the humanities in India are to be cutting edge by providing knowledge for the future, then the old has to be entirely dismantled.

(Rohan D’Souza is associate professor at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University.)

The natural sciences should be drawn into dialogues with the social sciences to explore critical themes such as global sustainability

Science Under Siege (CBC)

Paul Kennedy

Wednesday June 03, 2015

Are we living through an Anti-Scientific Revolution? Scientists around the world are increasingly restricted in what they can research, publish and say — constrained by belief and ideology from all sides.  Historically, science has always had a thorny relationship with institutions of power. But what happens to societies which turn their backs on curiosity-driven research? And how can science lift the siege?  CBC Radio producer Mary Lynk looks for some answers in this three-part series.

Science Under Siege, Part 1:  Dangers of Ignorance – airs Wednesday, June 3
Explores the historical tension between science and political power and the sometimes fraught relationship between the two over the centuries. But what happens when science gets sidelined? What happens to societies which turn their backs on curiosity-driven research?

Science Under Siege, Part 2: The Great Divide – airs Thursday, June 4
Explores the state of science in the modern world, and the expanding — and dangerous — gulf between scientists and the rest of society.  Many policy makers, politicians and members of the public are giving belief and ideology the same standing as scientific evidence. Are we now seeing an Anti-Scientific revolution?  A look at how evidence-based decision making has been sidelined.

Science Under Siege, Part 3: Fighting Back – airs Friday, June 5
Focuses on the culture war being waged on science, and possible solutions for reintegrating science and society. The attack on science is coming from all sides, both the left and right of the political spectrum. How can the principle of direct observation of the world, free of any influence from corporate or any other influence, reassert itself? The final episode of this series looks at how science can withstand the attack against it and overcome ideology and belief.

Climate Misinformer Christopher Monckton

Global Climate Scam: An Interview with Lord Christopher Monckton

Climate Misinformer: Christopher Monckton (Skeptical Science)

Christopher Monckton is a British consultant, policy adviser, writer, columnist, and hereditary peer. While not formally trained in science, Monckton is one of the most cited and widely published climate skeptics, having even been invited to testify to the U.S. Senate and Congress on several occasions.

For a comprehensive rebuttal of many of Christopher Monckton’s arguments, check out this presentation by Professor John Abraham. Abraham has compiled many examples where Monckton misrepresents the very scientists whose work he cites. Check out this PDF of Monckton quotes versus the scientists who in their own words explain how Monckton misrepresents their research.

Quotes Articles Arguments Blogs Links Search

Favourite climate myths by Christopher Monckton

Below are many of the climate myths used by Christopher Monckton plus how often each myth has been used.

Climate myths by Monckton What the Science Says Usage
“Climate sensitivity is low” Net positive feedback is confirmed by many different lines of evidence. 15
“Sea level rise predictions are exaggerated” Sea level rise is now increasing faster than predicted due to unexpectedly rapid ice melting. 11
“Hockey stick is broken” Recent studies agree that recent global temperatures are unprecedented in the last 1000 years. 10
“Sea level rise is exaggerated” A variety of different measurements find steadily rising sea levels over the past century. 9
“Medieval Warm Period was warmer” Globally averaged temperature now is higher than global temperature in medieval times. 9
“It’s cooling” The last decade 2000-2009 was the hottest on record. 9
“IPCC overestimate temperature rise” Monckton used the IPCC equation in an inappropriate manner. 8
“CO2 limits will harm the economy” The benefits of a price on carbon outweigh the costs several times over. 7
“There’s no tropospheric hot spot” We see a clear “short-term hot spot” – there’s various evidence for a “long-term hot spot”. 7
“Arctic sea ice loss is matched by Antarctic sea ice gain” Arctic sea ice loss is three times greater than Antarctic sea ice gain. 7
“It warmed just as fast in 1860-1880 and 1910-1940” The warming trend over 1970 to 2001 is greater than warming from both 1860 to 1880 and 1910 to 1940. 7
“Lindzen and Choi find low climate sensitivity” Lindzen and Choi’s paper is viewed as unacceptably flawed by other climate scientists. 6
“Models are unreliable” Models successfully reproduce temperatures since 1900 globally, by land, in the air and the ocean. 6
“Hurricanes aren’t linked to global warming” There is increasing evidence that hurricanes are getting stronger due to global warming. 6
“IPCC ‘disappeared’ the Medieval Warm Period” The IPCC simply updated their temperature history graphs to show the best data available at the time. 6
“Extreme weather isn’t caused by global warming” Extreme weather events are being made more frequent and worse by global warming. 5
“IPCC is alarmist” Numerous papers have documented how IPCC predictions are more likely to underestimate the climate response. 5
“Climate’s changed before” Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time; humans are now the dominant forcing. 5
“Greenland is gaining ice” Greenland on the whole is losing ice, as confirmed by satellite measurement. 5
“It’s global brightening” This is a complex aerosol effect with unclear temperature significance. 5
“CO2 limits will make little difference” If every nation agrees to limit CO2 emissions, we can achieve significant cuts on a global scale. 5
“Arctic was warmer in 1940” The actual data show high northern latitudes are warmer today than in 1940. 5
“It hasn’t warmed since 1998” For global records, 2010 is the hottest year on record, tied with 2005. 4
“It’s not bad” Negative impacts of global warming on agriculture, health & environment far outweigh any positives. 4
“Oceans are cooling” The most recent ocean measurements show consistent warming. 4
“An exponential increase in CO2 will result in a linear increase in temperature” CO2 levels are rising so fast that unless we decrease emissions, global warming will accelerate this century. 4
“CO2 lags temperature” CO2 didn’t initiate warming from past ice ages but it did amplify the warming.  4
“Climategate CRU emails suggest conspiracy” A number of investigations have cleared scientists of any wrongdoing in the media-hyped email incident. 4
“Al Gore got it wrong” Al Gore’s book is quite accurate, and far more accurate than contrarian books. 4
“It’s the sun” In the last 35 years of global warming, sun and climate have been going in opposite directions 4
“Arctic icemelt is a natural cycle” Thick arctic sea ice is undergoing a rapid retreat.  4
“It warmed before 1940 when CO2 was low” Early 20th century warming is due to several causes, including rising CO2. 3
“Mt. Kilimanjaro’s ice loss is due to land use” Most glaciers are in rapid retreat worldwide, notwithstanding a few complicated cases. 3
“There’s no empirical evidence” There are multiple lines of direct observations that humans are causing global warming. 3
“Temp record is unreliable” The warming trend is the same in rural and urban areas, measured by thermometers and satellites. 3
“It’s Urban Heat Island effect” Urban and rural regions show the same warming trend. 3
“Earth hasn’t warmed as much as expected” This argument ignores the cooling effect of aerosols and the planet’s thermal inertia. 3
“There’s no correlation between CO2 and temperature” There is long-term correlation between CO2 and global temperature; other effects are short-term. 3
“Greenland was green” Other parts of the earth got colder when Greenland got warmer. 3
“Skeptics were kept out of the IPCC?” Official records, Editors and emails suggest CRU scientists acted in the spirit if not the letter of IPCC rules. 2
“2009-2010 winter saw record cold spells” A cold day in Chicago in winter has nothing to do with the trend of global warming. 2
“Hansen’s 1988 prediction was wrong” Jim Hansen had several possible scenarios; his mid-level scenario B was right. 2
“IPCC were wrong about Himalayan glaciers” Glaciers are in rapid retreat worldwide, despite 1 error in 1 paragraph in a 1000 page IPCC report. 2
“CO2 limits will hurt the poor” Those who contribute the least greenhouse gases will be most impacted by climate change. 2
“Antarctica is gaining ice” Satellites measure Antarctica losing land ice at an accelerating rate. 2
“Polar bear numbers are increasing” Polar bears are in danger of extinction as well as many other species. 2
“Greenland ice sheet won’t collapse” When Greenland was 3 to 5 degrees C warmer than today, a large portion of the Ice Sheet melted. 2
“Ocean acidification isn’t serious” Ocean acidification threatens entire marine food chains. 2
“Arctic sea ice has recovered” Thick arctic sea ice is in rapid retreat. 2
“We’re coming out of the Little Ice Age” Scientists have determined that the factors which caused the Little Ice Age cooling are not currently causing global warming 2
“CO2 was higher in the past” When CO2 was higher in the past, the sun was cooler. 2
“CO2 is plant food” The effects of enhanced CO2 on terrestrial plants are variable and complex and dependent on numerous factors 2
“Phil Jones says no global warming since 1995” Phil Jones was misquoted. 2
“Global warming stopped in 19981995200220072010, ????” Global temperature is still rising and 2010 was the hottest recorded. 2
“There is no consensus” 97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming. 2
“Sea level is not rising” The claim sea level isn’t rising is based on blatantly doctored graphs contradicted by observations. 2
“Record high snow cover was set in winter 2008/2009” Winter snow cover in 2008/2009 was average while the long-term trend in spring, summer, and annual snow cover is rapid decline. 1
“Satellites show no warming in the troposphere” The most recent satellite data show that the earth as a whole is warming. 1
“It’s microsite influences” Microsite influences on temperature changes are minimal; good and bad sites show the same trend. 1
“CO2 has a short residence time” Excess CO2 from human emissions has a long residence time of over 100 years 1
“Glaciers are growing” Most glaciers are retreating, posing a serious problem for millions who rely on glaciers for water. 1
“CO2 is just a trace gas” Many substances are dangerous even in trace amounts; what really matters is the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. 1
“Ice Sheet losses are overestimated” A number of independent measurements find extensive ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland. 1
“CO2 is not a pollutant” Through its impacts on the climate, CO2 presents a danger to public health and welfare, and thus qualifies as an air pollutant 1
“Corals are resilient to bleaching” Globally about 1% of coral is dying out each year. 1
“Tuvalu sea level isn’t rising” Tuvalu sea level is rising 3 times larger than the global average. 1
“Ice age predicted in the 70s” The vast majority of climate papers in the 1970s predicted warming. 1
“Coral atolls grow as sea levels rise” Thousands of coral atolls have “drowned” when unable to grow fast enough to survive at sea level. 1
“Peer review process was corrupted” An Independent Review concluded that CRU’s actions were normal and didn’t threaten the integrity of peer review. 1
“It’s not urgent” A large amount of warming is delayed, and if we don’t act now we could pass tipping points. 1
“It’s not us” Multiple sets of independent observations find a human fingerprint on climate change. 1
“Greenland has only lost a tiny fraction of its ice mass” Greenland’s ice loss is accelerating & will add metres of sea level rise in upcoming centuries. 1
“Climate is chaotic and cannot be predicted” Weather is chaotic but climate is driven by Earth’s energy imbalance, which is more predictable. 1
“It’s freaking cold!” A local cold day has nothing to do with the long-term trend of increasing global temperatures. 1
“Over 31,000 scientists signed the OISM Petition Project” The ‘OISM petition’ was signed by only a few climatologists. 1
“It’s too hard” Scientific studies have determined that current technology is sufficient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid dangerous climate change. 1
“Animals and plants can adapt” Global warming will cause mass extinctions of species that cannot adapt on short time scales. 1
“Scientists tried to ‘hide the decline’ in global temperature” The ‘decline’ refers to a decline in northern tree-rings, not global temperature, and is openly discussed in papers and the IPCC reports. 1
“Southern sea ice is increasing” Antarctic sea ice has grown in recent decades despite the Southern Ocean warming at the same time.  1
“CRU tampered with temperature data” An independent inquiry went back to primary data sources and were able to replicate CRU’s results. 1
“It’s Pacific Decadal Oscillation” The PDO shows no trend, and therefore the PDO is not responsible for the trend of global warming. 1
“Trenberth can’t account for the lack of warming” Trenberth is talking about the details of energy flow, not whether global warming is happening. 1
“Clouds provide negative feedback” Evidence is building that net cloud feedback is likely positive and unlikely to be strongly negative. 1

Back to Climate Skeptics

Explosive intervention by Pope Francis set to transform climate change debate (The Guardian)

The most anticipated papal letter for decades will be published in five languages on Thursday. It will call for an end to the ‘tyrannical’ exploitation of nature by mankind. Could it lead to a step-change in the battle against global warming?

Pope Francis on a visit to the Philippines in January.

Pope Francis on a visit to the Philippines in January. Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis will call for an ethical and economic revolution to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality in a letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics on Thursday.

In an unprecedented encyclical on the subject of the environment, the pontiff is expected to argue that humanity’s exploitation of the planet’s resources has crossed the Earth’s natural boundaries, and that the world faces ruin without a revolution in hearts and minds. The much-anticipated message, which will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops, will be published online in five languages on Thursday and is expected to be the most radical statement yet from the outspoken pontiff.

However, it is certain to anger sections of Republican opinion in America by endorsing the warnings of climate scientists and admonishing rich elites, say cardinals and scientists who have advised the Vatican.

The Ghanaian cardinal, Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and a close ally of the pope, will launch the encyclical. He has said it will address the root causes of poverty and the threats facing nature, or “creation”.

In a recent speech widely regarded as a curtain-raiser to the encyclical, Turkson said: “Much of the world remains in poverty, despite abundant resources, while a privileged global elite controls the bulk of the world’s wealth and consumes the bulk of its resources.”

The Argentinian pontiff is expected to repeat calls for a change in attitudes to poverty and nature. “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it,” he told a meeting of social movements last year. “I think a question that we are not asking ourselves is: isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature? Safeguard creation because, if we destroy it, it will destroy us. Never forget this.”

The encyclical will go much further than strictly environmental concerns, say Vatican insiders. “Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that the environment is not only an economic or political issue, but is an anthropological and ethical matter,” said another of the pope’s advisers, Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Peru.

“It will address the issue of inequality in the distribution of resources and topics such as the wasting of food and the irresponsible exploitation of nature and the consequences for people’s life and health,” Barreto Jimeno told the Catholic News Service.

He was echoed by Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who coordinates the Vatican’s inner council of cardinals and is thought to reflect the pope’s political thinking . “The ideology surrounding environmental issues is too tied to a capitalism that doesn’t want to stop ruining the environment because they don’t want to give up their profits,” Rodríguez Maradiaga said.

The rare encyclical, called “Laudato Sii”, or “Praised Be”, has been timed to have maximum public impact ahead of the pope’s meeting with Barack Obama and his address to the US Congress and the UN general assembly in September.

It is also intended to improve the prospect of a strong new UN global agreement to cut climate emissions. By adding a moral dimension to the well-rehearsed scientific arguments, Francis hopes to raise the ambition of countries above their own self-interest to secure a strong deal in a crucial climate summit in Paris in November.

“Pope Francis is personally committed to this [climate] issue like no other pope before him. The encyclical will have a major impact. It will speak to the moral imperative of addressing climate change in a timely fashion in order to protect the most vulnerable,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, in Bonn this week for negotiations.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, is increasingly seen as the voice of the global south and a catalyst for change in global bodies. In September, he will seek to add impetus and moral authority to UN negotiations in New York to adopt new development goals and lay out a 15-year global plan to tackle hunger, extreme poverty and health. He will address the UN general assembly on 23 September as countries finalise their commitments.

However, Francis’s radicalism is attracting resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives, and Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential candidate.

Earlier this year Stephen Moore, a Catholic economist, called the pope a “complete disaster”, saying he was part of “a radical green movement that is at its core anti-Christian, anti-people and anti-progress”.

Moore was backed this month by scientists and engineers from the powerful evangelical Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, who have written an open letter to Francis. “Today many prominent voices call humanity a scourge on our planet, saying that man is the problem, not the solution. Such attitudes too often contaminate their assessment of man’s effects on nature,” it says.

But the encyclical will be well received in developing countries, where most Catholics live. “Francis has always put the poor at the centre of everything he has said. The developing countries will hear their voice in the encyclical,” said Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at the Catholic development agency, Cafod. “I expect it to challenge the way we think. The message that we cannot just treat the Earth as a tool for exploitation will be a message that many will not want to hear.”

The pope is “aiming at a change of heart. What will save us is not technology or science. What will save us is the ethical transformation of our society,” said Carmelite Father Eduardo Agosta Scarel, a climate scientist who teaches at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in Buenos Aires.

Earlier popes, including Benedict XVI and John Paul II, addressed environmental issues and “creation”, but neither mentioned climate change or devoted an entire encyclical to the links between poverty, economics and ecological destruction. Francis’s only previous encyclical concerned the nature of religious faith.

The pontiff, who is playing an increasing role on the world stage, will visit Cuba ahead of travelling to the US. He was cited by Obama as having helped to thaw relations between the two countries, and last week met the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to discuss the crisis in Ukraine and the threat to minority Christians in the Middle East.

The pope chose Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, as his namesake at the start of his papacy in 2011, saying the saint’s values reflected his own.

Opinion: Pope Francis’s anticapitalist revolution launches on Thursday (Market Watch)

Published: June 16, 2015 10:16 a.m. ET

June 18 treatise from Pope Francis will get the ball rolling on an anticapitalist revolution

Reuters. Pope Francis hugs children during a meeting at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

Mark your calendar: June 18. That’s launch day for Pope Francis’s historic anticapitalist revolution, a multitargeted global revolution against out-of-control free-market capitalism driven by consumerism, against destruction of the planet’s environment, climate and natural resources for personal profits and against the greediest science deniers.

Translated bluntly, stripped of all the euphemisms and his charm, that will be the loud-and-clear message of Pope Francis’ historic encyclical coming on June 18. Pope Francis has a grand mission here on Earth, and he gives no quarter, hammering home a very simple message with no wiggle room for compromise of his principles: ‘If we destroy God’s Creation, it will destroy us,” our human civilization here on Planet Earth.

Yes, he’s blunt, tough, he is a revolutionary. And on June 18 Pope Francis’s call-to-arms will be broadcast loud, clear and worldwide. Not just to 1.2 billion Catholics, but heard by seven billion humans all across the planet. And, yes, many will oppose him, be enraged to hear the message, because it is a call-to-arms, like Paul Revere’s ride, inspiring billions to join a people’s revolution.

The fact is the pontiff is already building an army of billions, in the same spirit as Gandhi, King and Marx. These are revolutionary times. Deny it all you want, but the global zeitgeist has thrust the pope in front of a global movement, focusing, inspiring, leading billions. Future historians will call Pope Francis the “Great 21st Century Revolutionary.”

Yes, our upbeat, ever-smiling Pope Francis. As a former boxer, he loves a good match. And he’s going to get one. He is encouraging rebellion against super-rich capitalists, against fossil-fuel power-players, conservative politicians and the 67 billionaires who already own more than half the assets of the planet.

That’s the biggest reason Pope Francis is scaring the hell out of the GOP, Big Oil, the Koch Empire, Massey Coal, every other fossil-fuel billionaire and more than a hundred million climate-denying capitalists and conservatives. Their biggest fear: They’re deeply afraid the pope has started the ball rolling and they can’t stop it.

They had hoped the pope would just go away. But he is not going away. And after June 18 his power will only accelerate, as his revolutionary encyclical will challenge everything on the GOP’s free-market capitalist agenda, exposing every one of the anti-environment, antipoor, antiscience, obstructionist policies in the conservative agenda.

Just watch the conservative media explode with intense anger after June 18, screaming bloody murder, viciously attacking the pope on moral, scientific, economic and political grounds, anything. But most of all, remember, under all their anger, the pope’s opponents really are living in fear of what’s coming next. What’s dead ahead.

Here are eight of the pope’s key warning punches edited in the Catholic Climate Covenant, from his “Apostolic Exhortation,” and in London’s Guardian and other news sources, warnings on the dangerous acceleration of global-warming risks to our civilization and the environment, along with our responsibility to “safeguard Creation, for we are the custodians of Creation. If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.”

For Pope Francis, there’s no room for compromise, and his enemies know it. Listen for his warnings to be expanded in his encyclical on June 18:

1. Capitalism is threatening the survival of human civilization

A “threat to peace arises from the greedy exploitation of environmental resources. Monopolizing of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.”

2. Capitalism is destroying nonrenewable resources for personal gain

“Genesis tells us that God created man and woman entrusting them with the task of filling the earth and subduing it, which does not mean exploiting it, but nurturing and protecting it, caring for it through their work.”

3. Capitalism has lost its ethical code, has no moral compass

“We are experiencing a moment of crisis; we see it in the environment, but mostly we see it in man. The human being is at stake: here is the urgency of human ecology! And the danger is serious because the cause of the problem is not superficial, but profound: it’s not just a matter of economics, but of ethics.”

4. Capitalists worship the golden calf of a money god

“We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money” … Francis warns that “trickle-down economics is a failed theory” … the “invisible hand” of capitalism cannot be trusted … “excessive consumerism is killing our culture, values and ethics” … and “the conservative ideal of individualism is undermining the common good.”

5. Capitalists pursuit of personal wealth destroys the common good

Without a moral code, “it is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands. Greed is the motivation … An economic system centered on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.” Instead, the pope calls for a “radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation.”

6. Capitalism has no respect for Earth’s natural environment

“This task entrusted to us by God the Creator requires us to grasp the rhythm and logic of Creation. But we are often driven by pride of domination, of possessions, manipulation, of exploitation; we do not care for Creation, we do not respect it.”

7. Capitalists only see the working class as consumers and machine tools

“Nurturing and cherishing Creation is a command God gives not only at the beginning of history, but to each of us. It is part of his plan; it means causing the world to grow responsibly, transforming it so that it may be a garden, a habitable place for everyone.” Everyone.

8. Capitalism is killing our planet, our civilization and the people

Pope Francis warns that capitalism is the “root cause” of all the world’s problems: “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems,” as environmental damage does trickle down most on the world’s poor.

Pope Francis’ historic anti-capitalism revolution is divinely inspired

Imagine Pope Francis addressing a hostile GOP controlled joint session of the U.S. Congress in September. There’s no chance of changing the minds of those hard-right politicians, all heavily dependent on fossil-fuel special-interest donations. But he’s clearly laying the groundwork for a global revolution, and his enemies know it.

And watch the ripple effect, how his historic “Climate Change Encyclical” adds fuel to the revolution after Pope Francis addresses the UN General Assembly … how the revolution picks up steam after the UN’s Paris Climate Change Conference announces a new international treaty approved by the leaders of America, China and two hundred nations worldwide … how the revolution kicks into high-gear after the pope’s message has been translated into more than a thousand languages … and broadcast to seven billion worldwide, billions who are already directly experiencing the climate change “evils that tear man from the land of his birth.”

Bottom line: Given the global reach of his encyclical, Pope Francis’ revolution will accelerate. So the GOP’s 169 climate deniers, Big Oil, the Koch Empire and all hard-right conservatives better be prepared for a powerful backlash to their resistance.

Pope Francis’s 2015 war cry is to lead a global anticapitalist revolution, a revolution leading billions to take back their planet from a fossil-fuel industry that’s lost its moral compass to the “golden calf” and is destroying its own civilization on Planet Earth.

After Katrina, the Residents of New Orleans Saved Themselves (Thuthout)

Friday, 12 June 2015 00:00 By Roberta Brandes GratzNation Books | Book Excerpt 

(Image: Nation Books)

(Image: Nation Books)“There is no other cavalry coming. …We are the cavalry.” So says a New Orleans resident in We’re Still Here Ya Bastards, an extraordinary look at the city’s revival in the years following Hurricane Katrina. Roberta Brandes Gratz tells the stories of local people who returned to their homes to take the rebuilding of their city and community into their own hands in the face of bureaucracy and profiteering. Order the book today with a donation to Truthout!

In the following excerpt from We’re Still Here Ya Bastards, Gratz demolishes the myth that Katrina was a “natural” disaster and details the overwhelming failure of the federal government and private contractors during and after the hurricane.

Nothing defines New Orleans better than the Live Oak trees that line its streets, grace its parks, provide shade and shelter during the relentlessly hot summers, and buffer storm winds. The leafy long branches of the curbside trees spread horizontally so far across the street toward each other that they form lush canopies of green, adding an elegant aura to even the most downtrodden rows of houses. The green lasts all winter. In the spring, new leaves emerge as old ones fall; thus the term Live, which distinguishes them from other oaks that remain leafless and dormant in winter. As they grow, twisting and turning in the winds, the Live Oaks gain their strength by anticipating the way the winds blow and adapting to the fierce changes in weather.

In City Park, home to more than three thousand Live Oaks, not one of the two thousand trees lost during or after the storm was a historic Live Oak, reported Chief Development Officer John Hopper: “[These trees] are uniquely suited to our weather and better able to withstand flooding and wind than many other species.”

“The environment of oak trees is something that separates New Orleans from Atlanta or Houston,” observed S. Frederick Starr, noted author of many books on New Orleans. “Most of old New Orleans streets had balconies that covered the sidewalks and the oaks were an extension of the canopy. They made the city’s weather bearable.”

The strength and endurance of the Live Oaks do indeed have a particular significance, notes science writer Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. They are, perhaps, a metaphor for the city itself and the strength of its people. Live Oaks grow in clusters, Benyus points out, and their spreading roots form a deep network connecting one tree to the next. That network holds the extended tree family together. The trees survive so well because they are indigenous to the region. In New Orleans, where they are frequently subjected to fierce coastal storms, they have endured because their twisting branches spread outward as well as upward, leaving ample room for the wind to pass through them. The leaves of the Live Oaks curl up in a storm to let the wind pass by. Their roots spread wide but stay firmly connected to the thick, gnarled parental trunk, lending strength and balance to the branches above.

The city of New Orleans is much like its great Live Oak trees – strong, disaster resistant, and amazingly resilient. Deep-rooted family networks provide a human infrastructure that gives strength to residents and allows them to support each other, while overcoming the failings of governments and financial hardships. Time reveals the city’s strengths just as it has proven the strength and endurance of the Live Oaks, many of which are hundreds of years old. The loss of limbs and leaves from many of the Live Oaks during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita (which, as noted, followed one month later) left the city feeling denuded, with too much sun burning through where shade had once prevailed. But the trees are growing back, leaf by leaf and limb by limb.

Before Katrina, as Fred Starr pointed out in a conversation with me, “New Orleans already had the poorest tree cover of any major city, based on aerial photographs.” For decades, he added, the city has failed at replanting many Live Oaks while the power company, Entergy, unceasingly obliterates many trees. Even worse is what Fred calls “the palm tree phenomenon, a total waste,” whereby the city is planting palm trees – even though they are not native, they fall during storms and they are expensive because they must be planted full-grown. Individuals and organizations such as Parkway Partners sponsor tree replanting but are unable to keep up. This points up an important theme in the recent history of New Orleans: local leaders working to fill the gap left by government.

In no other American city have familial networks remained as strongly rooted to particular neighborhoods, making the history of New Orleans unique. Like the Live Oaks with their strong interconnected root systems, the city’s white, African-American, and Creole of Color families have gained strength from their habitation in well-defined neighborhoods over many generations.

Many New Orleanians live in mortgage-free houses that their grandfathers or fathers built. They don’t leave them easily. To be sure, other American cities also had deeply entrenched demographic patterns before post-World War II redevelopment policies and relocation choices dispersed families geographically. In New Orleans, however, these patterns proved more resistant to disruption than elsewhere. As documented throughout this book, the resilient nature of New Orleanians is one reason why the recovery of the city, primarily through the rebuilding and revitalization efforts of local residents and community leaders, has been so successful throughout the past decade.

But more than just resilience explains the recovery of New Orleans since the devastation of Katrina – which was a “manmade” disaster, not a “natural” one. As New Orleans writer Randy Fertel told me: “Those are fighting words here if you talk about Katrina as a natural disaster; it wasn’t a natural disaster but a federal flood caused by the Corps screw-up.” On August 31, 2010, a few days after the fifth anniversary of Katrina, author Tom Piazza wrote in his Huffington Post blog:

At first it looked as if New Orleans had been smacked by a hurricane, which, of course, it had. It would take awhile longer for people to understand that the images that halted the coffee cup en route to the mouth . . . were the result not of a natural disaster, bad as the hurricane was, but of a catastrophic planning and engineering failure on the part of the Army Corps of Engineers. Many still don’t realize it. Of course, many also think that Iraq planned the 9/11 attacks.

• • •

The overwhelming failure of the federal government and its myriad private contractors during and after Hurricane Katrina is inexplicable. What compounds the tragedy and prevents the public from understanding what really happened was the success of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bush White House’s perpetration of so many false reports and explanations. As musician, author, radio host, and film and TV personality Harry Shearer asked in a conversation: “How is it the Corps of Engineers screws up time and again and no one gets fired? Nothing happens.”Some myth-busting about Katrina and the immediate aftermath is in order.

Myth: Katrina was a “natural disaster.”

Fact: Katrina has been recognized as the most catastrophic failure in the history of American engineering.

Myth: The levees were “overtopped” by the intensity of the high water.

Fact: The levees collapsed in fifty-three places due to engineering design errors and “were responsible for 87 percent of the flooding, by volume.”

Myth: Katrina was a Category 4-5 hurricane.

Fact: It was a Category 3 when it reached New Orleans and had been anticipated by hurricane simulations a few years before.

Several books since have vividly detailed the storm but probably the best of them are Jed Horne’s Breach of Faith and Ivor van Heerden and Mike Bryan’s The Storm.

Horne does a masterful job of setting the record straight on a number of issues: C. Ray Nagin (the mayor of New Orleans from 2002 to 2012) and his emotional outbursts coupled with the delay in his calling for a mandatory evacuation; despite her poor TV performance, Kathleen Blanco (the governor of Louisiana from 2004 to 2008) declaring a state of emergency three days before Katrina struck (one day before Mississippi), ordering the evacuation of the New Orleans Metropolitan area on Saturday afternoon, placing the National Guard and state agencies on alert and then struggling to get White House attention; and FEMA head Michael D. Brown’s total incompetence, his attempt to blame everything on “a ‘dysfunctional’ relationship between unnamed Louisiana politicians [Blanco and Nagin],” and his belated admission that FEMA had sponsored a disaster drill a year earlier during which the entire Katrina scenario – levee inadequacies, widespread flooding, and a high death rate – had been simulated in an exercise called “Hurricane Pam.” Months after Katrina, it was revealed that President Bush had been officially informed of this simulation on the afternoon of the storm. That meeting was taped.

Other failures at all levels of government in the immediate days after Katrina are well documented by Horne and others: the lack of a city evacuation plan, the Red Cross’s no-show, the city’s turndown of offers of evacuation assistance from the four national railroads that pass through New Orleans, FEMA’s delay in requesting assistance and, worse, its outright rejection of free help from corporations, foreign governments, doctors, firefighters from all over the United States, and even regular FEMA contractors (Brown insisted on first setting up a chain of command, making sure that volunteers “checked in” with FEMA and obtained official badges). The hidden agenda, as we will see, was to give lucrative contracts to the right people.

Who can forget that, finally, three days after Katrina, President Bush cut short his Texas vacation and had Air Force One “fly low” over the drowned city to get a glance of the disaster on his way back to DC. This in contrast to President Lyndon B. Johnson who, forty years earlier, showed up just one day after Hurricane Betsy, said he was there to help, marshaled all kinds of assistance, and then ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to build stronger levees.

But most fascinating of all, as highlighted by both Horne and van Heerden, was the successful strategy, presumably contrived by the “master of spin,” Karl Rove, to make Governor Blanco look indecisive after President Bush offered to “federalize” the Louisiana National Guard – a proposal she considered for three days and then declined since it offered no value. The president’s declaration of a national emergency on the Saturday of the storm actually meant that the federal government was already officially in charge pursuant to the Stafford Act of October 2000. Thus, federalizing further was an unnecessary ploy to shift the focus of failure to Blanco. Mississippi’s Republican governor Haley Barbour was not given the same meaningless opportunity, nor did he ask for it. It was a useless gesture but a good public relations gimmick worthy of Rove. The ploy was officially denied, of course, but then Brown is reported to have told a group of graduate students in New York that someone in the White House came up with this strategy “because Blanco was a female Democrat, but stay out of Mississippi, where Governor Haley Barbour was a male Republican.” At that time, Blanco was the only Democratic governor in the South. Both governors and states were treated quite differently, as van Heerden points out:

In January 2007, Governor Blanco confirmed other reports that Louisiana, burdened with 80 percent of the storm damage from Katrina and Rita, received only 55 percent of federal relief funds. FEMA had given Mississippi, with 31,000 families living in trailers, $280 million for Katrina Cottages, while Louisiana’s 64,000 families living in trailers merited only $74 million.

In fact, if Governor Blanco had agreed to let the effort be federalized, she would not have been able to activate the National Guard to address Louisiana’s needs on the ground. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, passed after Reconstruction and updated in 1981, purposely prevented the federal government from using the Armed Forces to enforce state or local laws. The National Guard was exempt from the prohibition and thus able to enforce laws in its own state. The Coast Guard was exempt because of its maritime police power. As it turned out, Governor Blanco did indeed use the National Guard to police New Orleans after the storms.

The post-Katrina intergovernmental intrigue and corruption outlined by Horne and van Heerden read like a grade-B mystery novel. Few players come out looking good, with some notable exceptions: the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries deploying its flotilla of boats, the Coast Guard pulling people off rooftops in helicopters, and most important, the random citizens in real or makeshift boats picking up anyone they could find in distress. They didn’t wait for Brown’s authorization. The TV images of those helicopters pulling people off rooftops were the most dramatic ones of all. Fortunately, none of the real rescuers sought FEMA’s permission – which probably would have been denied, in any case.

Peter Dreier, chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College, noted: “[W]hile government emergency planners scrambled to get relief to stricken communities, the USS Bataan – an 844-foot ship with 1,200 sailors, helicopters, doctors, hospital beds for 600 patients, six operating rooms, food and water – was cruising in the Gulf of Mexico, awaiting relief orders.”

And then there were all those politically well-connected contractors who would get choice assignments, fulfilling them with infinitely less efficiency than experienced locals and at great expense, as will be outlined later. The Katrina recovery demolishes the oft-repeated myth that private industry can do things better than government. When they did it better, the price was (and is) unconscionably high.

From a distance, the aftermath of the storm was as dramatic as it was incomprehensible. For those on the outside, the pain can never fully be comprehended. As Horne noted:

For those not caught in the maelstrom, it could be difficult to grasp just how uniquely appalling the first week was in New Orleans. No American city of comparable size had seen anything remotely like it since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The terror attacks on NY had been confined to Lower Manhattan. A day after Katrina, four-fifths of New Orleans was underwater, four times [Hurricane] Betsy’s floodplain [1965], an area seven times as big as all of Manhattan. And the wretched masses huddled at the Superdome and the convention center were only the visible part of a ghost city of homeless New Orleanians – perhaps a quarter of a million in number – now scattered across the nation.

The strongest thread in the whole disaster-and-recovery story was the old-fashioned volunteerism evident at every stage – the barn-raising instinct that is so much a part of the American soul, the instinct to help spontaneously and without compensation. This took on an added dimension in the New Orleans story because strangers overcame historic prejudices of race, class, and gender and simply did what needed to be done. The number of volunteers probably exceeds any other effort historically, and people are still coming to help even now. Horne describes this volunteer effort vividly:

Fortunately, as FEMA brass dithered and dined well, an armada of small craft had begun fanning out over the flooded city. . . . An informal flotilla estimated at 300 craft would work Katrina’s aftermath in New Orleans. . . . No one told the self-appointed captains to mass on the edges of the flooded city and launch their boats. No one had to. In a culture built on fishing and intimately familiar with hurricanes, no one needed to say a word. There was a sense of duty in responding to a flood.

Just imagine: All those outdoorsmen and – women of every possible background and occupation dropped everything and figured out how to get their small boats to the places they were needed on the Monday after Katrina, whereas the federal government took until Wednesday to organize the feeblest of rescue efforts and the Red Cross refused to come into the city at all. Wednesday was when Defense Secretary Rumsfeld set up a Katrina Task Force to start the ball rolling. On the same day, FEMA suspended boat operations based on the false notion that the city was too dangerous to enter. That night, for the same erroneous reason, Mayor Nagin ordered city police to stop search efforts and focus on law enforcement instead. How many more would have died without those citizen-heroes is too hard to imagine.

• • •

New Orleanians started saving themselves and their city during Katrina and before any level of government officially lent a hand – and they haven’t stopped since. These “civic leaders,” in fact, are what this book is really about. To this day, they are overcoming government policies and prejudices at all levels, forcing government agencies to do the right thing, organizing new community-based groups, challenging questionable public and private efforts (some successfully, others not), forging new paths to recovery, and illustrating once again that bottom-up, resident-led efforts are the most effective and enduring way to regenerate cities. Their recovery story comprises not just the small victories that added up to big, productive change but also the big failures that made their lives so difficult, and still do. This book is about both the victories and the failures.

This book does not dwell on the many evacuees who did not return. There were those who were unable to get sufficient insurance and enough federal Road Home money to rebuild because the value of their home was based on its pre-Katrina assessment (good for owners with supplemental savings) rather than on its rebuilding cost (bad for those without additional funds). Many injustices derive from this first one. No one could have rebuilt for the amount that his or her home was valued before Katrina. There were those who found jobs elsewhere, paying better than the minimum-wage jobs that New Orleans ever offered. There were those who found neighborhoods and schools elsewhere that were safer and more functional for their children. There were the elderly and infirm who died under the stress of the experience, or who feared returning without access to their church or to the healthcare previously available at Charity Hospital. There were the 5,100 or more public housing tenants whose solidly built projects from the 1930s and ’40s were undamaged or minimally damaged but demolished nevertheless. There were those with special-needs children not accommodated by the restructured charter school system. And, finally, there were those who resettled near relatives and found a stable life and new social networks.

Many reasons explain why some residents didn’t come back. But the more interesting story is about the people who did and their extraordinary individual and collective efforts to rebuild. The official insensitivity, the bureaucratic impediments, the government paralysis, and the blatant inequities could easily have defeated the faint of heart. But not the people who populate this book.

Their story could begin anywhere. I choose to start it in the Lower Ninth Ward, which was little known before Katrina, and much misunderstood, but fascinating in its own right. The story of the Lower Ninth Ward, three long miles from the French Quarter in the city’s most downriver corner, is just part of the larger narrative, but it is a good place to begin. Katrina put the Lower Nine in the spotlight, “rocketing it from local obscurity to worldwide infamy as the most beleaguered urban neighborhood in the world’s wealthiest nation.”

Copyright (2015) by Roberta Brandes Gratz. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher, Nation Books.

Malásia detém 4 turistas que ficaram nus em monte atingido por terremoto (UOL Notícias)

AFP, Em Kuala Lumpur


As autoridades da Malásia anunciaram a detenção de quatro turistas – dois canadenses, um britânico e um holandês – que supostamente ficaram nus no monte Kinabalu, um ato que, segundo alguns moradores, irritou os espíritos tribais e provocou o terremoto da semana passada.

As fotografias de 10 turistas nus circularam pelas redes sociais e provocaram a revolta dos moradores, depois que um tremor de magnitude 6,0 de magnitude perto da montanha na sexta-feira passada matou 18 pessoas.

Seis turistas permanecem em paradeiro desconhecido, segundo a polícia.

O monte Kinabalu, declarado Patrimônio Mundial da Humanidade pela Unesco e muito popular entre os alpinistas, é considerado um espaço sagrado pelo grupo tribal Kadazan Dusun da Malásia, que considera o local uma área de descanso para os espíritos.

“Nós detivemos quatro deles na terça-feira e continuamos procurando os outros seis turistas”, afirmou Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman, chefe de polícia do estado malaio de Sabah, onde fica a montanha.

Jalaluddin disse que os detidos podem ser acusados de perturbação da ordem pública.

O ministro do Turismo da província de Sabah, Masidi Manjun, anunciou a abertura de processos contra os quatro estrangeiros e informou que eles permanecerão detidos por quatro dias.

O terremoto de sexta-feira provocou deslizamentos no Monte Kinabalu, quando mais de 150 alpinistas estavam no topo da montanha.

As autoridades confirmaram que 18 pessoas morreram na montanha, incluindo alguns jovens estudantes de Cingapura que estavam no local em uma excursão escolar.

Alguns internautas malaios e inclusive algumas autoridades atribuíram a tragédia aos nudistas, sugerindo que sua atitude irritou os espíritos e provocou o terremoto.

Mas para o ministro Masidi, a ideia de que as autoridades consideram que os atos dos turistas provocaram o terremoto está equivocada.

“Eu nunca disse que eles provocaram o terremoto, e sim que suas ações contrariaram os integrantes da maior tribo de Sabah. A montanha é um lugar sagrado e reverenciado”, declarou.

Um ritual tradicional de várias religiões deve ser organizado em breve para a purificação da montanha, com a presença de muçulmanos, cristãos e também de líderes tribais, afirmou Masidi.

James Lovelock: ‘Saving the planet is a foolish, romantic extravagance’ (Newsweek)

By    5/31/15 at 12:22 PM

Scientist James Lovelock

Harry Borden for Newsweek

Jim Lovelock, environmentalist, scientist, and celebrated proposer of the Gaia hypothesis, has always taken the long view of Earth’s future. So it feels appropriate that he should have retired to a coastguard’s cottage perched above Chesil Beach on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast – so called because 180 million years of geological history lie exposed along its cliffs and coves.

This shoreline is constantly eroding. In the winter storms of 2013, Lovelock’s cottage was cut off for four days when the road leading to it was washed into the sea – not that Lovelock, whose latest book is entitled A Rough Ride to the Future, needed any reminder of the precariousness of our world. A decade ago, he predicted that billions would be wiped out by floods, drought and famine by 2040. He is more circumspect about that date these days, but he has not changed his underlying belief that the consequences of global warming will catch up with us eventually. His conviction that humans are incapable of reversing them – and that it is in any case too late to try – is also unaltered. In the week when the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change reported that the world is still miles off meeting its 2030 carbon emission targets, Lovelock cannot easily be dismissed.

There are other doomsayers. What makes this one so unusual is his confounding cheerfulness about the approaching apocalypse. His optimism rests on his faith in Gaia – his revolutionary theory, first formulated in the 1970s, that our planet is not just a rock but a complex, self-regulating organism geared to the long-term sustenance of life. This means, among other things, that if there are too many people for the Earth to support, Gaia – Earth – will find a way to get rid of the excess, and carry on.

Lovelock’s concern is less with the survival of humanity than with the continuation of life itself. Against that imperative, the decimation of nations is almost inconsequential to him. “You know, I look with a great deal of equanimity on some sort of happening – not too rapid – that reduces our population down to about a billion,” he says, five minutes into our meeting. “I think the Earth would be happier … A population in England of five or 10 million? Yes, I think that sounds about right.” To him, even the prospect of nuclear holocaust has its upside. “The civilisations of the northern hemisphere would be utterly destroyed, no doubt about it,” he says, “but it would give life elsewhere a chance to recover. I think actually that Gaia might heave a sigh of relief.”

He is driven, at least in part, by a deep affinity for the English countryside. When he warns that sea levels are rising three times faster than the first climatology models predicted, and that this threatens “an awful lot of land north of Cambridge that is one or two meters below sea level”, you sense that he really cares about that landscape’s fate. No doubt he inherited this affection, along perhaps with a certain independence of spirit and thought, from his father. Born in West Berkshire in 1872, Lovelock senior grew up as a “hunter-gatherer” in support of his impoverished family, until, aged 14, he was caught poaching and imprisoned in Reading for six months. “I am very proud of that first part of my father’s life,” he says.

Like others of his generation, Lovelock mourns the changes to the countryside wrought by the post-War agricultural revolution. As a young man in the 1930s, he recalls, he cycled from Kent to the West Country, when England was “unbelievably beautiful”. “It all looks very green and pleasant around here,” he adds, waving at the gentle downland beyond his kitchen window, “but it’s nothing compared to what it used to be”.

Like Gaia, he has evidently developed certain stratagems for the sustenance of life. One would not guess from his appearance that he will be 96 this year. With his American wife Sandy, who is 20 years his junior, he still walks to the village shops each Saturday, a round-trip of six miles; and his intellectual vigour is so unimpaired that conversing with him soon makes the head spin.

Japan Earthquake and tsunami 2011

While the 2011 Japan earthquake caused devastation, Lovelock observes that “zero” have died of radiation from FukushimaThe Asahi Shimbun via Getty

He contends that the end of the world as we know it began in 1712, the year the Devonshire blacksmith Thomas Newcomen invented the coal-powered steam engine. It was the first time that stored solar energy had been harnessed in any serious way, with effects that now “grip us and our world in a series of unstoppable events. We are like the sorcerer’s apprentice, trapped in the consequences of our meddling”. Newcomen’s discovery set in train more than just the era of industrial development. It also marked the start of a new geological epoch, the “Anthropocene”, the most significant characteristic of which, Lovelock believes, has been the emergence of “an entirely new form of evolution” that is one million times faster than the old process of Darwinian natural selection.

He points out that for half a century now, computing power has roughly doubled every two years – a trajectory of growth known as Moore’s Law – and that computers are already capable of many actions far beyond what humans can do. In his scariest scenario, which sounds disturbingly close to the premise of the Arnie Schwarzenegger Terminator movies, he warns that computers could morph into an autarkic life form powerful enough to “destroy us, our carbon life forms, and inherit the Earth”. Luckily he thinks this outcome unlikely, and in the end has no fear of the Rise of the Machines. “Computers are entirely rational creations. But true intelligence, the ability to create and to invent, is intuitive – and you can’t do rational intuition.”

On the other hand, his preferred prediction for humanity is scarcely less disturbing. He foresees the evolution of a man-machine hybrid by a process of endosymbiosis that, he argues, has already begun. “I am already endosymbiotic. I’m fitted with a pacemaker. It runs on a 10-year lithium battery, but the next generation will have its own power supply drawn from the body. I’m already worried about being hacked … Fairly soon, I think, the internet is going to be fully embedded in our bodies.”

Looking further still into the future, he says that life on Earth, based as it presently is on carbon, cannot last beyond 100 million years, because by then it will be too hot. The evolution of a different life form based on some more heat-resistant element – such as electronic silicon – could potentially extend life by another 500 million or even a billion years.

But first, of course, mankind has to survive the immediate global warming crisis. Lovelock is a famously outspoken critic of the green energy revolution, especially wind power, which he describes as “an absolute scam. A great big German scam”. The purveyors of wind turbines and solar panels, he says, are like 18th-century doctors trying to cure serious diseases with leeches and mercury. Instead he wants us to embrace nuclear fission, a completely clean energy source that he regards as a “gift”. The Western world’s prejudice against nuclear – underscored earlier this year when the number of reactors in the US dipped below a hundred for the first time in decades – is “tragic”.

German windmills, Dessau

Lovelock says wind power is a “great big German scam”Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

“What gets my goat are the lies peddled about Fukushima [the Japanese nuclear reactor disaster of 2011]. Do you know how many people died of radiation? Zero. Not one – although there were 50-odd suicides among people driven to it by fear. Nuclear energy is actually 10 times safer, per GigaWatt hour of production, than wind power. Yet France and Germany responded to Fukushima by temporarily shutting down their entire nuclear industries. It makes no sense.” The reason, he thinks, is public ignorance, combined with a form of green politics that amounts to a “new religion – the same force that drives jihadists in Syria”. It is, he agrees, a paradox that the new accessibility of information brought about by the internet revolution has intensified, not diminished, the old battle between science and superstition. “There’s a campaign in our village to stop a new mobile phone mast. The electromagnetic radiation it will emit is trivial. It’s comparable to a household television. Yet the campaigners say it can give you cancer. This is about fear – not facts.”

With one or two exceptions such as Margaret Thatcher and Germany’s Angela Merkel, both of whom studied chemistry, he thinks our leaders are just as bad. “If you talk to any politician, American or British or European, they are absolutely blind on matters of science,” he says. He reserves special ire for Tony Blair, “the really mad prime minister” who, swayed by green ideology and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, passed legislation subsidising the renewable energy sector, which made fresh investment in the nuclear industry almost impossible. (This, he argues, is one reason why the heating costs of an average house in the UK are up to 10 times greater than in America, which, overall, has a colder climate. For many years, he asserts, the Lovelocks wintered in St Louis, Missouri, purely in order to avoid British heating bills.)

But even a wholesale switch to nuclear power, in his view, would come too late to solve humanity’s principal problem, which is overpopulation. The old post-war goal of sustainable development, he says, has become an oxymoron and should be abandoned in favour of a strategy of sustainable retreat. He is scathing about the very idea of “saving the planet”, which he calls “the foolish extravagance of romantic Northern ideologues”. The vast sums of money being invested in renewable energy would be much better spent on strategies designed to help us survive and adapt, such as flood defences.

Above all, he thinks that we should embrace the ongoing global shift towards urban living. It would, he insists, be far easier and more economic to regulate the climate of cities than our current strategy of attempting to control the temperature of an entire planet. The regions beyond the cities would then be left to Gaia to regulate for herself. It seems a sci-fi fantasy, rather like Mega-City One from the pages of Judge Dredd, a post-apocalypse megalopolis shielded from the “Cursed Earth” beyond by massive boundary walls. But, in fact, the concept is not so futuristic. Noah, arguably, had a similar idea when he built the ark.

It is certainly not a new concept to Lovelock, who wrote a paper for the oil multinational, Shell, as far back as 1966 in which he predicted that the cities of the future would become much denser, and that Shell would be making plenty of money out of “the avoidance of ecological disaster”. The fictional Mega-City One held 800 million citizens, and incorporated the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. Lovelock points that the average population density of England is higher than that of greater Boston. His 1966 paper, which was recently reprinted by Shell, no longer looks as fantastical as it once did.

Singapore, he suggests, shows us how a city can succeed in an overheated climate. The trend there for building underground, as well as in places like Japan and even London (albeit for different reasons), might be part of the same process of adaptation. Architectural practices from the past might also offer clues to a sustainable retreat in the future. The streets of the medieval Dalmatian island town of Korcula, for instance, follow a unique herringbone plan designed to capture and channel the prevailing, cooling sea breeze.

Nature offers models for future city architecture, too. Lovelock is much taken at the moment with termites. Their mounds, he says, are built like the cities of the future might be. Like Korcula, they are oriented towards the prevailing wind. They also tend to lean towards the zenith of the sun, to minimise exposure to its rays at the hottest time of the day – a stratagem that perhaps has its analogue in a recent suggestion by the Scottish nationalist politician Rob Gibson, who wants all new housing estates to be orientated towards the south in order to maximise the efficiency of rooftop solar panels.

(In London, meanwhile, the architects NBBJ recently proposed building the world’s first “shadowless skyscraper” by building two towers – one to block out the sun, the other to reflect light down into the shadow of the first).

More interesting still, a recent paper in Science magazine has shown that termite mounds, once thought to be a sign of encroaching desertification, may actually have the ability to stabilise or even reverse the effects of climate change by trapping rainfall. “Termites are very Gaian,” Lovelock enthuses. “There are these wonderful pictures of little plants growing up between the termite cities. You could look at that as a nice future for humans.”

So does Lovelock really think that humanity could end up mimicking social insects? A dumbed-down world inhabited by worker drones might be environmentally efficient, but what about the surrender of privacy that would imply; isn’t the sublimation of individuality too high a price to pay? How could such a society ever throw up a Beethoven, a Shakespeare, or an Einstein? “That’s true, and of course it depends how far down this track we choose to go,” says Lovelock, “but do you think that evolution, as a process, gives two hoots about any of that?”

This is, to be sure, a reductive view of human existence. A man in the twilight of his years, as Lovelock is, might feel a sense of futility. Instead he maintains a steady wonder at what he calls “the ineffable: a lovely word, don’t you think?” while apparently seeking no earthly legacy beyond a modest hope that he will be remembered as having been consistent in his arguments.

As a man of science, he remains agnostic on the subject of God. And yet, he says, “I am beginning to swing round, to think more and more, that there’s something in Barrow and Tipler’s cosmic-anthropic principle – the idea that the universe was set up in such a way that the formation of intelligent life on some planet somewhere was inevitable … The more you look at the universe, the more puzzling it is that all the figures are just right for the appearance on this planet of people like us.”

For the time being our species may be, as he has written, “scared and confused, like a colony of red ants exposed when we lift the garden slab that is the lid of their nest”. But he is also content to be one of those ants, because he sees a kind of beauty in that confusion – and perhaps even some sort of grand design. “Humanity may be as important to Earth, to Gaia, as the first photo-synthesisers,” he thinks. “We are the first species to harvest information … that is something very special.”

Above all he is convinced that mankind can recover itself – and in this he may be a product of his vanishing generation. Some years ago, at a lecture in Edinburgh, I heard him reminisce how marvellously the British nation had pulled together when threatened by Nazi invasion, but that it had taken that existential threat to make them do so. When the climate crisis finally breaks, he believes, the world’s differences will again be put aside – and our species, for all its present idiocies, will pull together in a way that will astonish the cynics among us.

Autoridade malaia acusa turistas nus de causar terremoto que matou alpinistas (UOL Notícias)

Jennifer Pak

Da BBC News

09/06/2015 06h51 

Para um funcionário do governo da Malásia, o terremoto que atingiu o país na última sexta-feira (5) e deixou ao menos 16 mortos teve pouco a ver com a atividade sísmica da região.

Joseph Pairin Kitingan, que ocupa um cargo semelhante ao de vice-governador na província de Sabah, disse que a tragédia foi causada por um grupo de turistas ocidentais que recentemente tiraram fotos nus no Monte Kinabalu, próximo ao epicentro do tremor.

Pairin disse que a atitude dos turistas irritou os espíritos da montanha: “O terremoto é uma prova das consequências, que já temíamos, das ações (dos turistas). Temos de entender essa tragédia como um alerta, sobre como as crenças e costumes locais não podem ser desrespeitados.”

Segundo o governo da Malásia, alguns dos turistas já foram identificados; entre eles estão dois canadenses, um alemão e um holandês.

Autoridades malais estão orientadas a não permitirem que eles deixem o país, enquanto as investigações estiverem em curso.

Segundo a mídia local, ao menos um dos turistas teria sido preso.

‘Sociedade moderna’

Moradores da região acreditam que o Kinabalu é sagrado por ser o último local de descanso de seus ancestrais.

Para muitos habitantes de Sabaha, não há relação entre o tremor e a atitude dos estrangeiros, mas alguns se ofenderam com a nudez.

“Eu não posso confirmar se os turistas causaram o terremoto ou não. Somos uma sociedade moderna, mas temos nossas crenças, e elas têm de ser respeitadas”, disse Supni, um guia do Monte Kinabalu.

O guia, que acha que os turistas devem ser punidos, conta que estava levando um grupo de montanhistas pela região, quando ocorreu o terremoto que deixou ao menos 137 pessoas isoladas.

Supni conta que ele e seu grupo precisaram caminhar por 12 horas, depois de serem informados que os helicópteros de resgate não estavam conseguindo chegar ao local onde estavam por conta do tempo ruim.

Ele conta que o grupo passou por alguns corpos presos nas pedras. “Passávamos em silêncio pelos corpos, em sinal de respeito. Muitas pessoas estavam chorando, mas tentamos manter a calma”, disse.

O antropólogo Paul Porodong, da Universidade da Malásia em Sabah, disse em entrevista ao jornal Star que tribos locais relacionam atos desrespeitosos a acidentes e que a nudez do grupo se encaixaria nessa crença.

Segundo a mídia local, ao menos um dos turistas teria sido preso. Para os próximos dias, a população local está planejando um ritual tradicional no Monte Kinabalu para “acalmar os espíritos”.

The Ant, the Shaman and the Scientist: Shamanic lore spurs scientific discovery in the Amazon (Notes from the Ethnoground)

NOVEMBER 22, 2011

When he pointed to the tree trunk and said the scars were from fires set by invisible forest spirits, I had no idea this supernatural observation would lead to a new discovery for natural science.  Mariano, the eldest shaman of the Matsigenka village of Yomybato in Manu National Park, Peru, had first showed me the curious clearings in the forest that form around clumps of Cordia nodosa, a bristly tropical shrub related to borage (Borago officinalis).  Both the Matsigenka people and tropical ecologists recognize the special relationship that exists between Cordia and ants of the genus Myrmelachista: the Matsigenka word for the plant is matiagiroki, which means “ant shrub.”

Maximo Vicente, Mariano’s grandson, standing by a 
swollen, scarred trunk near a Cordia patch.

For scientists, the clearings in the forest understory around patches of Cordia are caused by a mutualistic relationship with the ants.  Cordia plants provide the ant colony with hollow branch nodes for nesting and bristly corridors along twigs and leaves for protection, while the ants use their strong mandibles and acidic secretions to clear away competing vegetation.  Local Quechua-speaking colonists refer to the clearings as “Devil’s gardens” (supay chacra).  For the Matsigenka, these clearings are the work of spirits known as Sangariite, which means ‘Pure’ or ‘Invisible Ones’.  Matsigenka shamans like Mariano come to these spirit clearings and consume powerful narcotics and hallucinogens such as tobacco paste, ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis), or the Datura-like toé (Brugmansia).[1]

A “Sangariite village clearing” (igarapagite sangatsiri)
in the upland forests of Manu Park.

With the aid of visionary plants, the shaman perceives the true nature of these mundane forest clearings: they are the villages of Sangariite spirits, unimaginably distant and inaccessible under ordinary states of consciousness.  While in trance, the shaman enters the village and develops an ongoing relationship with a spirit twin or ally among the Sangariite, who can provide him or her with esoteric knowledge, news from distant places, healing power, artistic inspiration, auspicious hunting and even novel varieties of food crops or medicinal plants.[2]  As proof of the existence of these invisible villages, Mariano pointed out to me the scars on adjacent tree trunks all around large, dense Cordia patches: “The scars are caused by fires the Sangariite set to clear their gardens every summer,” he explained.

Mariano wearing a cotton tunic with designs taught him by the
Sangariite spirits during an ayahuasca trance.

Douglas Yu, an expert on ant-plant interactions, was researching Cordia populations in the forests around Yomybato.[3]  I told him of Mariano’s observations about the Sangariite villages, and pointed out the distinctive marks on adjacent trees.  In his years of research, Yu had never noticed the trunk scars.  Intrigued, he cut into the scars and found nests teeming with Myrmelachista ants that appeared to be galling the trunks to create additional housing.  As detailed in a 2009 publication in American Naturalist[4], this case is the first recorded example of ants galling plants, reopening a century-old debate in tropical ecology begun by legendary scientists Richard Spruce and Alfred Wallace. The discovery of Myrmelachista‘s galling capability also helped Yu understand how this ant species persists in the face of competition by two more aggressive ant types, Azteca and Allomerus, that can also inhabit Cordia depending on ecological conditions.

Douglas Yu carries out research on ant-plant
interactions in the Peruvian Amazon.

My ongoing collaborations with Yu and other tropical biologists in indigenous communities have highlighted how important it is to pay attention to local people’s rich and often underappreciated knowledge about forest ecosystems: sometimes even those elements of folklore that appear quaint or “unscientific” contain astute insights about natural processes.

Cross section of a tree trunk galled by Myrmelachista ants
(photo: Megan Frederickson).

— This article was first published online on Nov. 7, 2011 with Spanish and Portuguese translations by O Eco Amazônia.


[1] G.H. Shepard Jr. (1998) Psychoactive plants and ethnopsychiatric medicines of the Matsigenka. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 30 (4):321-332; G.H. Shepard Jr. (2005) Psychoactive botanicals in ritual, religion and shamanism. Chapter 18 in: E. Elisabetsky & N. Etkin (Eds.), Ethnopharmacology. Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), Theme 6.79. Oxford, UK: UNESCO/Eolss Publishers [].

[2] G.H. Shepard Jr. (1999) Shamanism and diversity:  A Matsigenka perspective. In Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, edited by D. A. Posey. London: United Nations Environmental Programme and Intermediate Technology Publications.

[3] D.W. Yu, H. B. Wilson and N. E. Pierce (2001) An empirical model of species coexistence in a spatially structured environment. Ecology 82 (6):1761-1771.
[4] D.P. Edwards, M.E. Frederickson, G.H. Shepard Jr. and D.W. Yu (2009) ‘A plant needs its ants like a dog needs its fleas’: Myrmelachista schumanni ants gall many tree species to create housing. The American Naturalist 174 (5):734-740. []

Posted by Glenn H. Shepard at 10:11 AM

Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to G7 ‘decarbonization’ by 2100 (CBC News)

Canada, Japan work behind scenes to water down statement on climate change, CP reports

CBC News Posted: Jun 08, 2015 11:02 AM ET Last Updated: Jun 08, 2015 2:47 PM ET

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes his place for the official family photo with outreach partners at the G7 Summit in Garmisch, Germany, on Monday.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes his place for the official family photo with outreach partners at the G7 Summit in Garmisch, Germany, on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press) 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has agreed to a G7 commitment to deep cuts in carbon emissions by 2050 — with an eventual stop in the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century.

The call for a low-carbon footprint will “require a transformation in our energy sectors,” Harper said Monday at a news conference in Germany, following the two-day G7 summit.

“Nobody’s going to start to shut down their industries or turn off the lights,” he said. “We’ve simply got to find a way to create lower-carbon emitting sources of energy — and that work is ongoing.”

RAW: Harper says G7 unanimous on environment1:47

Canada and Japan blocked attempts at a stronger statement on binding greenhouse gas reduction targets, according to The Canadian Press sources who saw a working draft of the G7 communiqué, which was released today as the summit wrapped up.

“Nobody’s going to start to shut down their industries or turn off the lights.”–  Prime Minister Stephen Harper

“We emphasize that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century,” the G7 leaders said in their final communiqué.

“We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavour.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been pushing the G7 to endorse a pledge to reach zero carbon emissions.

“Canada and Japan are the most concerned about this one,” said one source who was privy to discussions but would only speak on the condition of anonymity. “The two of those countries have been the most difficult on every issue on climate.”

During question period on Monday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the government’s role in “toning down” the communiqué leaves “Canada with an environmental black eye on the world stage.”

In May, Canada committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — an ambitious goal that will rely on emission targets previously announced by the provinces.

‘Groundbreaking’ agreement

The G7 commitment comes in the midst of a United Nations climate conference in Bonn, Germany, and ahead of a more major one in Paris in December that hopes to negotiate a new, post-2020 global climate agreement.

Members of the Climate Action Network, an international coalition of more than 850 organizations, called the G7 agreement a “groundbreaking” one that will help push forward the new global agreement.

“The course is right, but more speed, ambition and specific actions are needed,” Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative, said in a statement.

“The course is right, but more speed, ambition and specific actions are needed.”– Samantha Smith, WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative

“Developing countries are ready to move fast and far on renewables, but they need finance and technology from rich countries to do it. We need to see more of these concrete commitments for immediate action.”

Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement that the agreement is a sign that “the end of the fossil fuel era is inevitable, and the dawning of the age of renewables is unstoppable.

“Now G7 countries must increase the ambition of their domestic climate plans, so as to do their fair share of meeting this global goal.”

Harper slams Putin at G7

The two-day G7 summit in the Bavarian alps touched on various international issues, including the global economic recovery, fighting terrorism and its financing, as well as the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

The G7 — which includes the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, as well as the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission — was formerly the G8 until Russia was suspended last year over its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.

Harper described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a disruptive force whose former role in the organization inhibited co-operation.

“Mr. Putin makes it his business to be deliberately troublesome,” he said.

While there may be cases in which G7 countries have to deal with Putin “because Russia remains an important country on some issues,” Harper emphasized that Putin does not share the values of G7 members.

“The G7 is a group of countries that share fundamental values and objectives in the world. We share similar types of economies so we share similar problems. We also share similar values — deep, progressive and aggressive commitments towards democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law,” he said.

“Mr. Putin fits none of these definitions.”

G7 leaders agree to phase out fossil fuel use by end of century (The Guardian)

German chancellor Angela Merkel announces commitment to ‘decarbonise global economy’ and end extreme poverty and hunger

G7 leaders, including Angela Merkel (in pink jacket), and invitees line up for the traditional group photo at the end of the summit.

G7 leaders, including Angela Merkel (in pink jacket), and invitees line up for the traditional group photo at the end of the summit. Photograph: Sven Hoppe/dpa/Corbis

The G7 leading industrial nations have agreed to cut greenhouse gases by phasing out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has announced, in a move hailed as historic by some environmental campaigners.

On the final day of talks in a Bavarian castle, Merkel said the leaders had committed themselves to the need to “decarbonise the global economy in the course of this century”. They also agreed on a global target for limiting the rise in average global temperatures to a maximum of 2C over pre-industrial levels.

Environmental lobbyists described the announcement as a hopeful sign that plans for complete decarbonisation could be decided on in Paris climate talks later this year. But they criticised the fact that leaders had baulked at Merkel’s proposal that they should agree to immediate binding emission targets.

As host of the summit, which took place in the foothills of Germany’s largest mountain, the Zugspitze, Merkel said the leading industrialised countries were committed to raising $100bn (£65bn) in annual climate financing by 2020 from public and private sources.

In a 17-page communique issued after the summit at Schloss Elmau under the slogan “Think Ahead, Act Together”, the G7 leaders agreed to back the recommendations of the IPCC, the United Nations’ climate change panel, to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions at the upper end of a range of 40% to 70% by 2050, using 2010 as the baseline.

Merkel also announced that G7 governments had signed up to initiatives to work for an end to extreme poverty and hunger, reducing by 2030 the number of people living in hunger and malnutrition by 500 million, as well as improving the global response to epidemics in the light of the Ebola crisis.

Poverty campaigners reacted with cautious optimism to the news.

The participant countries – Germany, Britain, France, the US, Canada, Japan and Italy – would work on initiatives to combat disease and help countries around the world react to epidemics, including a fund within the World Bank dedicated to tackling health emergencies, Merkel announced at a press conference after the summit formally ended on Monday afternoon.

Reacting to the summit’s final declaration, the European Climate Foundation described the G7 leaders’ announcement as historic, saying it signalled “the end of the fossil fuel age” and was an “important milestone on the road to a new climate deal in Paris”.

Samantha Smith, a climate campaigner for the World Wildlife Fund, said: “There is only one way to meet the goals they agreed: get out of fossil fuels as soon as possible.”

The campaign group put out a direct challenge to Barack Obama to shut down long-term infrastructure projects linked to the fossil fuel industry. “If President Obama wants to live up to the rhetoric we’re seeing out of Germany, he’ll need to start doing everything in his power to keep fossil fuels in the ground. He can begin by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline and ending coal, oil and gas development on public lands,” said May Boeve, the group’s director.

Others called on negotiators seeking an international climate deal at Paris later this year to make total decarbonisation of the global economy the official goal.

“A clear long-term decarbonisation objective in the Paris agreement, such as net zero greenhouse gas emissions well before the end of the century, will shift this towards low-carbon investment and avoid unmanageable climate risk,” said Nigel Topping, the chief executive of the We Mean Business coalition.

Merkel won praise for succeeding in her ambition to ensure climate was not squeezed off the agenda by other pressing issues. Some environmental groups said she had established herself as a “climate hero”.

Observers said she had succeeded where sceptics thought she would not, in winning over Canada and Japan, the most reluctant G7 partners ahead of negotiations, to sign up to her targets on climate, health and poverty.

Iain Keith, campaign director of the online activist network Avaaz, said: “Angela Merkel faced down Canada and Japan to say ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ to carbon pollution and become the climate hero the world needs.”

The One campaigning and advocacy organisation called the leaders’ pledge to end extreme poverty a “historic ambition”. Adrian Lovett, its Europe executive director, said: “These G7 leaders have signed up … to be part of the generation that ends extreme poverty and hunger by 2030.” But he warned: “Schloss Elmau’s legacy must be more than a castle in the air.

But the Christian relief organisation World Vision accused the leaders of failing to deliver on their ambitious agenda, arguing they had been too distracted by immediate crises, such as Russia and Greece. “Despite addressing issues like hunger and immunisation, it was nowhere as near as ambitious as we would have hoped for,” a spokeswoman said.

Jeremy Farrar of the Wellcome Trust said the proposals would “transform the resilience of global health systems”. But he said the success of the measures would depend on the effectiveness with which they could be coordinated on a global scale and that required fundamental reform of the World Health Organisation, something the leaders stopped short of deciding on.

“We urge world leaders to consider establishing an independent body within the WHO with the authority and responsibility to deliver this,” he said.

Merkel, who called the talks “very work-intensive and productive” and defended the format of a summit that cost an estimated €300m (£220m), said that the participants had agreed to sharpen existing sanctions against Russia if the crisis in Ukraine were to escalate.

She also said “there isn’t much time left” to find a solution to the Greek global debt crisis but that participants were unanimous in wanting Greece to stay in the eurozone.

Demonstrators, about 3,000 of whom had packed a protest camp in the nearby village of Garmisch Partenkirchen, cancelled the final action that had been planned to coincide with the close of the summit.

At a meeting in the local railway station, the head of Stop G7 Elmau, Ingrid Scherf announced that the final rally would not go ahead “because we’re already walked off our feet”. She denied the claims of local politicians that the group’s demonstrations had been a flop. “I’m not at all disappointed, the turnout was super,” she said. “And we also had the support of lots of locals.”

Only two demonstrators were arrested, police said, one for throwing a soup dish, another for carrying a spear.

Additional reporting by Suzanne Goldenberg

Ask A Mind: Is Studying Witchcraft `Useful’ for Development? (Savage Minds)

June 7, 2015
By Maia

Can anthropologists combine research on witchcraft with research on development? Why are some topics considered more relevant to understanding development issues than others? This post is a response to a question from a reader considering doing a research project in anthropology. It provides an overview of some recent work on witchcraft by anthropologists mostly working in Africa.

This reader’s question raises several issues- about development, about witchcraft and about defining a research problem.   Responding to it provides an opportunity to practice demand driven anthropology- an underutilized potential of the blog format. As an anthropologist who works on development institutions, and on witchcraft in East Africa, this is my take on it.

Ideas about witches and violence directed against those who are thought to practice witchcraft , including women and children, remain socially significant in many countries in the world.  The negative social impacts of witchcraft make it a development issue in relation to human rights violations and its contribution to social exclusion. Moreover, representations of witchcraft in popular culture consistently situate what witches are alleged to do in direct contradiction of aspirations to achieve personal and national development.

Our reader asks whether the study of witchcraft is distinct from the kinds of research which would be relevant to development, and whether witchcraft and development are distinct domains of social practice which demand different sorts of analysis.   Should she aim to study witchcraft in the hope that it may have something to say about development or is there, as one professor working in development told her, `more useful work to be done around behavior change and water, sanitation and health than witchcraft’?

These questions are partly influenced by our reader’s current situation within development practice (she works in an NGO), hence the professor’s concern for prioritizing the understanding of behavior change that could prove useful for designing more effective interventions. But they are also informed by the ways that witchcraft has been addressed within contemporary anthropology as a field of symbolic practice.   The well known work of Jean and John Comaroff, for example, interprets witchcraft beliefs at least partially as a vehicle through which experiences of peripheralization, including global social relations, can be symbolically articulated (1999).

If witchcraft enables the articulation of an `occult economy’   it is at the same time materially grounded with effects in the real world (Moore & Sanders 2001). Witchcraft as a social institution frequently operates as a means through which human relations are restructured sustained by expanding economies of the occult comprising healers, unwitchers and diviners. It is often accompanied by violence.

The social inseparability of these two dimensions of witchcraft is the focus of ongoing ethnographic work by Isak Niehaus and Adam Ashforth. Both Niehaus and Ashforth have spent many years researching the everyday politics of witchcraft in South Africa. In the years immediately after the   ANC victory, witchcraft accusations, murder and expulsions were widespread in rural areas and townships as deadly weapons in local conflicts centered on political allegiance and access to resources.

Violent practices justified by witchcraft were an important part of the local political system, supported by vested interests. Accusations of witchcraft were invoked to escalate disputes with serious social consequences (Niehaus 1993Ashforth 2005). Those affected by witchcraft include those who believe they are bewitched and those who find themselves accused of witchcraft . The personal experiences of the affected in South Africa are sensitively examined by both authors (Niehaus 2012Ashforth 2000). A new book by James Howard Smith  and Ngeti Mwadime explores related issues in Kenya (2014).

Certain social categories can find themselves liable to accusation and the violence or expulsion which follow.   Attacks on older women accused of witchcraft in Western Tanzania have attracted international media attention since the 1990s (Mesaki 2009). More recently in Tanzania people with albinism, particularly children, have been at risk of murder by practitioners of witchcraft who seek to use their body parts to make powerful medicines (Bryceson et al 2010).

It is evident from these examples that practices related to witchcraft are strongly rooted in the ideas that people hold about witches and their powers. The tenacity of these ideas is not simply explained by what ideas about witches mean. It is equally a product of what Mary Douglas called `entrenchment’ (1991: 726) ; that is the actions people take which sustain ideas about witchcraft and the practices through which it is realized institutionally. In Western Tanzania, as in South Africa (Ashforth 2005 ), diviners play a crucial role in diagnosing witchcraft as the cause of personal misfortune and in identifying alleged witches, responding to demand to resolve personal and political differences through severing relations (e.g. Green 2009).

While what is categorized as the `traditional’ healing sector promoted through the political valorization of African medicine provides support for the institutional foundation for the sustained presence of witchcraft across the continent (Langwick 2011Ashforth 2005) , sub disciplinary boundaries within anthropology have generally worked against the problematization of the institution of witchcraft , both within medical anthropology and in relation to the wider political economy. Consideration of witchcraft primarily in terms of the ontological deflects from the interrogation of   the economics which sustains it and creates lucrative small business opportunities for the countless individuals who set themselves up as herbalists, diviners and healers.

Anthropological uncertainty about the situation of witchcraft feeds into ways in which various state authorities, colonial and post colonial, have approached it and inadvertently promoted it. If witchcraft is understood as essentially a matter of culture and belief it can potentially be attacked through education and political campaigns, while legal sanctions are directed against those who practice witchcraft and against those seeking to make them knowable.

It is clear from recent media reports in a number of countries that neither approach is working. Evangelical Christian churches proliferating on the continent readily assume responsibility for addressing perceived witchcraft threats within and beyond their congregations (Meyer 2004Hasu 2012). Social media fuels the extension of transnational economies founded on the occult, dispersing witchcraft through the diaspora while offering a means for those afflicted to address it.

If the transnational appeal of healers and preachers such as the hugely popular TB Joshua in Nigeria are testament to the enduring salience of notions about witchcraft, they are also indicators of the consistent imbrication of witchcraft with innovation and social transformation. Witchcraft is not , despite systematic condemnation by the governments seeking to prohibit it, a traditional and static social institution. It is a continually evolving assemblage.

The institution of witchcraft, wherever it occurs, is not only wholly implicated in modernity (Geschiere 1997). Those engaged with witchcraft either as purchasers of its powers, such as the miners of Western Tanzania, or the diviners offering protection from it consistently seek to adapt the ways in which they do so; through new forms of protective practice, changes in how clients seeking protection are dealt with or the contexts in which certain medicines come to be viewed as efficacious (e.g Green & Mesaki 2005Englund 2007). It is not witchcraft in the abstract but the practice of it which in many settings is perceived to be antithetical to modernization and moving forwards. Personal ambition may be thwarted by witches whose jealousy prevents a person from getting ahead. Witchcraft as is therefore consistently viewed by those affected by it as getting in the way of development (Smith 2008).

Governments tend to claim that witchcraft related practices and ideas are backward and anti- development, a political position certainly, but one which borrows its legitimation from certain kinds of anthropology. In constituting witchcraft as a matter of culture anthropologists and African states fail to acknowledge the ways in which it comes to be institutionally entrenched in various settings.   The study of witchcraft is inherently entangled with development as ideology and in terms of the interventions at social reform undertaken by successive African governments.

The study of witchcraft , in Africa and elsewhere, demands some kind of engagement with the politics of development in various institutional forms. It is also important. However much we contribute to understanding witchcraft, however meaningful it may be, witchcraft as an institution amounts to symbolic, structural and actual violence. It causes significant social harm. If anthropologists can help unpick its institutional tenacity we will have made a useful contribution.

References Cited

Ashforth, Adam. Madumo, a man bewitched. University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Ashforth, Adam. Witchcraft, violence, and democracy in South Africa. University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Bryceson, Deborah Fahy, Jesper Bosse Jønsson, and Richard Sherrington. “Miners’ magic: artisanal mining, the albino fetish and murder in Tanzania.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 48, no. 03, (2010): 353-382.

Comaroff, Jean, and John L. Comaroff. “Occult economies and the violence of abstraction: notes from the South African postcolony.” American ethnologist 26, no. 2 (1999): 279-303.

Douglas, Mary. “Witchcraft and leprosy: two strategies of exclusion.” Man (1991): 723-736.

Englund, Harri. “Witchcraft and the limits of mass mediation in Malawi.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13, no. 2 (2007): 295-311.

Geschiere, Peter The Modernity of Witchcraft: politics and the occult in postcolonial Africa. University of Virginia Press, 1997.

Green, Maia, and Simeon Mesaki. “The birth of the “salon”: Poverty,“modernization,” and dealing with witchcraft in southern Tanzania.” American Ethnologist 32, no. 3 (2005): 371-388.

Green, Maia. “The social distribution of sanctioned harm.” Addison et al, Poverty Dynamics (2009): 309-327.

Hasu, Päivi. “Prosperity gospels and enchanted world views: Two responses to socio-economic transformation in Tanzanian Pentecostal Christianity.” Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa 1 (2012): 67.

Langwick, Stacey Ann. Bodies, politics, and African healing: The matter of maladies in Tanzania. Indiana University Press, 2011.

Mesaki, Simeon. “The tragedy of ageing: Witch killings and poor governance among the Sukuma.” Dealing with Uncertainty in Contemporary African Lives. Stockholm: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet (2009): 72-90.

Meyer, Birgit. “Christianity in Africa: From African independent to Pentecostal-charismatic churches.” Annual Review of Anthropology (2004): 447-474.

Moore, Henrietta L., and Todd Sanders. “Magical interpretations and material realities.” Magical interpretations, material realities: modernity, witchcraft and the occult in postcolonial Africa (2001): 552-566.

Niehaus, Isak A. “Witch-hunting and political legitimacy: continuity and change in Green Valley, Lebowa, 1930–91.” Africa 63, no. 04 (1993): 498-530.

Niehaus, Isak. Witchcraft and a life in the new South Africa. Vol. 43. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Smith, James H., and Ngeti Mwadime. Email from Ngeti: An Ethnography of Sorcery, Redemption, and Friendship in Global Africa. Univ of California Press, 2014.

Smith, James Howard. Bewitching development: witchcraft and the reinvention of development in neoliberal Kenya. University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Nova técnica estima multidões analisando atividade de celulares (BBC Brasil)

3 junho 2015

Multidão em aeroporto | Foto: Getty

Pesquisadores buscam maneiras mais eficientes de medir tamanho de multidões sem depender de imagens

Um estudo de uma universidade britânica desenvolveu um novo meio de estimar multidões em protestos ou outros eventos de massa: através da análise de dados geográficos de celulares e Twitter.

Pesquisadores da Warwick University, na Inglaterra, analisaram a geolocalização de celulares e de mensagens no Twitter durante um período de dois meses em Milão, na Itália.

Em dois locais com números de visitantes conhecidos – um estádio de futebol e um aeroporto – a atividade nas redes sociais e nos celulares aumentou e diminuiu de maneira semelhante ao fluxo de pessoas.

A equipe disse que, utilizando esta técnica, pode fazer medições em eventos como protestos.

Outros pesquisadores enfatizaram o fato de que há limitações neste tipo de dados – por exemplo, somente uma parte da população usa smartphones e Twitter e nem todas as áreas em um espaço estão bem servidos de torres telefônicas.

Mas os autores do estudo dizem que os resultados foram “um excelente ponto de partida” para mais estimativas do tipo – com mais precisão – no futuro.

“Estes números são exemplos de calibração nos quais podemos nos basear”, disse o coautor do estudo, Tobias Preis.

“Obviamente seria melhor termos exemplos em outros países, outros ambientes, outros momentos. O comportamento humano não é uniforme em todo o mundo, mas está é uma base muito boa para conseguir estimativas iniciais.”

O estudo, divulgado na publicação científica Royal Society Open Science, é parte de um campo de pesquisa em expansão que explora o que a atividade online pode revelar sobre o comportamento humano e outros fenômenos reais.

Foto: F. Botta et al

Cientistas compararam dados oficiais de visitantes em aeroporto e estádio com atividade no Twitter e no celular

Federico Botta, estudante de PhD que liderou a análise, afirmou que a metodologia baseada em celulares tem vantagens importantes sobre outros métodos para estimar o tamanho de multidões – que costumam se basear em observações no local ou em imagens.

“Este método é muito rápido e não depende do julgamento humano. Ele só depende dos dados que vêm dos telefones celulares ou da atividade no Twitter”, disse à BBC.

Margem de erro

Com dois meses de dados de celulares fornecidos pela Telecom Italia, Botta e seus colegas se concentraram no aeroporto de Linate e no estádio de futebol San Siro, em Milão.

Eles compararam o número de pessoas que se sabia estarem naqueles locais a cada momento – baseado em horários de voos e na venda de ingressos para os jogos de futebol – com três tipos de atividade em telefones celulares: o número de chamadas feitas e de mensagens de texto enviadas, a quantidade de internet utilizada e o volume de tuítes feitos.

“O que vimos é que estas atividades realmente tinham um comportamento muito semelhante ao número de pessoas no local”, afirma Botta.

Isso pode não parecer tão surpreendente, mas, especialmente no estádio de futebol, os padrões observados pela equipe eram tão confiáveis que eles conseguiam até fazer previsões.

Houve dez jogos de futebol no período em que o experimento foi feito. Com base nos dados de nove jogos, foi possível estimar quantas pessoas estariam no décimo jogo usando apenas os dados dos celulares.

“Nossa porcentagem absoluta média de erro é cerca de 13%. Isso significa que nossas estimativas e o número real de pessoas têm uma diferença entre si, em valores absolutos, de cerca de 13%”, diz Botta.

De acordo com os pesquisadores, esta margem de erro é boa em comparação com as técnicas tradicionais baseadas em imagens e no julgamento humano.

Eles deram o exemplo do manifestação em Washington, capital americana, conhecida como “Million Man March” (Passeata do milhão, em tradução livre) em 1995, em que mesmo as análises mais criteriosas conseguiram produzir estimativas com 20% de erro – depois que medições iniciais variaram entre 400 mil e dois milhões de pessoas.

Multidão em estádio italiano | Foto: Getty

Precisão de dados coletados em estádio de futebol surpreendeu até mesmo a equipe de pesquisadores

Segundo Ed Manley, do Centro para Análise Espacial Avançada do University College London, a técnica tem potencial e as pessoas devem sentir-se “otimistas, mas cautelosas” em relação ao uso de dados de celulares nestas estimativas.

“Temos essas bases de dados enormes e há muito o que pode ser feito com elas… Mas precisamos ter cuidado com o quanto vamos exigir dos dados”, afirmou.

Ele também chama a atenção para o fato de que tais informações não refletem igualitariamente uma população.

“Há vieses importantes aqui. Quem exatamente estamos medindo com essas bases de dados?”, o Twitter, por exemplo, diz Manley, tem uma base de usuários relativamente jovem e de classe alta.

Além destas dificuldades, há o fato de que é preciso escolher com cuidado as atividades que serão medidas, porque as pessoas usam seus telefones de maneira diferente em diferentes lugares – mais chamadas no aeroporto e mais tuítes no futebol, por exemplo.

Outra ressalva importante é o fato de que toda a metodologia de análise defendida por Botta depende do sinal de telefone e internet – que varia muito de lugar para lugar, quando está disponível.

“Se estamos nos baseando nesses dados para saber onde as pessoas estão, o que acontece quando temos um problema com a maneira como os dados são coletados?”, indaga Manley.

Thermodynamics, W.H. Auden and Philip K. Dick (Immanent Forms)

JUNE 5, 2015 – 

I was struck this morning by the similarity between two twentieth-century passages about entropy. The first is from W.H. Auden’s poem “As I Walked Out One Evening,” and the second from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. If I was a betting man, I’d put money on PKD having read Auden. The cupboard and the teacup, especially, drew my attention, but it is also worth noting that the passage in PKD immediately precedes J.R. Isidore’s vision of the “tomb world,” a variation on Auden’s “land of the dead.”

Whether or not the passage in PKD is a explicit allusion or homage to Auden, I find it interesting that PKD’s passage, which several times mentions the irradiated dust of nuclear fallout, so closely resembles Auden’s pre-nuclear poem. The psychological issue, in each case, is not humanity’s ability to destroy itself (despite the post-apocalyptic setting of Androids) but the problem of being, as Carl Sagan puts it, “a way for the cosmos to know itself.” How do we live with our knowledge of geologic or cosmological time–scales on which all of human history occupy a mere blip–and, simultaneously, assert the meaningfulness of individual lives? More after the break, but, first the passages:

W.H. Auden, from “As I Walked Out One Evening” (1940):

But all the clocks in the city

Began to whirr and chime:

‘O let not Time deceive you,

You cannot conquer Time.

‘In the burrows of the Nightmare

Where Justice naked is,

Time watches from the shadow

And coughs when you would kiss.

‘In headaches and in worry

Vaguely life leaks away,

And Time will have his fancy

To-morrow or to-day.

‘Into many a green valley

Drifts the appalling snow;

Time breaks the threaded dances

And the diver’s brilliant bow.

‘O plunge your hands in water,

Plunge them in up to the wrist;

Stare, stare in the basin

And wonder what you’ve missed.

‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,

The desert sighs in the bed,

And the crack in the tea-cup opens

A lane to the land of the dead.

‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes

And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,

And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,

And Jill goes down on her back.

Philip K. Dick, from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968):

“he saw the dust and the ruin of the apartment as it lay spreading out everywhere–he heard the kipple coming, the final disorder of all forms, the absence which would win out. It grew around him as he stood holding the empty ceramic cup; the cupboards of the kitchen creaked and split and he felt the floor beneath his feet give.

Reaching out, he touched the wall. His hand broke the surface; gray particles trickled and hurried down, fragments of plaster resembling the radioactive dust outside. He seated himself at the table and, like rotten, hollow tubes the legs of the chair bent; standing quickly, he set down the cup and tried to reform the chair, tried to press it back into its right shape. The chair came apart in his hands, the screws which had previously connected its several sections ripping out and hanging loose. He saw, on the table, the ceramic cup crack; webs of fine lines grew like the shadows of a vine, and then a chip dropped from the edge of the cup, exposing the rough, unglazed interior.”

Nietzsche frequently and disparately writes about this problem in terms of “eternal recurrence”: the natural cycles of life and death that repeat themselves across long stretches of time dwarf the appearance of any individual member of a single species on one planet. In The Birth of Tragedy (an early work that Nietzsche distances himself from, but still a valuable touchstone in his thought), Nietzsche frames this as a problem of identification. We identify with our individual selves, but those selves are also part of the large natural cycles whose inevitable continuation will destroy the individual. We can attempt to identify with the cycle itself as a claim to immortality. As Sagan says, “Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and wecan, because the cosmos is also within us. We‘re made of star stuff.

On the other hand, identifying with the cosmos as a whole diminishes the significance of our own disappearance within the natural cycle. As homo sapiens sapiens we may be part of the terran biosphere in the solar system (itself a secondary star system formed from the stuff of previous supernovas), but as Carl or Friedrich or Wiston or Dick, our individual deaths, like our lives, are not interchangeable. Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition (1958), refers to this quality as “uniqueness”: “In man, otherness, which he shares with everything that is, and distinctness, which he shares with everything alive, become uniqueness, and human plurality is the paradoxical plurality of unique beings.” We act together, speak together, and, in the process, we forge identities that are irreducible to our membership in a class of objects or a biological species. We exercise what Nietzsche calls the “principle of individuation”: we create individual selves that will never be repeated in the eternal recurrence of natural cycles.

Taking this a step farther, our potential identification with the cosmos as a whole is only possible because we have individual consciousnesses that can identify/form identities. Nietzsche argues that simply disavowing our individual selves in favor of universal being/becoming prevents the cosmos from knowing or being known. The individual (what he calls Apollonian) may be a temporary, fleeting form, but for us to experience our place within the universal (what he calls Dionysian), we must hold our individual selves in tension with those larger processes.

The highest forms of art are born, Nietzsche argues, when Apollo and Dionysus are locked in conflict. We are individuals who will die, and our unique lives will be gone. We are also part of, constitutive of, and coextensive with the dynamic unfolding of the universe as a whole. A few billion years from now, the sun will die and take the Earth (and Mercury and Venus) with it, but even that will not be the end of our story. The productive problem we face is finding meaning that can emerge from both biography and cosmology and their vast differences in scale.

Arendt has some very interesting things to say about entropy and the apparently miraculous rescue of human life and worldliness from the seemingly inevitable destruction of natural cycles. I am tempted to end with her, but, for this post, I want to give Auden the final word. His poem begins with lovers declaring that they will love forever, and the entropic wisdom of the cities chiming clocks interrupts those declarations. The meaning of that interruption, however, is not a simple rejection of subjective folly in favor of a more objective, longer view. It leaves the lovers (and the listeners who are left long after the lovers leave) with a peculiar form of responsibility:

‘O look, look in the mirror,

O look in your distress:

Life remains a blessing

Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window

As the tears scald and start;

You shall love your crooked neighbour

With your crooked heart.’

It was late, late in the evening,

The lovers they were gone;

The clocks had ceased their chiming,

And the deep river ran on.

There never was a global warming ‘pause,’ NOAA study concludes (Environment & Energy Publishing)

Gayathri Vaidyanathan, E&E reporter

Published: Friday, June 5, 2015

The global warming “pause” does not exist, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Their finding refutes a theory that has dominated climate science in recent years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013 found that global temperatures in recent years have not risen as quickly as they did in the 20th century. That launched an academic hunt for the missing heat in the oceans, volcanoes and solar rays. Meanwhile, climate deniers triumphantly crowed that global warming has paused or gone on a “hiatus.”

But it now appears that the pause never was. NOAA scientists have fixed some small errors in global temperature data and found that temperatures over the past 15 years have been rising at a rate comparable to warming over the 20th century. The study was published yesterday inScience.

That a minor change to the analysis can switch the outcome from a hiatus to increased warming shows “how fragile a concept it [the hiatus] was in the first place,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who was unaffiliated with the study.

According to the NOAA study, the world has warmed since 1998 by 0.11 degree Celsius per decade. Scientists had previously calculated that the trend was about half that.

The new rate is equal to the rate of warming seen between 1951 and 1999.

There has been no slowdown in the rate of global warming, said Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information and lead author of the study.

“Global warming is firmly entrenched on our planet, and it continues to progress and is likely to continue to do so in the future unless emissions of greenhouse gases are substantially altered,” he said.

Errors from weather stations, buoys and buckets

That NOAA has to adjust temperature readings is not unusual. Many factors can affect raw temperature measurements, according to a study by Karl in 1988.

For instance, a weather station may be situated beneath a tree, which would bias temperatures low. Measurements made near a parking lot would read warm due to the waves of heat emanating from asphalt surfaces. NOAA and other agencies adjust the raw temperature data to remove such biases.

It has become clear in recent years that some biases still persist in the data, particularly of ocean temperatures. The culprit: buckets.

Ships traverse the world, and, occasionally, workers onboard dip a bucket over the hull and bring up water that they measure using a thermometer. The method is old school and error prone — water in a bucket is usually cooler than the ocean.

For a long time, scientists had assumed that most ships no longer use buckets and instead measure water siphoned from the ocean to cool ship engines. The latter method is more robust. But data released last year showed otherwise and compelled NOAA to correct for this bias.

A second correction involved sensor-laden buoys interspersed across the oceans whose temperature readings are biased low. Karl and his colleagues corrected for this issue, as well.

The corrections “made a significant impact,” Karl said. “They added about 0.06 degrees C per decade additional warming since 2000.”

The ‘slowdown hasn’t gone away’

What that means for the global warming hiatus depends on whom you ask. The warming trend over the past 15 years is comparable to the trend between 1950 and 1998 (a 48-year stretch), which led Karl to say that global warming never slowed.

Other scientists were not fully convinced. For a truly apples-to-apples comparison, the past 15 years should be compared with other 15-year stretches, said Peter Stott, head of the climate monitoring and attribution team at the U.K. Met Office.

For instance, the globe warmed more slowly in the past 15 years than between 1983 and 1998 (the previous 15-year stretch), even with NOAA’s new data corrections, Stott said.

“The slowdown hasn’t gone away,” he said in an email. “While the Earth continues to accumulate energy as a result of increasing man-made greenhouse gas emissions … global temperatures have not increased smoothly.”

The disagreements arise because assigning trends — including the trend of a “hiatus” — to global warming depends on the time frame of reference.

“Trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends,” the IPCC stated in 2013, even as it discussed the pause.

Robert Kaufmann, an environment professor at Boston University who was unaffiliated with the study, called trends a “red herring.”

A trend implies that the planet will warm, decade after decade, at a steady clip. There is no reason why that should be the case, Kaufmann said. Many factors — human emissions of warming and cooling gases, natural variability, and external factors such as the sun — feed into Earth’s climate. The relative contributions of each factor can vary by year, decade, century or on even larger time scales.

“There is no scientific basis to assume that the climate is going to warm at the same rate year after year, decade after decade,” he said.

Copying the language of skeptics

Trends are a powerful weapon in the hands of climate deniers. As early as 2006, deniers used the slowdown of warming from 1998 onward to say that global warming had stopped or paused.

The idea of a “pause” seeped into academia, launching dozens of studies into what might have caused it. But there was a subtle difference between scientists’ understanding of the pause and that of the skeptics; scientists never believed that warming had stopped, only that it had slowed compared with the rapidly warming ’90s. They wanted to know why.

Over the years, scientists have unraveled the contributions of volcanoes to global cooling, the increased uptake of heat by the Pacific Ocean, the cooling role of La Niñas and other drivers of natural variability. Their understanding of our planet’s climate evolved rapidly.

As scientists wrote up their findings, they unwittingly adopted the skeptics’ language of the “pause,” said Stephan Lewandowsky, a psychologist at the University of Bristol who was unaffiliated with the NOAA study. That was problematic.

“That’s sort of a subtle semantic thing, but it is really important because it suggests that these [scientists] bought into the existence of the hiatus,” he said.

Then, in 2013, the IPCC wrote about the pause. The German government complained that the term implies that warming had stopped, which is inaccurate. The objection was ignored.

NOAA’s strong refutation of the hiatus is particularly weighty because it comes from a government lab, and the work was headed by Karl, a pioneer of temperature reanalysis studies.

NOAA will be using the data corrections to assess global temperatures from July onward, Karl said. NASA is discussing internally whether to apply the fixes suggested in the study, according to Schmidt of NASA.

The study was greeted by Democrats in Congress as proof that climate change is real. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, used it as an opportunity to chide her opponents.

“Climate change deniers in Congress need to stop ignoring the fact that the planet may be warming at an even faster rate than previously observed, and we must take action now to reduce dangerous carbon pollution,” she said in a statement.

Experiment Provides Further Evidence That Reality Doesn’t Exist Until We Measure It (IFLScience)

June 2, 2015 | by Stephen Luntz

photo credit: Pieter Kuiper via Wikimedia Commons. A comparison of double slit interference patterns with different widths. Similar patterns produced by atoms have confirmed the dominant model of quantum mechanics 

Physicists have succeeded in confirming one of the theoretical aspects of quantum physics: Subatomic objects switch between particle and wave states when observed, while remaining in a dual state beforehand.

In the macroscopic world, we are used to waves being waves and solid objects being particle-like. However, quantum theory holds that for the very small this distinction breaks down. Light can behave either as a wave, or as a particle. The same goes for objects with mass like electrons.

This raises the question of what determines when a photon or electron will behave like a wave or a particle. How, anthropomorphizing madly, do these things “decide” which they will be at a particular time?

The dominant model of quantum mechanics holds that it is when a measurement is taken that the “decision” takes place. Erwin Schrodinger came up with his famous thought experiment using a cat to ridicule this idea. Physicists think that quantum behavior breaks down on a large scale, so Schrödinger’s cat would not really be both alive and dead—however, in the world of the very small, strange theories like this seem to be the only way to explain what we we see.

In 1978, John Wheeler proposed a series of thought experiments to make sense of what happens when a photon has to either behave in a wave-like or particle-like manner. At the time, it was considered doubtful that these could ever be implemented in practice, but in 2007 such an experiment was achieved.

Now, Dr. Andrew Truscott of the Australian National University has reported the same thing in Nature Physics, but this time using a helium atom, rather than a photon.

“A photon is in a sense quite simple,” Truscott told IFLScience. “An atom has significant mass and couples to magnetic and electric fields, so it is much more in tune with its environment. It is more of a classical particle in a sense, so this was a test of whether a more classical particle would behave in the same way.”

Trustcott’s experiment involved creating a Bose-Einstein Condensate of around a hundred helium atoms. He conducted the experiment first with this condensate, but says the possibility that atoms were influencing each other made it important to repeat after ejecting all but one. The atom was passed through a “grate” made by two laser beams that can scatter an atom in a similar manner to a solid grating that can scatter light. These have been shown to cause atoms to either pass through one arm, like a particle, or both, like a wave.

A random number generator was then used to determine whether a second grating would appear further along the atom’s path. Crucially, the number was only generated after the atom had passed the first grate.

The second grating, when applied, caused an interference pattern in the measurement of the atom further along the path. Without the second grating, the atom had no such pattern.

An optical version of Wheeler’s delayed choice experiment (left) and an atomic version as used by Truscott (right). Credit: Manning et al.

Truscott says that there are two possible explanations for the behavior observed. Either, as most physicists think, the atom decided whether it was a wave or a particle when measured, or “a future event (the method of detection) causes the photon to decide its past.”

In the bizarre world of quantum mechanics, events rippling back in time may not seem that much stranger than things like “spooky action at a distance” or even something being a wave and a particle at the same time. However, Truscott said, “this experiment can’t prove that that is the wrong interpretation, but it seems wrong, and given what we know from elsewhere, it is much more likely that only when we measure the atoms do their observable properties come into reality.”

California’s Snowpack Is Now Zero Percent of Normal (Slate)

By Eric Holthaus MAY 29 2015 2:56 PM


A stump sits at the site of a manual snow survey on April 1, 2015 in Phillips, California. The current recorded level is zero, the lowest in recorded history for California. Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images

California’s current megadrought hit a shocking new low this week: On Thursday, the state’s snowpack officially ran out.

At least some measurable snowpack in the Sierra mountains usually lasts all summer. But this year, its early demise means that runoff from the mountains—which usually makes up the bulk of surface water for farms and cities during the long summer dry season—will be essentially non-existent. To be clear: there’s still a bit of snow left, and some water will be released from reservoirs (which are themselves dangerously low), but this is essentially a worst-case scenario when it comes to California’s fragile water supply.


This week’s automated survey found California’s statewide snowpack had officially run out. California Department of Water Resources

The state knew this was coming and has been working to help soften the blow—but they’re fighting a losing battle. Bottom line: 2014 was the state’s hottest year in history, and 2015 is on pace to break that record. It’s been too warm for snow. Back in April, Gov. Jerry Brown enacted the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictionsfor urban areas based mostly on the abysmal snowpack. In recent days, the state’s conservation efforts have turned to farmers—who use about 80 percent of California’s water.

With a burgeoning El Niño on the way, there’s reason to believe the rains could return soon—but not before October or November. The state’s now mired in such a deep water deficit that even a Texas-sized flood may not totally eliminate the drought.

Welcome to climate change, everyone.

Aided by the Sea, Israel Overcomes an Old Foe: Drought (The New York Times)

JERUSALEM — At the peak of the drought, Shabi Zvieli, an Israeli gardener, feared for his livelihood.

A hefty tax was placed on excessive household water consumption, penalizing families with lawns, swimming pools or leaky pipes. So many of Mr. Zvieli’s clients went over to synthetic grass and swapped their seasonal blooms for hardy, indigenous plants more suited to a semiarid climate. “I worried about where gardening was going,” said Mr. Zvieli, 56, who has tended people’s yards for about 25 years.

Across the country, Israelis were told to cut their shower time by two minutes. Washing cars with hoses was outlawed and those few wealthy enough to absorb the cost of maintaining a lawn were permitted to water it only at night.

“We were in a situation where we were very, very close to someone opening a tap somewhere in the country and no water would come out,” said Uri Schor, the spokesman and public education director of the government’s Water Authority.

But that was about six years ago. Today, there is plenty of water in Israel. A lighter version of an old “Israel is drying up” campaign has been dusted off to advertise baby diapers. “The fear has gone,” said Mr. Zvieli, whose customers have gone back to planting flowers.

As California and other western areas of the United States grapple with an extreme drought, a revolution has taken place here. A major national effort to desalinate Mediterranean seawater and to recycle wastewater has provided the country with enough water for all its needs, even during severe droughts. More than 50 percent of the water for Israeli households, agriculture and industry is now artificially produced.

During the drought years, farmers at Ramat Rachel, a kibbutz on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem, took water-economizing measures like uprooting old apple orchards a few years before their time. With the new plenty, water allocations for Israeli farmers that had been slashed have been raised again, though the price has also gone up.

“Now there is no problem of water,” said Shaul Ben-Dov, an agronomist at Ramat Rachel. “The price is higher, but we can live a normal life in a country that is half desert.”

With its part-Mediterranean, part-desert climate, Israel had suffered from chronic shortages and exploitation of its natural water resources for decades.

The natural fresh water at Israel’s disposal in an average year does not cover its total use of roughly 525 billion gallons. The demand for potable water is projected to rise to 515 billion gallons by 2030, from 317 billion gallons this year.

The turnaround came with a seven-year drought, one of the most severe to hit modern Israel, that began in 2005 and peaked in the winter of 2008 to 2009. The country’s main natural water sources — the Sea of Galilee in the north and the mountain and coastal aquifers — were severely depleted, threatening a potentially irreversible deterioration of the water quality.

Measures to increase the supply and reduce the demand were accelerated, overseen by the Water Authority, a powerful interministerial agency established in 2007.

Desalination emerged as one focus of the government’s efforts, with four major plants going into operation over the past decade. A fifth one should be ready to operate within months. Together, they will produce a total of more than 130 billion gallons of potable water a year, with a goal of 200 billion gallons by 2020.

Israel has, in the meantime, become the world leader in recycling and reusing wastewater for agriculture. It treats 86 percent of its domestic wastewater and recycles it for agricultural use — about 55 percent of the total water used for agriculture. Spain is second to Israel, recycling 17 percent of its effluent, while the United States recycles just 1 percent, according to Water Authority data.

Before the establishment of the Water Authority, various ministries were responsible for different aspects of the water issue, each with its own interests and lobbies.

“There was a lot of hydro-politics,” said Eli Feinerman of the faculty of agriculture, food and environment at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who served for years as a public representative on the authority’s council. “The right hand did not know what the left was doing.”

The Israeli government began by making huge cuts in the annual water quotas for farmers, ending decades of extravagant overuse of heavily subsidized water for agriculture.

The tax for surplus household use was dropped at the end of 2009 and a two-tiered tariff system was introduced. Regular household water use is now subsidized by a slightly higher rate paid by those who consume more than the basic allotment.

Water Authority representatives went house to house offering to fit free devices on shower heads and taps that inject air into the water stream, saving about a third of the water used while still giving the impression of a strong flow.

Officials say that wiser use of water has led to a reduction in household consumption of up to 18 percent in recent years.

And instead of the municipal authorities being responsible for the maintenance of city pipe networks, local corporations have been formed. The money collected for water is reinvested in the infrastructure.

Mekorot, the national water company, built the national water carrier 50 years ago, a system for transporting water from the Sea of Galilee in the north through the heavily populated center to the arid south. Now it is building new infrastructure to carry water west to east, from the Mediterranean coast inland.

In the parched Middle East, water also has strategic implications. Struggles between Israel and its Arab neighbors over water rights in the Jordan River basin contributed to tensions leading to the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel, which shares the mountain aquifer with the West Bank, says it provides the Palestinians with more water than it is obliged to under the existing peace accords. The Palestinians say it is not enough and too expensive. A new era of water generosity could help foster relations with the Palestinians and with Jordan.

Desalination, long shunned by many as a costly energy guzzler with a heavy carbon footprint, is becoming cheaper, cleaner and more energy efficient as technologies advance. Sidney Loeb, an American who was one of the scientists who invented the popular reverse osmosis method, came to live in Israel in 1967 and taught the water professionals here.

The Sorek desalination plant rises out of the sandy ground about nine miles south of Tel Aviv. Said to be the largest plant of its kind in the world,it produces 40 billion gallons of potable water a year, enough for about a sixth of Israel’s roughly eight million citizens.

Miriam Faigon, the director of the solutions department at IDE Technologies, the Israeli company that built three of the plants along the Mediterranean, said that the company had cut energy levels and costs with new technologies and a variety of practical methods.

Under a complex arrangement, the plants will be transferred to state ownership after 25 years. For now, the state buys Sorek’s desalinated water for a relatively cheap 58 cents a cubic meter — more than free rainwater, Ms. Faigon acknowledged, “but that’s only if you have it.”

Israeli environmentalists say the rush to desalination has partly come at the expense of alternatives like treating natural water reserves that have become polluted by industry, particularly the military industries in the coastal plain.

“We definitely felt that Israel did need to move toward desalination,” said Sarit Caspi-Oron, a water expert at the nongovernment Israel Union for Environmental Defense. “But it is a question of how much, and of priorities. Our first priority was conservation and treating and reclaiming our water sources.”

Some environmentalists also say that the open-ocean intake method used by Israel’s desalination plants, in line with local regulations, as opposed to subsurface intakes, has a potentially destructive effect on sea life, sucking in billions of fish eggs and larvae.

But Boaz Mayzel, a marine biologist at the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, said that the effects were not yet known and would have to be checked over time.

Some Israelis are cynical about the water revolution. Tsur Shezaf, an Israeli journalist and the owner of a farm that produces wine and olives in the southern Negev, argues that desalination is essentially a privatization of Israel’s water supply that benefits a few tycoons, while recycling for agriculture allows the state to sell the same water twice.

Mr. Shezaf plants his vines in a way that maximizes the use of natural floodwaters in the area, as in ancient times, and irrigates the rest of the year with a mix of desalinated water and fresh water. He prefers to avoid the cheaper recycled water, he says, because, “You don’t know exactly what you are getting.”

But experts say that the wastewater from Israel’s densely populated Tel Aviv area is treated to such a high level that no harm would come to anyone who accidentally drank it.

The fossil-fuel industry’s campaign to mislead the American people (The Washington Post)

 May 29

Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, represents Rhode Island in the Senate.

Fossil fuel companies and their allies are funding a massive and sophisticated campaign to mislead the American people about the environmental harm caused by carbon pollution.

Their activities are often compared to those of Big Tobacco denying the health dangers of smoking. Big Tobacco’s denial scheme was ultimately found by a federal judge to have amounted to a racketeering enterprise.

The Big Tobacco playbook looked something like this: (1) pay scientists to produce studies defending your product; (2) develop an intricate web of PR experts and front groups to spread doubt about the real science; (3) relentlessly attack your opponents.

Thankfully, the government had a playbook, too: the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. In 1999, the Justice Department filed a civil RICO lawsuit against the major tobacco companies and their associated industry groups, alleging that the companies “engaged in and executed — and continue to engage in and execute — a massive 50-year scheme to defraud the public, including consumers of cigarettes, in violation of RICO.”

Tobacco spent millions of dollars and years of litigation fighting the government. But finally, through the discovery process, government lawyers were able to peel back the layers of deceit and denial and see what the tobacco companies really knew all along about cigarettes.

In 2006, Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided that the tobacco companies’ fraudulent campaign amounted to a racketeering enterprise. According to the court: “Defendants coordinated significant aspects of their public relations, scientific, legal, and marketing activity in furtherance of a shared objective — to . . . maximize industry profits by preserving and expanding the market for cigarettes through a scheme to deceive the public.”

The parallels between what the tobacco industry did and what the fossil fuel industry is doing now are striking.

In the case of fossil fuels, just as with tobacco, the industry joined together in a common enterprise and coordinated strategy. In 1998, the Clinton administration was building support for international climate action under the Kyoto Protocol. The fossil fuel industry, its trade associations and the conservative policy institutes that often do the industry’s dirty work met at the Washington office of the American Petroleum Institute. A memo from that meeting that was leaked to the New York Times documented their plans for a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign to undermine climate science and to raise “questions among those (e.g. Congress) who chart the future U.S. course on global climate change.”

The shape of the fossil fuel industry’s denial operation has been documented by, among others, Drexel University professor Robert Brulle. In a 2013 paper published in the journal Climatic Change, Brulle described a complex network of organizations and funding that appears designed to obscure the fossil fuel industry’s fingerprints. To quote directly from Brulle’s report, it was “a deliberate and organized effort to misdirect the public discussion and distort the public’s understanding of climate.” That sounds a lot like Kessler’s findings in the tobacco racketeering case.

The coordinated tactics of the climate denial network, Brulle’s report states, “span a wide range of activities, including political lobbying, contributions to political candidates, and a large number of communication and media efforts that aim at undermining climate science.” Compare that again to the findings in the tobacco case.

The tobacco industry was proved to have conducted research that showed the direct opposite of what the industry stated publicly — namely, that tobacco use had serious health effects. Civil discovery would reveal whether and to what extent the fossil fuel industry has crossed this same line. We do know that it has funded research that — to its benefit — directly contradicts the vast majority of peer-reviewed climate science. One scientist who consistently published papers downplaying the role of carbon emissions in climate change, Willie Soon, reportedly received more than half of his funding from oil and electric utility interests: more than $1.2 million.

To be clear: I don’t know whether the fossil fuel industry and its allies engaged in the same kind of racketeering activity as the tobacco industry. We don’t have enough information to make that conclusion. Perhaps it’s all smoke and no fire. But there’s an awful lot of smoke.

Water – 60 minutes (CBS)


Lesley Stahl reports on disturbing new evidence that our planet’s groundwater is being pumped out much faster than it can be replenished

The following is a script of “Water” which aired on Nov. 16, 2014, and was rebroadcast on May 31, 2015. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent.

Last fall, we brought you a story about something that has made headlines ever since — water. It’s been said that the wars of the 21st century may well be fought over water. The Earth’s population has more than doubled over the last 50 years and the demand for fresh water — to drink and to grow food — has surged along with it. But sources of water like rainfall, rivers, streams, reservoirs, certainly haven’t doubled. So where is all that extra water coming from? More and more, it’s being pumped out of the ground.

Water experts say groundwater is like a savings account — something you draw on in times of need. But savings accounts need to be replenished, and there is new evidence that so much water is being taken out, much of the world is in danger of a groundwater overdraft.

California is now in its fourth year of a record-breaking drought. This past winter was the hottest and driest since the state started keeping written records. And yet, pay a visit to California’s Central Valley and out of that parched land you’ll see acre upon acre of corn, almond trees, pomegranates, tomatoes, grapes. And what makes them all possible: water. Where do you get water in a drought? You take it out of the savings account: groundwater.

[Jay Famiglietti: When we talk about surface water, we’re talking about lakes and rivers. And when we’re talking about groundwater, we’re really talking about water below the water table.]

Jay Famiglietti, an Earth sciences professor at the University of California, Irvine, is a leading expert on groundwater.

Jay Famiglietti: It’s like a sponge. It’s like an underground sponge.

He’s talking about the aquifers where groundwater is stored — layers of soil and rock, as he showed us in this simple graphic, that are saturated with water and can be drilled into, like the three wells shown here.

Lesley Stahl: You can actually pump it out of the crevices?

Jay Famiglietti: Imagine like trying to put a straw into a sponge. You can actually suck water right out of a sponge. It’s a very similar process.

Sucking the water out of those aquifers is big business these days in the Central Valley. Well driller Steve Arthur is a very busy man.

Steve Arthur: All the farmers, they don’t have no surface water. They’ve got to keep these crops alive. The only way to do that is to drill wells, pump the water from the ground.

Lesley Stahl: So it’s either drill or go out of business?

Steve Arthur: Yes.

So there’s something of a groundwater rush going on here. Arthur’s seven rigs are in constant use and his waiting list is well over a year. And because some wells here are running dry, he’s having to drill twice as deep as he did just a year or two ago. This well will cost the farmer a quarter of a million dollars, and go down 1,200 feet — about the height of the Empire State Building.

“If we’re talking about a deeper aquifer, that could take tens or hundreds of years to recharge.”

Lesley Stahl: Are you and are the farmers worried that by going that deep you are depleting the ground water?

Steve Arthur: Well, yes, we are depleting it. But on the other hand, what choice do you have? This is the most fertile valley in the world. You can grow anything you want here. If we don’t have water to grow something, it’s going to be a desert.

He said many farmers think the problem is cyclical and that once the drought ends, things will be okay.

Lesley Stahl: Now when they take water out and it rains…

Jay Famiglietti: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: …doesn’t the water go back down there?

Jay Famiglietti: These aquifers near the surface, they can sometimes be replenished very quickly. If we’re talking about a deeper aquifer, that could take tens or hundreds of years to recharge.

Figuring out how much is being depleted from those aquifers deep underground isn’t easy. Hydrologist Claudia Faunt took us to what looked like someone’s backyard shed, where she and her colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey monitor groundwater levels in the Central Valley the way they always have — by dropping a sensor down a monitoring well.


Lesley Stahl: So this is a well.

Claudia Faunt: This is a well. So we have a tape here that has a sensor on the end.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, let me see.

The Geological Survey has 20,000 wells like this across the country.

Lesley Stahl: It’s a tape measure.

Claudia Faunt: It’s a tape measure.

Lesley Stahl: How will you know when it hits water?

Claudia Faunt: It’s going to beep.

By comparing measurements from different wells over time, they get the best picture they can of where groundwater levels stand. She unspooled and unspooled, until finally…


Lesley Stahl: Oh.

It startled me, as did the result: a five-foot drop in just one month.

Claudia Faunt: Right now, we’re reaching water levels that are at historic lows, they’re like…

Lesley Stahl: Historic lows?

Claudia Faunt: Right. At this site, water levels have dropped about 200 feet in the last few years.

Gathering data from holes in the ground like this has been the only way to get a handle on groundwater depletion. That is, until 2002, and the launch of an experimental NASA satellite called GRACE.

Lesley Stahl: What does GRACE stand for?

Mike Watkins: So GRACE stands for gravity recovery and climate experiment.

Mike Watkins is head of the Science Division at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. He was the mission manager for the latest Mars rover mission and he is the project scientist for GRACE.

Mike Watkins: So the way GRACE works is it’s two satellites.

Lesley Stahl: Two?

Mike Watkins: They’re actually measuring each other’s orbit very, very accurately.

What affects that orbit is gravity.

Mike Watkins: As the first one comes up on some extra mass, an area of higher gravity, it gets pulled away…

Lesley Stahl: It goes faster.

Mike Watkins: …from the second spacecraft.


And that’s where water comes in. Since water has mass, it affects the pull of gravity, so after the first GRACE satellite approaches an area that’s had lots of heavy rain for example, and is pulled ahead, the second one gets there, feels the pull and catches up. The instruments are constantly measuring the distance between the two.

Mike Watkins: Their changes in separation, their changes in their orbit are a little different this month than last month because water moved around and it changed the gravity field just enough.

So GRACE can tell whether an area has gained water weight or lost it.

Lesley Stahl: So GRACE is like a big scale in the sky?

Mike Watkins: Absolutely.

GRACE can also tell how much water an area has gained or lost. Scientists can then subtract out the amount of rain and snowfall there, and what’s left are the changes in groundwater.

Lesley Stahl: It’s kind of brilliant to think that a satellite in the sky is measuring groundwater.

Mike Watkins: It is fantastic.

Jay Famiglietti: I thought it was complete nonsense. There’s no way we can see groundwater from space.

Jay Famiglietti started out a skeptic, but that was before he began analyzing the data GRACE sent back. The first place he looked was India. He showed us a time-lapse animation of the changes GRACE detected there over the last 12 years. Note the dates on the lower right. The redder it gets, the greater the loss of water.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, look at that.

He calculated that more than half the loss was due to groundwater depletion.

Jay Famiglietti: And this is a huge agricultural region.

“So we’re talking about groundwater depletion in the aquifers that supply irrigation water to grow the world’s food.”

Lesley Stahl: Have they been doing the same kind of pumping…

Jay Famiglietti: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: …that we’re seeing in California?

Jay Famiglietti: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: It got so dark red.

Jay Famiglietti: Yeah, that’s bad.

His India findings were published in the journal “Nature.” But as he showed us, India wasn’t the only red spot on the GRACE map.

Jay Famiglietti: This is right outside Beijing, Bangladesh and then across southern Asia.

He noticed a pattern.

Jay Famiglietti: They are almost exclusively located over the major aquifers of the world. And those are also our big food-producing regions. So we’re talking about groundwater depletion in the aquifers that supply irrigation water to grow the world’s food.

If that isn’t worrisome enough, some of those aquifer systems are in volatile regions, for instance this one that is shared by Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey.

Jay Famiglietti: Turkey’s built a bunch of dams. Stored a bunch of water upstream. That forces the downstream neighbors to use more groundwater and the groundwater’s being depleted.

Lesley Stahl: Oh my.

Jay Famiglietti: We’re seeing this water loss spread literally right across Iran, Iraq and into Syria and down.

Lesley Stahl: It’s progressive.

“So the ground basically collapses or compresses down and the land sinks.”

Famiglietti, who’s now moved to the jet propulsion lab to work on GRACE, has started traveling around the world, trying to alert governments and academics to the problem, and he isn’t the only one who’s worried.

A 2012 report from the director of National Intelligence warned that within 10 years “many countries important to the United States will experience water problems … that will risk instability and state failure…” and cited the possible “use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives.”

Lesley Stahl: Water is the new oil.

Jay Famiglietti: It’s true. It’s headed in that direction.

And what about our own food-producing regions, like California’s Central Valley, which produces 25 percent of the nation’s food. What is GRACE telling us there?

Lesley Stahl: 2008.

Jay Famiglietti: Right.

Lesley Stahl: ’09.

Jay Famiglietti: And now things are going to start to get very red.

Lesley Stahl: 2010.

GRACE is confirming what the geological survey well measures have shown, but giving a broader and more frightening picture, since it shows that the rainy years are not making up for the losses.

Lesley Stahl: ’14. Dark red.

Lesley Stahl: That’s alarming.

Jay Famiglietti: It should be.


So much groundwater has been pumped out here that the geological survey says it’s causing another problem: parts of the valley are literally sinking. It’s called subsidence.

Claudia Faunt: So the ground basically collapses or compresses down and the land sinks.

Lesley Stahl: The land is sinking down.

She said at this spot, the ground is dropping several inches a year.

Claudia Faunt: And north of here, it’s more like a foot per year.

Lesley Stahl: That sounds like a lot, a foot a year.

Claudia Faunt: It’s some of the fastest rates we have ever seen in the valley, and in the world.

She says it’s caused damage to infrastructure: buckles in canals and sinking bridges. Here the land has sunk six feet. It used to be level with the top of this concrete slab.

Lesley Stahl: And this is because of the pumping of the groundwater?

Claudia Faunt: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: Is there any limit on a farmer, as to how much he can actually take out of this groundwater?

Claudia Faunt: Not right now in the state of California.

Lesley Stahl: None?

Claudia Faunt: As long as you put it to a beneficial use, you can take as much as you want.

But what’s beneficial to you may not be beneficial to your neighbor.

Lesley Stahl: When you dig a well like this, are you taking water from the next farm?

Steve Arthur: I would say yeah. We’re taking water from everybody.

Lesley Stahl: Well, is that neighbor going to be unhappy?

Steve Arthur: No. Everybody knows that there’s a water problem. Everybody knows you got to drill deeper, deeper. And it’s funny you say that because we’re actually going to drill a well for that farmer next door also.

“I can’t believe how brave I am. 45 minutes ago, this was sewer water.”

Making things worse, farmers have actually been planting what are known as “thirsty” crops. We saw orchard after orchard of almond trees. Almonds draw big profits, but they need water all year long, and farmers can never let fields go fallow, or the trees will die.

But with all the water depletion here, we did find one place that is pumping water back into its aquifer.

Lesley Stahl: Look, it really looks ickier up close.

We took a ride with Mike Markus, general manager of the Orange County Water District and a program some call “toilet to tap.” They take 96-million gallons a day of treated wastewater from a county sanitation plant — and yes, that includes sewage — and in effect, recycle it. He says in 45 minutes, this sewage water will be drinkable.

Mike Markus: You’ll love it.

Lesley Stahl: You think I’m going to drink that water?

Mike Markus: Yes, you will.

They put the wastewater through an elaborate three-step process: suck it through microscopic filters, force it through membranes, blast it with UV light. By the end, Markus insists it’s purer than the water we drink. But it doesn’t go straight to the tap. They send it to this basin and then use it to replenish the groundwater.

Jay Famiglietti: It’s amazing. Because of recycling of sewage water, they’ve been able to arrest that decline in the groundwater.

Lesley Stahl: All right. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it.


All that was left was to try it. To tell the truth, it wasn’t bad.

Lesley Stahl: I can’t believe how brave I am. Forty-five minutes ago, this was sewer water.

Mike Markus: And now, it’s drinkable.

He says it’s a great model for big cities around the country. But it’s not the answer for areas like the Central Valley, which is sparsely populated and therefore doesn’t produce enough waste. So at least for now, it’s continuing withdrawals from that savings account.

Lesley Stahl: Will there be a time when there is zero water in the aquifer for people in California?

Jay Famiglietti: Unless we take action, yes.

California has taken several actions. Last month, Governor Brown mandated a 25 percent cut in water use by homes and businesses. And the state also enacted a law that for the first time takes steps toward regulating groundwater. But the law could take 25 years to fully implement.

Ethnography: A Scientist Discovers the Value of the Social Sciences (The Scholarly Kitchen)


Picture from an early ethnographic study

I have always liked to think of myself as a good listener. Whether you are in therapy (or should be), conversing with colleagues, working with customers, embarking on strategic planning, or collaborating on a task, a dose of emotional intelligence – that is, embracing patience and the willingness to listen — is essential.

At the American Mathematical Society, we recently embarked on ambitious strategic planning effort across the organization. On the publishing side we have a number of electronic products, pushing us to consider how we position these products for the next generation of mathematician. We quickly realized that it is easy to be complacent. In our case we have a rich history online, and yet – have we really moved with the times? Does a young mathematician need our products?

We came to a sobering and rather exciting realization: In fact, we do not have a clear idea how mathematicians use online resources to do their research, teaching, hiring, and job hunting. We of course have opinions, but these are not informed by anything other than anecdotal evidence from conversations here and there.

To gain a sense of how mathematicians are using online resources, we embarked on an effort to gather more systematic intelligence embracing a qualitative approach to the research – ethhnography. The concept of ethnographic qualitative research was a new one to me – and it felt right. I quickly felt like I was back in school and a graduate student in ethnography, reading the literature, and thinking through with colleagues how we might apply qualitative research methods to understanding mathematicians’ behavior. It is worth taking a look at two excellent books: Just Enough Research by Erika Hall, and Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector by Sam Ladner.

What do we mean by ethnographic research? In essence we are talking about a rich, multi-factorial descriptive approach. While quantitative research uses pre-existing categories in its analysis, qualitative research is open to new ways of categorizing data – in this case, mathematicians’ behavior in using information. The idea is that one observes the subject (“key informant” in technical jargon) in their natural habitat. Imagine you are David Attenborough, exploring an “absolutely marvelous” new species – the mathematician – as they operate in the field. The concept is really quite simple. You just want to understand what your key informants are doing, and preferably why they are doing it. One has to do it in a setting that allows for them to behave naturally – this really requires an interview with one person not a group (because group members may influence each other’s actions).

Perhaps the hardest part is the interview itself. If you are anything like me, you will go charging in saying something along the lines of “look at these great things we are doing. What do you think? Great right?” Well, of course this is plain wrong. While you have a goal going in, perhaps to see how an individual is behaving with respect to a specific product, your questions need to be agnostic in flavor. The idea is to have the key informant do what they normally do, not just say what they think they do – the two things may be quite different. The questions need to be carefully crafted so as not to lead, but to enable gentle probing and discussion as the interview progresses. It is a good idea to record the interview – both in audio form, and ideally with screen capture technology such as Camtasia. When I was involved with this I went out and bought a good, but inexpensive audio recorder.

We decided that rather than approach mathematicians directly, we should work with the library at an academic institution. Libraries are our customers. The remarkable thing about academic libraries is that ethnography is becoming part of the service they provide to their stakeholders at many institutions. We actually began with a remarkable librarian, based at Rice University – Debra Kolah. She is the head of the user experience office at the Fondren Library of Rice University in Texas. She also happens to be the physics, math and statistics librarian at Rice. Debra is remarkable, and has become an expert in ethnographic study of academic user experience. She has multiple projects underway at Rice, working with a range of stakeholders, aiming to foster the activity of the library in the academic community she directly serves. She is a picture of enthusiasm when it comes to serving her community and to gaining insights into the cultural patterns of academic user behavior. Debra was our key to understanding how important it is to work with the library to reach the mathematical community at an institution. The relationship is trusted and symbiotic. This triangle of an institution’s library, academic, and outside entity, such as a society, or publisher, may represent the future of the library.

So the interviews are done – then what? Analysis. You have to try to make sense of all of this material you’ve gathered. First, transcribing audio interviews is no easy task. You have a range of voices and much technical jargon. The best bet is to get one of the many services out there to take the files and do a first pass transcription. They will get most of it right. Perhaps they will write “archive instead of arXiv, but that can be dealt with later. Once you have all this interview text, you need to group it into meaningful categories – what’s called “coding”. The idea is that you try to look at the material with a fresh, unbiased eye, to see what themes emerge from the data. Once these themes are coded, you can then start to think about patterns in the data. Interestingly, qualitative researchers have developed a host of software programs to aid the researcher in doing this. We settled for a relatively simple, web based solution – Dedoose.

With some 62 interviews under our belt, we are beginning to see patterns emerge in the ways that mathematicians behave online. I am not going to reveal our preliminary findings here – I must save that up for when the full results are in – but I am confident that the results will show a number of consistent threads that will help us think through how to better serve our community.

In summary, this experience has been a fascinating one – a new world for me. I have been trained as a scientist. As a scientist, I have ideas about what scientific method is, and what evidence is. I now understand the value of the qualitative approach – hard for a scientist to say. Qualitative research opens a window to descriptive data and analysis. As our markets change, understanding who constitutes our market, and how users behave is more important than ever.

Carry on listening!